“This is Jeff Goldblum.”
I responded, “Sure,” and then hung up.
The telephone at Area Stage Company (ASC) rang again and the person on the other end said, “Please don’t hang up. This really is Jeff Goldblum and I’d like to speak with the owners of the theater. I don’t remember their names but . . .”
I jumped in and with some skepticism in my voice said, “Okay? Why are you calling?”
The caller goes on to tell me that he was at his gym in Los Angeles and had asked out loud if anyone knew a good theater company in Miami. “I need some help with this movie I’m doing, and immediately three people said Area Stage Company,” he said. When I shared our names with him, he continued in the breathy pauses Jeff is known for, “Yes, yes, right. They said ask for John or Maria. I remember thinking it was biblical.” It was indeed Jeff Goldblum the actor, then famous for his roles in Jurassic Park and Independence Day. The year was 1997 and my husband, John Rodaz, and I had been running our theater company from its original location on Lincoln Road for close to 10 years. It had earned a reputation for presenting a fresh mix of contemporary plays and original works.
We met up with Jeff at his hotel suite on Ocean Drive and helped him with the script of Holy Man—everything from helping to craft the character to learning his lines.
Not long after that, we got to work with the legendary rock band U2 on a video production project. At one point during our meeting, lead singer Bono suggested we go get something to eat. As we ventured out the front door of the theater, the band hadn’t expected to walk out onto a vibrant outdoor mall lined with cafes and very eager wait staff! They had used the service road to sneak into the theater. What was supposed to be a secret visit from U2 was now news all along Lincoln Road and everyone wanted me to bring U2 to their establishment. Here I was, walking down the street next to Bono, and from every restaurant people would wave and shout, “Maria! Maria!” Bono turned to me and said, “Oh wow, you’re really famous!” That story always brings a smile to my face. That day I was more famous than Bono.
Those are just a couple of the many unexpected and memorable moments I have had since moving to Miami from Ecuador 30 years ago. But there is none more memorable, or life-changing, than my walk along Lincoln Road on September 7, 1989. That was the day I stumbled upon the theater that housed Area Stage Company and was greeted by John Rodaz, its founder and artistic director. It was the night of his theater company’s first preview. I walked into the ASC theater that night and never left. From that day forward we have been together, as if by design. After learning that I had danced with a professional company and worked in production for years, John hired me to work as the theater’s managing director.
As we worked alongside one another, we started getting to know each other. We realized we had coincidently crossed paths for years. We had both lived in New York City at the same time, been to the same shows and concerts on the same nights and had never met until that fateful day on Lincoln Road. Two years later, John and I were married on the anniversary of our first meeting and Area Stage’s first opening night.
In those early years in the 1990s, Lincoln Road was all mom-and-pop shops, hole-in-the-wall eats and home to a community of local artists. Sculptors, photographers, actors, dancers, painters and the like, we all lived on the Road. It was very bohemian—like a tropical art deco-clad Montmartre. We were all drawn to Lincoln Road because we could rent storefronts for very cheap and the network of artists was a constant source of inspiration. As the local theater, we shared the neighborhood with the South Florida Arts Center, the Miami City Ballet and The New World Symphony.
The local debate throughout the ‘90s was whether or not to keep Lincoln Road a welcoming haven for artists. We had a great group of people supporting us back then, including former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin, Commissioner Nancy Liebman, and Mitchell Kaplan of Books and Books, who was on our first board of directors. We were blissfully unaware of the politics behind it all. John and I were just two theater addicts working on our craft. Despite not having a press agent, we collected boxes full of news clippings on our company and productions. We built our reputation very organically. We were unconventional, and I think we’ve retained a little bit of that spirit to this day.
This September, both Area Stage Company and John and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary. John and I have kept our passion for theater fresh by remaining true to ourselves as artists. It is alive thanks to that emancipation we’ve held to and we wouldn’t have it any other way. I am forever grateful to this city for uniting me with the greatest passions of my life, 30 years of creating alongside my incredibly talented husband, John. It has been the most amazing love affair.