This is Queen City Theatre Company’s past: Seven seasons of outrageous, funny, thought-provoking musicals, dramas and comedies, all in the cozy and sometimes confining Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square.
This is QCTC’s future: flux.
Well, not the immediate future. Mike Bartlett’s “Cock,” which won the 2010 Olivier Award (England’s Tony) for best achievement by an affiliate theater. This comedy about a sexually indecisive chap named John and the man and woman fighting for his affections – known only as M and W – runs Thursday through Nov. 23 at Duke Energy.
But the company probably won’t go back there: Queen City has traditionally built its audiences over three weeks, peaking on the last one, and Blumenthal Performing Arts has decided that two-week runs will be the standard from now on. (Sunday matinees had already been taken away for Elevation Church services, and Blumenthal wants to use that space for a wider group of tenants.)
“I love that space, and I wish we could stay there,” says Glenn Griffin, who’ll play M and directs most Queen City Theatre shows. “But Charlotte is a huge word-of-mouth city, and people wait until the last minute to buy their tickets. So we need to do longer runs.”
“We’re grateful for all the Blumenthal has done for us,” says QCTC co-founder Kristian Wedolowski, who’ll play John. “Now we’re looking at entrepreneurs who want to work with us in other kinds of venues, unconventional places.”
“Unconventional” has always described this troupe, whose productions have given voices to characters that mainstream theater usually overlooks – many of them gay, some not, but always outsiders.
“The goal is to make you laugh but also to give you something to think about,” says Griffin, the other co-founder. “When we did ‘Southern Baptist Sissies’ (about a gay man wrestling with his Baptist raising), a Myers Park mom came because her gay brother had been a Baptist and had killed himself. She came to every show we did after that.”
“Cock,” which will get its Carolinas premiere, meets that agenda. (Bartlett also wrote a show called “Bull” in 2013. Together, they’re cock-and-bull stories.) John has had an affair with M but now feels drawn to W (Iesha Hoffman). So the two combatants gather for a dinner along with F (Hank West) – who’s the father of M – to settle the direction of John’s life. The result, which takes place on an all-white stage over 95 minutes without intermission, is the verbal equivalent of a cockfight.
“Do they really want to win John, or is it more about them?” asks Griffin. “Does he have to define his sexuality one way or the other? There’s also a nature-vs.-nurture discussion: Is he destined to be gay by his DNA?”
Queen City has set itself a trickier task than normal, picking a play with a name the Blumenthal wouldn’t post on its website (the entry is defined as “---- (The Cockfight Play)”) and radio ads don’t care to repeat. Word of mouth may be more valuable than ever. But Wedolowski is confident: “We have a large audience base, and they’re loyal.”
They’ll have to be flexible, too, from now on. Wedolowski and Griffin hope in the long run to find a space that can become a permanent home they could rent out to other theater companies when they don’t need it, as Carolina Actors Studio Theatre does.
In the short term, Queen City will choose venues to fit yet-unannounced projects. Griffin is taking Queen City’s recent movement-oriented production of “Dangerous Liaisons” to Edinburgh in November of next year, and he’s talking to a New York producer about importing another show.
They plan to bring back Miss Coco Peru this winter; he’s the drag queen who kicked things off seven years ago with a fundraiser at Actor’s Theatre and has a new, one-woman show called “She’s Got Balls.” After that ...
“It’s uncertain,” says Wedolowski. “But it’s a good uncertain. We can’t believe what we’ve accomplished with such a small budget and a volunteer staff. We have the energy and the will and the love to keep it going.”