Fans of On Q Performing Arts expected to sit in Duke Energy Theater this weekend, watching Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined,” but the Pulitzer-winning drama has been canceled.
It won’t even get a staged reading, as Stacey Rose’s “The Social Networth” did in March, after On Q decided against a full production of that play.
So what has happened?
“A perfect storm,” says artistic director and founder Quentin Talley. His absence for most of the season hampered fund-raising. Board president Tracy Russ moved to Washington, D.C., and hasn’t been replaced. Ticket sales for “Twilight,” the season’s second play of four, fell far short of expectations.
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“On Q has been running mostly through ticket sales,” he says. “Our budget was $70,000, and the only significant (outside) support was a $15,000 cultural innovation grant from the Arts & Science Council. So when sales for ‘Twilight’ were so low, we had to revamp ‘Networth’ and put a hold on ‘Ruined.’ We couldn’t keep getting more and more in the hole.
“But even if I’d been in town, it would have been a struggle to find money. We need to think about how we operate and how many shows we do.”
Talley has spent most of his time this season with Penumbra Theatre Company in Minneapolis, as the protégé of artistic director Lou Bellamy.
Last summer, Talley won one of six One-on-One awards given in America, paid for by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and run by Theatre Communications Group. It will pay him $75,000 over 18 months, starting last September. Up to $14,500 more is available for professional development or life needs, such as health care.
He went to Oregon Shakespeare Festival to help Bellamy direct August Wilson’s drama “Two Trains Running,” went back to Minnesota to work on Zora Neale Hurston’s “Spunk” and is now digging in Penumbra’s archives to help put together a history of its 37 years. He’ll observe and assist with education efforts this summer.
Talley has come back to Charlotte at times – he and Bellamy participated in an April fundraiser that garnered $2000 for On Q – and will be here next weekend, for a revival of “Miles and Coltrane: Blue.”
That play, collectively written by the slam poets of Concrete Generation, will go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer. Its brief run at Duke Energy Theatre (see box) will raise money for a projected month-long stay in Scotland. Though On Q has put on the play, and Talley stars as saxophonist John Coltrane, this version isn’t an On Q project.
“The play was at Edinburgh (in 2009) for a week in the middle of the festival,” Talley recalls. “To maximize publicity, you want to be there the whole time. We hope to pick up some producers (toward) our ultimate goal of a New York run.”
And what of On Q? Talley sent an e-mail blast to season subscribers saying, “We are in a phase of temporary transition …We have entered a process to address the current challenges and intend to arise from this situation as quickly as possible. We will renew our efforts to build a solid organizational and financial base….”
He plans to launch a fund-raising campaign in June before announcing season five.
He expects to maintain On Q’s partnership with Blumenthal Performing Arts. (Blumenthal will import Penumbra’s production of “The Mountaintop,” Katori Hall’s play about the last night of Martin Luther King Jr., in its Broadway Extras series.)
And he plans to direct “Two Trains Running” for On Q, with Bellamy in town to help.
“We’re calling the next season ‘Behind the Dream,’ ” Talley says. “It’s about going behind the scenes of the American Dream, what it means to be successful. Our company is essentially African-American, so we’ll be talking about the civil rights dream, too. On Q will definitely be back.”