The Florida Keys & Key West

Florida Keys News

Michael Marrero: A True Key West Creative

By Laura Myers

Michael Marrero, executive director of the popular Key West Theater, is an award-winning playwright, photographer and filmmaker whose drama "Locura" is part of a historic Cuban-American theatrical exchange.

It's the first such theatrical exchange between the two islands in more than 50 years.

In June, Marrero is to take a Spanish-language version of "Locura," his two-actor play about Key West's renegade mid-20th century atmosphere, 90 miles across the Straits of Florida to Havana.

The theatrical exchange is coordinated with the island city's One Race/Una Raza, founded by Key West resident Nance Frank, whose Gallery on Greene showcases Marrero's photographic artworks.

Also in June, "Locura" is set to be workshopped and previewed for industry producers and critics at the ID Studio Theater in New York.

Marrero, 43, a Key West native (or Conch) of Cuban descent, started working on the play more than 16 years ago.

"Locura" is a two-actor production on a simple set with a couple of boxes. Colorful slang-infused dialogue takes place between a young man and his Cuban-born uncle in Key West in the mid-1900s.

Characters are Octavio, a Cuban Conch like Marrero, and Chumpi, Octavio's uncle. Like Chumpi, Marrero's father Jorge was born in Cuba. Action includes smuggling, an escape from Cuba, cockfights, raucous behavior and street fights.

An American troupe is to perform the play in Havana in Spanish. In exchange, a Cuban troupe performed "Eclipse," a play by the famed Cuban playwright Jazz Vila, in English in January at Key West Theater.

Marrero's latest theatrical work, "Oklahoma Smith and the Pantheon of Annihilation: the Musical!," co-written with local writer Chris Shultz, features famed explorer Oklahoma Smith and trusty sidekick Beanpole.

The two set out to find the lost Book of the Dead and save the world from an evil Mistress Nefarious.

The jolly Smith has a variety of misadventures, including some involving women. The audience, in an interactive choose your own adventure-style twist, helps to decide the plot.

Marrero says his offbeat sense of humor comes from growing up deep within the native Conch culture of Key West.

"As Conchs, we tease a lot," he said. "A lot of humor is based on affection — if we don't mess with you, it means we don't like you."

Marrero's wife Liz Love, an avid runner, is a well-regarded fitness professional, race organizer and personal trainer in Key West. The two met on a photo shoot.

"She has a sense of humor that's similar to mine," Marrero explained. "We do Christmas cards, twisted cards, every year."

The couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Isabel.

"I already see signs of her humor," Marrero said.

Marrero displays his offbeat postcards and scenic photographs with wacky slogans on his website,

One postcard — of a blue-eyed baby wearing gold earrings, a necklace and bracelets — states: "Do Your Part! Raise a Conch Baby! Brought to you by the Conch Preservation Society — outfitting babies in gold chains since 1943."

A 1992 graduate of Key West High School, Marrero attended Virginia's Marymount University, Florida Keys Community College and Florida State University. However, the island of Key West's breezy pull — its lifestyle, creative energy, family and friends — repeatedly lured him back home.

"Key West always drew me back," he said. "It was always the people.

"I didn't really get into true creativity until later in life," the multitalented Marrero added. "Key West, with its small town charms, is very supportive of the arts and has afforded me a lot of opportunity."

Marrero's extensive list of awards includes two for his recent short film "Buzzcut" — named the best horror film for 2017 at an international film festival in Amsterdam and best short film at the Key West Film Festival in 2016 — along with several Addy awards for photography, art, video, a website and ad campaigns.

Theatrical works include nearly 20 credits and nearly another 20 filmography credits.

Founder of Marrero Studio in 1998, Marrero is a board member of Tropic Cinema and the Florida Keys Council of the Arts. He's been a studio artist-in-residence at The Studios of Key West since 2014, when he also was chosen to oversee Key West Theater.

To organize his considerable talents, he structures a schedule to optimize creative energy that typically involves writing or photography. Rising around 7 a.m., he said he spends "a minimum of one hour a day" on creativity, either from 9 to 10 a.m. or 2 to 3 p.m.

Through his works, Marrero hopes to preserve Key West history.

For the future, the artist has planted family roots firmly in Key West. When not working or spending time with family, he can be found at The Porch enjoying a cold beer and a creative conversation with friends.