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Queen City New Play Initiative Launches Local Festival

Running June 5-11, NC in The Margins includes workshops, conversations and new play readings

Stacey Rose is the artistic director of Queen City New Play Initiative, and if I had my way she’d be the artistic director of all of Charlotte’s stages.

Rose has strong roots in Charlotte’s theatre community, along with professional contacts all over the country. Her authorial voice is a strong one, matched by her equally sharp curatorial sense. She’s a hero of mine and I swear to God if someone doesn’t write her a seven-figure check to nurture new plays in Charlotte soon I am going to throw a fit.

I remain cautiously optimistic that we will come to our senses, but Rose is exactly the kind of artistic leader that our city does a great job of ignoring only to wonder why they threw in the towel after the fact.

“We made her beg for pennies and otherwise ignored her unless we needed to check a diversity box, but still I don’t understand why she quit/moved/walked into the sea. Tsk tsk tsk. I guess her heart just wasn’t in it.”

Thankfully, Rose hasn’t thrown in the towel yet, and we have time yet to support her and the miraculous work that she is doing.

Launched in 2021, Queen City New Play Initiative (QCNPI) was designed to develop and amplify the voices of emerging Charlotte playwrights. QCNPI’s kick-off project, a series of theatre artist talks in which local artists were paired with national creatives for a discussion of their work and experiences, set the tone for the initiative’s lofty mission to bring Charlotte into the national artistic conversation. Those conversations effectively built a foundation of community and shared vision for QCNPI as an organization to begin taking on larger projects.

The year of its founding, Queen City Nerve recognized QCNPI as the Best Investment in Emerging Artists in its year-end Best in the Nest issue, but the organization’s investment in our city’s people takes the financial investment of the city’s institutions.

Unfortunately, my salary as an embittered gadfly is not sufficient for the task, so we’re going to have to find other sources of lucre. Foundations who have provided support in the past, this is your gentle reminder that you should just pick up the phone and offer the Queen City New Play Initiative a stack of money.

I’ll never understand the idea that funders can’t be curators, or that it is somehow vitally necessary that artists come hat in hand to funders toting a stack of documents and work samples to meekly request a few thousand dollars — especially in a town built on a pile of money. But alas, that’s a question for another day. For now, let’s leave it at this: Get out your checkbooks and make it rain for Queen City New Play Initiative.

Let me build my case for such demands. Yes friends, the time has come to talk about track record. Now, I’m not going to spend much time on Rose’s biography, although it is a fascinating journey that leads through the poetry and theatre scenes of Charlotte (with appearances by local legends like Sydney Horton and Quentin Talley), NYU’s performance writing MFA program, time spent working with Spike Lee, and a transformational experience at Minneapolis’s The Playwright’s Center (an inspiration for her own New Play Initiative).

A selfie of Stacey Rose
Stacey Rose (Courtesy of Queen City New Play Initiative)

And I didn’t even touch on her life as a devoted mom and a professional respiratory therapist! Believe me, it is oh so tempting to go on a flight of fancy about the poetic resonances of a poet and playwright working in the realms of healing people’s breath. Good God, that is a play I want to see!

Rose founded Queen City New Play Initiative with a Charlotte native who boasts a similarly impressive national reputation: Director Martin Wilkins has worked all over the country, specializing in bringing new plays to life wherever he lands. The two friends cooked up the idea after seeing the dearth (that means total fucking lack) of opportunities in Charlotte for writers (especially writers of color) to develop their voices.

After participating in the initial push to get New Play Initiative off the ground, Wilkins moved on to other projects. Rose remains as artistic director, working closely with local director Tina Kelly (who helmed Three Bone Theatre’s recent production, The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks and Curls by Keli Goff.)

Let us now turn to the work Queen City New Play Initiative has done since they’ve been on the scene. We’re talking about commissions, new play readings, artist talks, bake offs (these are a bit of sorcery cooked up by legendary playwright Paula Vogel), and a general commitment to supporting the work of living writers who are based in or whose work is informed by the contemporary American South.

Now the company is combining a bit of all that magic for a theatre festival called NC in The Margins. Running from June 5-11, the festival consists of workshops, conversations and new play readings all over Charlotte, made possible by partnerships between Queen City New Play Initiative and local production companies Brand New Sheriff Productions, Theatre Charlotte and Three Bone Theatre.

There is a key difference between those three companies that QCNPI is partnering with and Rose’s organization itself, and that difference speaks to why the New Play Initiative is so vital to Charlotte’s performance ecosystem. Brand New Sheriff, Theatre Charlotte and Three Bone are producing organizations. This means that they exist to produce a season of plays. To quote Nathan Arizona: “That’s their whole goddamned raison d’etre.”

Queen City New Play Initiative is not a producing org. They don’t (necessarily) put on shows. What they do is direct resources — including money and time but also attention and feedback — toward the development of new plays. Much like The Playwright’s Center in Minneapolis, where Rose spent time, QCNPI is an incubator for new work.

This is very important if Charlotte wants to be a place where culture is created and from where culture can be exported. Right now, at least in Charlotte’s theatre scene, we are importing the vast majority of our theater.

That is obvious in the case of touring shows that come through the Blumenthal Performing Arts stages in Uptown, but it’s also a factor in the seasonal programming at homegrown theatre companies; most of the work produced on area stages was written by folks who have never set foot in the Queen City.

Now, before you start throwing things, there are exceptions, of course. But the fact remains overwhelmingly true for a majority of both local and touring productions. And if we want our stages to be more of a real reflection of our community, then we have to do better at nurturing the voices of local playwrights.

That’s the work that Queen City New Play Initiative is doing and it’s worth giving a damn about. Step one in giving said damn: Come out and be a part of NC in The Margins.

Programming includes new work by Rose herself, as well as Gage Tarlton and James Webb. I’m not privy to content of the specific plays these artists are presenting, but if I were a gambler I’d wager that Tarlton’s work will trace some contour of the erotic and be inflected with an extremely online sensibility, while Webb’s will engage somehow with the spiritual.

As for Rose … well, Rose is a wild card whose written output never fails to surprise me, but I’ll expect to laugh and also likely be a little horrified.

And to be clear, that’s generally exactly why I go to the theater.

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