This month, On Q Productions will wrap up its season with August Wilson’s drama “Seven Guitars.” If celebrating Wilson isn’t enough, the two men responsible for presenting it to Charlotte are award-winning playwright/actor/director Lou Bellamy – the founder and artistic director of Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minn. – and Charlotte’s Quentin Talley, founder and artistic director of On Q.
Before the show opens May 27 at Spirit Square, they’ll meet the public Monday night at an event titled “Lou, Q and You @ The Vue.” Charlotte writer-editor Mary Curtis will moderate the discussion.
Bellamy orates with a quiet voice, a Marlon Brando-esque rasp that suits one of the great godfathers of theater. Countless stories emerge from under his salt-and-pepper mustache, and his devotion to the performing arts is embedded in him. In 1976, a young Bellamy created Penumbra to provide a peek into the African-American experience, and he’s been recognized for doing so.
With similar vision and a plethora of potential, it’s no wonder Quentin Talley crossed paths with him. The two met at a gathering with Johnson C. Smith University’s president, Ronald Carter, as he considered a run of Wilson’s final script, “Radio Golf.”
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Later, when Talley wrote a grant to be considered for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Leadership U, he chose Bellamy and Penumbra as the mentor and location. Once he got the grant, the budding director-playwright obtained invaluable firsthand experience from a veteran, and a friendship quickly ensued. It’s still going strong today.
“There was no question Lou would direct ‘Seven Guitars,’” Talley said. “I wanted it done right, so there is no one else for the job.” Bellamy produced the professional debut of Wilson’s first play, “Black Bart and the Sacred Hills,” in 1982 and has presented several others over the years.
Bellamy fondly remembers the speech Wilson gave in 1996 at Penumbra’s 20th-anniversary celebration. Said Wilson, “When I walked through the door of Hallie Q. Brown (Theatre), I did not know I would find lifelong friends and supporters who would encourage and enable my art. I did not know then what Penumbra would come to mean to me....Their production of ‘The Piano Lesson’ would become not only my favorite staging, but a model of style and eloquence that would inspire my future work.”
As raw and gritty as some of Wilson’s themes are, there’s beauty hidden within the pages of his scripts. Bellamy hopes the audience walks away understanding the value of a life, the direction of a heart and the authenticity of the events in the piece.
Talley, who’s heavily influenced by writer Amiri Baraka, decided to devote On Q’s Season 6 to the intimacy and sensuality of jazz and blues. He gave it the title “Blues People,” and each performance this season has had a musical theme or undertone.
He decided to hold “Lou, Q and You” because he knows local theater doesn’t always flourish, and colloquies like this one are essential to the sustainability of the performing arts in a sea of banking centers, professional teams, and breweries.
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.
‘Lou, Q and You’ and ‘Seven Guitars’
The discussion begins at 6 p.m. Monday at The Vue, 215 N. Pine St. Tickets are $50 and include dinner, music and scenes from the upcoming “Seven Guitars.” Details: youarenowonq.com.
The play runs May 27-June 7 at Duke Energy Theater in Spirit Square. Tickets are $28. Details: blumenthalarts.org.