Harvest Theatre reaps benefits of EquityWritten by Lauri Donahue | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Bill Quinlan moved with his wife and mother-in-law to Toledo from the East Coast last October, they increased the local membership in Actor’s Equity (the professional stage actors’ union) by 50 percent.
Quinlan, a San Francisco native and a veteran of more than 150 productions as an actor (plus 30 as a director) founded Toledo’s new Harvest Theatre with the goal of bringing professional regional theatre to the area. He said many smaller cities and towns have theatres with national reputations.
The new theatre’s inaugural season opens Oct. 6 with “Night by Michelangelo” by up-and-coming playwright Gary Giovannetti. Michelangelo is a story of a breast cancer patient’s cross-country journey in search of friendship, family, and meaning. The play is being staged in conjunction with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“I knew I wanted to do plays which are interesting, challenging, and not what you normally see around here,” Quinlan said. “This first play is by a friend of mine. It’s very funny, very emotional.”
“Michelangelo features” local actors Stephanie Stephan and her husband Joe Dennehy as the leads, and Thom Eric Sinn, Cheryl Walker, Michael L. Portteus and high school student Megan McGarry. Quinlan is directing.
Other shows scheduled are “Inspecting Carol” (a comedy about a community theater’s misguided attempt to stage yet another production of “A Christmas Carol”), the Tennessee Williams classic “The Glass Menagerie,” and “Bed and Sofa,” a three-character musical set in Stalinist Russia.
The plays will be performed in the newly renovated Lois M. Nelson Theatre in the Collingwood Arts Center — a former convent built in 1906. The theater’s new seats were donated by National Amusements, recycled from the defunct Franklin Park Cinema and installed by volunteers from the Perrysburg Jeep plant.
Quinlan is enthusiastic about the space, known for its excellent acoustics and vintage chandelier, and considers the resident ghost a plus (though he hasn’t actually met her yet).
“Apparently she’s a nun and she’s pretty friendly. I went to Catholic school so I know she’s on my side,” he said.
Quinlan has a five-year plan “that’ll knock your socks off,” featuring a mix of new and classic plays, which will eventually include a summer Shakespearean festival and possibly theater classes for children and adults. He has also been approached by a local playwright about hosting a workshop and reading environment for new works.
“We’re interested in who the next great writers are going to be. One thing I learned in New York is that it’s the writers, more than the actors, who make or break this industry.”
All of the theater’s creative staff, many recent university graduates, are paid, “although it may not be much more than gas money.”
Quinlan said he feels that using professionals “is a sign of status, growth, maturity as a theater company. Big name writers and actors will look at us more seriously if we’re professional.” So far, the theater’s administrative positions are all-volunteer. “I’d love to have a full-time staff and pay actors what they’re worth,” Quinlan said.
Performances are at the Collingwood Arts Center, 2413 Collingwood Blvd. Tickets are normally $17-$20, but Wednesday performances are “pay what you can” nights (tickets available at the door, $1 minimum) and Thursdays are “buy one, get the second ticket at half off” nights.