NiteTalk: Behind the Stage & Screen With The Gusman's Margaret Lake

There's nothing like a visit to downtown's Gusman Center to rid you of the notion that Miami's without history. Built by John Everson in 1926 and restored to splendor by Morris Lapidus in the '80s, the theater (officially The Olympia) is a jewel in our city's crown. It's a place where movies can be seen how they were meant to be and artists can perform as they've always wished. And it's where the audience gets to feel as if they too are something special. At the center of it all is Director Margaret Lake, who ensures the flagship theater remains just that.

You're the director of the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. Can you tell us about the job? In my job I am responsible for overseeing fundraising, historical renovations, renting the theater, promoting the theater, vendor contracts, staffing, accounting, marketing, public relations, grant writing, box office operations, concession operations, website, social media, Friends of Gusman, customer relations, permitting and generally everything that is involved in the overall operation of the facility. I am the leader at the Gusman and take pride in creating community by preserving this Historic Miami landmark by encouraging the use of the theater. Live performance has to compete in a digital age and I make it my business to keep the performing arts relevant.

The place is better known as the Gusman. Can you please explain the confusion with the name? Originally, the theater was built as a silent film palace by Paramount named the Olympia Theater. In the 1970s, Maurice Gusman purchased the theater and it was renamed the Gusman Cultural Hall. In the 90s, the Friends of Gusman received a historical grant to restore the marquee with the name Olympia on the front of the building. It is now called the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. I want to propose that we rename the venue Gusman's Olympia Theater. That name is short, sweet, and pays tribute to its rich history.

While we're talking history, can you please tell us a bit about the Olympia's? The Olympia was built in 1926 primarily to showcase silent film. We are still the proud owners of the original Mighty Wurlitzer Organ which was designed to provide full orchestral accompaniment to the silent movies. Elvis Presley played at the Olympia in 1956 to a screaming crowd on the theater stage. Many great musicians and performers have graced the stage like Annie Lennox, Carly Simon, David Byrne, Luciano Pavarotti and Johnny Cash.

What's the facility's primary purpose these days? The facility is used for concerts, film festivals, corporate events, social events, theatrical production, film production, live television production, ballet, symphony, opera, educational performances, graduations, weddings, Indian Dance performances, fund raising galas, photo shoots, dinners on stage, meetings, film presentation, mixed martial arts, silent auctions, private concerts, birthday parties, summer film series and community events. We are currently a rental hall so we are constantly encouraging event planners, and promoters to utilize the venue for their events.

What's coming up over the next month or so that we really need to know about? William Levy in "Un Amante a la Medida" (6/12, 13) and Luis Alberto Spinetta (on 6/16). Spinetta is Argentina's rock-n-roll god. Oh, and my personal favorite: the 2nd Annual Flickin' Summer Series. We show dance movies and afterward the audience gets to dance on stage and feel like a star. On July 8, it's "Dirty Dancing."

You come from a film fest background (Sundance, Miami, P-Town). How has that experience helped you here? My film festival background is really a large part of the reason I am able to do so well here in Miami. I like to say, "There is the plan and then there is what happens." If you are in any type of production or event planning you have to be able to deal with what happens because the plan isn't always perfect. Live performance is just that -- live. My work at film festivals brought me the vital experience needed for ensuring smooth operations, correct accounting, strong box office operations, the art of negotiation, how to work with stars and most importantly how to make things work with what you have to work with.

Is there any film fest action coming up you can share with us? Our two resident Film Festivals are the Miami International Film Festival, which takes place every year at the Gusman in March, and the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which usually takes place in April. Last year, we had great turn outs for both festivals. M.I.F.F. premiered "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and the Oscar-winner "Secret in Their Eyes." I highly recommend everyone see both films. It is my favorite thing to see the filmmaker see the theater for the first time. There is this quiet moment backstage just before the film where I show them the audience from behind the screen right before they introduce the film. It doesn't matter if it is Demi Moore or Margarethe von Trotta -- they always have a gasp and a moment of total reverence and respect for the ambiance that the interior of the Gusman commands.

The Olympia/Gusman is smack in the center of a rapidly-revitalizing Downtown. What kind of transformation have you seen? When I moved to Miami in May of 2007, my friends in Miami said I was crazy to live downtown. I felt it was the most important part of my process as the Gusman director to live in the area where the theater is so that I could understand the true needs of the venue. I can gladly say that it has been so incredible to watch all the lights in the neighboring condos light up over the last three years.

When you're not running things at the Olympia/Gusman, where in town do you most like to hang out? Usually, I am at Ecco or cooking and playing my Gibson Les Paul Studio electric guitar. I live three blocks from the theater so I am typically always in downtown. I am always looking for a good concert. ... Downtown Development Concert Series at Bayfront, Yoga at Bayfront. ... When I am not downtown, I like walking on the rocks at South Point Park, Sundays at the Standard Hotel, Buena Vista Bistro, Balans on Saturday for breakfast and always a favorite restaurant George's in the Grove.

What's coming up for Margaret Lake?
The first thing that comes to mind is the excitement of being a finalist in the Knight Arts Challenge Grant program. We will find out in the Fall of 2010 if we are a winner. Out of over 1,000 ideas, my idea has made it in to the top-41 ideas. I am crossing my fingers that we are a winner in 2010. Getting the Knight Grant would really help us begin to create more opportunities for artistic collaboration at the theater with community arts organizations.

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