This Thursday, Charlotte theater group Three Bone Theatre premiers Every Brilliant Thing, an interactive play written by Duncan Macmillan and Johnny Donahoe, directed by Robin Tynes, and starring Tania Kelly. The show runs May 17-19, and May 24-26 at the Duke Energy Theatre at Spirit Square in Uptown Charlotte.
Since its inception in 2012, Three Bone Theatre has been producing exceptional theatrical performances that are “socially engaged, professionally managed, and creatively inspired.”
In anticipation of Every Brilliant Thing, I asked co-founder and Artistic Director (and director of Every Brilliant Thing) Robin Tynes to talk a little bit about the history and purpose of Three Bone Theatre.
Andy Goh: The name Three Bone Theatre comes from a Reba McEntire quote. Can you explain that quote?
Robin Tynes: When Carmen Bartlett and I founded Three Bone Theatre in 2012, we were looking for a name that conveyed the types of stories we wanted to tell and reflected our own fun and fresh personalities. The quote, “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone,” guides us to pick pieces that will inspire, strengthen, and entertain our community. It’s become the foundation of our business philosophy and it’s also a great way to look at life, you need to dream big, stay strong, and be able to laugh along the way. Plus, everyone loves Reba.
AG: When selecting plays to produce, what are some of the common themes or ideas you look for?
RT: We produce the best of contemporary theatre and that involves telling complex stories that are compelling and lead our audience to explore their own humanity in a new way. We’re constantly looking for pieces that we feel are relevant to our Charlotte audiences and stories that are entertaining but may ask viewers to lean into being a little uncomfortable. We believe that theatre has the power to create a stronger and more enriched society. When we’re looking at pieces, we also look for exciting new challenges. Our upcoming piece Every Brilliant Thing is a one-person show and is interactive with the audience. We’ve never done anything quite like it before and were excited to stretch in a new way while tackling the issue of mental health. We try to use our pieces to create conversation and ask questions — but the bottom line is that it has to be entertaining. People have to want to listen to the story.
AG: For each performance, Three Bone Theatre selects a different non-profit partner. How would you describe the goals of these partnerships?
RT: Yes, our Community Partnerships started in our second season and pairs a local organization doing work that ties in thematically with each show we produce. One of the main goals is building awareness. I like being able to talk to people after seeing one of our shows that impacted them and say, “Wow, this story really moved you. Did you know there was a way to get involved with these same issues in our city through this amazing organization?” It’s a soft call to action. But it also builds awareness of all of the amazing work being done in this city. I think all of our artists learn a lot from the partnerships as well. We’re currently working with HopeWay as our partner for Every Brilliant Thing and it’s been so fascinating learning about the need for mental health care in our area and all of the great work that HopeWay is doing. These partnerships are two-way streets. Most of our partners don’t know anything about the theatre process and hopefully they bring some non-theatre goers through the doors to see a play.
AG: Three Bone Theatre productions are performed in the Duke Energy Theatre in Spirit Square. What are some of the benefits of this venue?
RT: We love being in the Duke Energy Theatre at Spirit Square. Three Bone Theatre started at an upstairs bar in NoDa that fit about 60 people, so expanding to The Duke has been a dream come true. We love the facility and the staff at Spirit Square. We feel supported and like we have a great team working alongside us for each show – and the location is hard to beat! It’s right in uptown with plenty of parking options available, easily accessible from public transportation and it’s surrounded by delicious restaurants so it makes for a nice “night out.” We have very limited time in the space for tech (we move into the space the Sunday before we open on that Thursday) so our artists have to be ready to go and triple-prepared in order to make the most of every minute. That can definitely be challenging. We also have the challenge of only running for two weekends which can be tricky when most theatres find that you don’t really generate much word of mouth momentum until weekend three. On the other hand, we have more seating and are in an actual theatre (versus a bar) so it’s nice having more options for designs from a technical standpoint. Blumenthal Performing Arts also does a non-profit waiver for the space, which makes it more affordable for emerging companies.
AG: Three Bone Theatre is entirely made up of part-time employees. What are some of the challenges you face with that kind of setup?
RT: Yeah, so we have four members on our management team, and we all have day-jobs. So it’s truly a labor of love. As we’ve grown rapidly, it’s created some challenges with capacity. We have huge visions of the work we want to do and the partnerships we want to create but it comes down to finding the time. We currently do four shows a season and have been brainstorming additional programming for a while – but struggle with the people-power needed to implement those. We’re always trying to find some balance as well since two of our team members have young kids, one of our team members is also back in school, and I’m getting married in October! :P We’re crazy people. But we love what we do!
AG: Talk a little about your background in theatre. Were you an actor, producer etc. growing up? What are some plays or performances of any kind that shaped your passion for theatre?
RT: I’ve been doing theatre since a very young age. I was very involved in school clubs and plays growing up and was lucky to go to schools in western NC that had very healthy theatre programs. I was active with Asheville Community Theatre and worked there most summers as a counselor, teacher, and camp director. Playing Dorothy Gale in Asheville Community Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz is what probably cemented in my head that I wanted to do theatre professionally. I just became obsessed. It’s a wonderful art form and I believe it’s one of the best ways to step into someone else’s shoes. I have a BFA in Musical Theatre Performance from Catawba College, but during my senior year I shifted my plan of moving to NYC and started to dream about having more control over the stories being told on stage. Carmen Bartlett, our Founding Artist, and I concocted the idea of Three Bone Theatre in the summer of 2011 and we had our first production in Fall of 2012. Since then, we’ve added team members and become a 501(c)3 and continue to grow our organization. Becky was in our first production in Charlotte of The Vagina Monologues and we scooped her up with her whip-smart background in finances and business and she’s now been our Executive Director for almost five years. She’s been a game changer for us and we have a really great team. I’ve been directing more than acting now, which I love equally as much. And producing is its own type of joy. Three Bone has really become my baby and while sometimes it’s totally exhausting – it’s also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
AG: How would you like to see Three Bone Theatre evolve in the future?
RT: I have so many dreams for Three Bone Theatre, but mostly I just want us to keep telling these beautiful stories, using local talent (like award-winning Charlotte comedienne, Tania Kelly starring in Every Brilliant Thing), and getting people passionate about coming to the theatre. I truly believe that theatre can change the world.
Responses edited for syntax only.