It was wonderful hanging out with the folks at Burning Coal Theater Company for their podcast this week! Our founder, Diana McQueen, speak with Artistic Director Jerry Davis on the future of theater in Raleigh, NC.
We did it! We are so overwhelmed by the response!!
There were a few things on my mind when I decided to produce Fool for Love on my own. One was wanting to produce this play, specifically, not only because of the role within it, but because of its themes. The play centers around the idea of toxic masculinity, a hot button topic these days. Also, how a cycle of emotional abuse effects generation after generation. I have a passion for mental health and psychology as well as sex positivity. This seemed like a perfect play to explore all three.
I’m acutely aware that mental health is not discussed nearly enough, and rarely in constructive ways. Some of the themes in this suckerpunch of a play speak directly to that need for communication and support, simply by presenting the behaviors for people to identify in our modern day. I wanted to examine this darkly funny, torrid, fan-favorite play in a different light; a production shaped by experiences I had had personally.
Also, sexual desire, despite all complications, is right in the foreground of this play. It shows how powerful sexual attraction can be, and how our brain chemistry can be shaped by exterior forces and influenced at times by our own wills. The topic of sex is both fascinating and thrilling and made the show tantalizing but ultimately more disturbing, which is what I love about it. Although it barely scratches the surface of the topic as a whole for all audiences, it was important to the themes of traditional gendered expectations, and why they crumble.
I knew that this was smart choice to start a company with, because of the small cast, simple set (which we could make as detailed as we were able), but also because of the different demographics it was sure to bring in. We brought in an even measure of women to men, which is unusual as women overwhelmingly buy tickets to theater over men. As well, as bring a play to the area that hadn’t been done, nor would be done, in a long time. It would make our production stand out, be gutsy and surprising. Also, Sam Shepard’s writing is solid. His themes are singular, but his words are blunt and beautiful at the same time. This play unwinds beautifully, and keeps the audience tense till the end. We knew we could reach people with this play. All I needed were strong performers and professional crew.
The key to all this was finding like minded people who were also passionate about this play. Which is the only way to do any project, really. But people who really wanted to be there. Through luck and networking I found so many people who had always wanted to do this play, or were up for the challenge.
I set small goals for the production to make sure we could meet them and sustain us forward. These goals all feed in to my larger goals for the community at large, and want to start having more conversations about. I have to start somewhere, so I started where I believed I should:
1.) Pay everyone. Minus a few volunteers who generously came into help build and help clean up, who were compensated with hugs, food and beer, everyone who worked on Fool for Love more than two non-consecutive days, was compensated with an agreed upon amount at the end of the show.
2.) Create a comprehensive and gorgeous media/promotional plan for the show. Executed with the help of partners reDirect Media Group and Nieto Photography, I was able to create a beautiful visual language that actually helped the look of the play evolve too.
3.) Engage a new audience rather than mine the community continuously. Of course I wanted my peers to see and love my work, but I limited my posting and targeting of theater saturated audiences and tried to reach out to areas I didn’t have a network, or that didn’t commonly come see shows. What we got was a mix of people I knew from outside theater all over the country supporting us, people who hadn’t seen this play in 20 years and wanted to see it again. Sam Shepard fans who approved of our quality level, and people who rarely take a chance on new companies. We have only just broken the ice on this experiment and hope to grow the audience we discovered through technology and accessibility.
4.) Be as accessible as possible. A few attempts to be truly accessible didn’t make the cut as the rights to really reach people who can’t make it to the theater were not available. That didn’t stop us from bringing Arts Access in right away, and trying to engage audiences that didn’t usually experience theater bc of limitations of the experience. Future plans include: shuttles, ride-share, event nights, sign language, closed captions options and of course another attempt to livestream a performance.
5.) Promote diversity on stage and behind. A long term goal of mine is to make opportunities for types of people less seen on stage. This is a must for any project I lead and it began with my first directing project, The How and the Why by Sarah Treem. I wanted to see that powerful script played by two powerful black women and so I did just that. I was thrilled with the results, and a still so proud of that production.
As for gender: Fool for Love had equal amounts of men and women on cast and crew combined. More women working the tech side: Set design and building, lighting, painting, props, costumes, Assistant Stage Management and fight choreography. For a show mainly about masculine themes, it was presented by and equal amount of women, and I believe that helped us tell the story I set about wanting to tell. A tragic story with heart, not just a twisted, dark moment, but something that maybe we can grow from. Something with real emotion and hope.
My favorite part of this whole experience was seeing my cast and crew enjoy it. We had to overcome a few late stage hurdles, but they couldn’t stop us from making and enjoying a three week run of wonderful, excited audiences and thrilling and funny, rollercoaster shows.
I am excited about where we’re heading next and looking for interested companies and investors to partner with for this one. It’s gonna be wild.
See you again soon, Triangle.
Byron Woods from Independent Weekly came to see our Saturday 6/17 show. He had this to say:
For some, Father’s Day is more of a reckoning than a celebration, a time for arguing with old ghosts instead of relaxing over burgers and beers. All of which makes Fool for Love, Sam Shepard’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize finalist, the perfect play for the holiday—or not, depending.
A dear, disreputable, and definitely dead old dad (a grizzled Joe Christian) watches from the corner of a dingy Mojave Desert motel room, swigging from a crumpled brown bag as he keeps a weather eye on the reunion taking place there. A scrawny, self-styled rodeo stuntman named Eddie (Ryan Ladue) says he’s stalked the object of his attentions, May (Diana Cameron McQueen), some 2,000 miles to find her here—the latest round in fifteen unhappy years of cyclic commitment and abandonment.
As Eddie restakes his claim on May’s life while nursing a long-held grudge and a bottle of cheap tequila, the Old Man provides color commentary on the resulting battle, along with clues about Eddie and May’s relationship and his own ties to them both.
Under Andy Hayworth’s direction, the collection of character studies and conflicts in this inaugural McQueen & Company production play out as per the stage direction “relentlessly without a break.” As Eddie, Ladue has broadened his range, growing increasingly believable as the crippling vulnerabilities beneath a whip-lean bully’s thin skin emerge. McQueen explored the fatigue of a lengthy emotional battle and the double bind that simultaneously repels and attracts May to Eddie.
Occasionally, all three actors short-changed moments that could have generated more of a dramatic charge, but Joshua Mardrice Henderson was strong as Martin, the hapless local swain who gets caught up in this three-way, long-term emotional tug of war. He’s the odd man out in a intriguing cryptogram of relationships. Recommended.
We have two more shows! Get tickets here!
Managing Artistic Director, Diana McQueen, and Fool for Love Director, Andy Hayworth, talked with Byron Woods about McQueen & Company‘s experiment and outlook on how art can be seen differently and reach more people.
Many theater companies in our region arrange themselves along similar lines. Sometimes a lone auteur, like Ellen Hemphill of Archipelago Theatre or Wendy Ward of Ward Theatre Company, pursues an individual vision. Sometimes a group, like Black Ops or Justice Theater Project, addresses a social and aesthetic agenda. But most have one thing in common: an artistic director who embodies the organizing principle.
Though rising local actor Diana Cameron McQueen wanted to start a new company, she’s less interested in directing than most. When McQueen & Company stages its inaugural production, Sam Shepard’s Obie-winning Fool for Love, McQueen will indeed be onstage, exploring her character’s magnetic, dysfunctional relationship with an itinerant rodeo rider in a Mojave Desert motel room that seems lifted from the world of David Lynch. But the show bears the marks of her desire to change the region’s theatrical landscape less as an actor or director than as a producer, a role many local theatrical productions lack.
As a result, two innovations are already apparent. One is promotional photography whose glossy design suggests a full-page magazine spread about an edgy new cable series. The other is offering viewers the choice of a live performance in Research Triangle Park or a live stream on their smart TVs, laptops, or tablets (June 17).
“Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love Inaugurates McQueen & Company” — CVNC, Jeffery Rossman
“If Fool for Love is an example of the quality of the productions that are to come from McQueen & Company, then they certainly will have a very long and successful run in our community.”
“As Eddie, Ryan Ladue gives a breakout performance, making the most of the character’s charm, bravado, menace and passion. His extended drunk scene toying with Martin is the show’s highlight. Diana Cameron McQueen’s May has energy and determination…The opportunity to see one of Shepard’s best works makes the production easily recommended.”
Fool for Love Is a Promising Start for New Theater Troupe McQueen & Company –Indy Week, Byron Woods.
“Joshua Mardrice Henderson was strong as Martin, the hapless local swain who gets caught up in this three-way, long-term emotional tug of war. He’s the odd man out in a intriguing cryptogram of relationships. Recommended.”
“McQueen & Company’s First-Rate Cast and Crew for Fool for Love Really Deliver”–Triangle Arts and Entertainment, PAMELA VESPER AND KURT BENRUD
“Andy Hayworth has assembled a first-rate cast and crew, and he has made some strong choices that make this production particularly special.”
“McQueen & Company’s Inaugural Production, Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, Shows Promise”–Triangle Arts and Entertainment, Dustin Britt
“Diana Cameron McQueen captures the dichotomy of May — apprehensive young girl and fiery, mature woman. Ryan Ladue, as the wayward Eddie…delivered a credible and heartfelt performance. Joshua Mardrice Henderson gives the production’s most unfaltering performance as the tightly wound Martin.”
production photos by Nieto Photography