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).
Andy Hayworth, Fool for Love's director, has long noted the dearth of producers on the regional scene. He's worked as an actor, a stage manager, and director for a series of local independent theaters since 2003. He says that being a producer requires a set of managerial and organizational skills separate from those needed on the creative side of theatrical production.
"Raising money, planning, recruiting, and organizing a production is tough work, but a theater company can't run itself," he says. Putting on a show without a producer is like "the inmates running the asylum." McQueen has tasted this side of theater herself—more than she's wanted to.
"When people are getting out of rehearsal, exhausted and fighting with one another, something's wrong," she says. Her background in corporate communication, promotion, and marketing suggested missing elements in theater company structures that could make them "more efficient, affordable, and joyful."
McQueen's experience also suggested that, despite advances in recent years, local theater remains too insular and that this is still preventing it from exploring new partnerships, technologies, and economic models—and from finding, understanding, and cultivating the new audiences it needs in order to thrive.
A small, nimble company, McQueen thought, could demonstrate how things could be done more professionally, regardless of size and resources.
"So I've put my money where my mouth is," she says. "We need to change the way arts are viewed as a whole." With a handpicked cast and company, organized and timetabled according to a producer's design, Fool for Love stands to show that McQueen's envelope-pushing ideas mean business.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The Producers."