STATE OF STAGES: Three Bone Theatre Is ‘A Catalyst For Conversation And Change’
This story is part of our ongoing “State of Stages” series regarding the current realities and activities of Charlotte’s theater community. In February, we’ll share a second part of this report, detailing Three Bone Theatre’s work with other local companies to keep live, local stage performances alive in Charlotte.
Eddie Barbanell, star of the upcoming production of “Andy and the Orphans” surrounded by members of the show’s crew.
For more than a decade, Three Bone Theatre has been confronting tough, timely social issues. They’ll do it again in February with Andy and the Orphans.
While she was studying theater at Catawba College, Robin Tynes-Miller assumed she’d move to New York after graduation like so many other aspiring actors.
But she took a course that explored how small, innovative theater companies can make large impacts on their communities.
“It lit something in me,” said Tynes-Miller, founder and artistic and operations director of Three Bone Theatre.
“I was frustrated with representation on stage and what stories we tell.” The class led Tynes-Miller and her friend and fellow Catawba alum, Carmen Bartlett, to start their own theater company soon after they graduated.
They pooled $300 together to put on their first production – Steven Dietz’s Fiction – in late 2012. Catawba College gave them free space for the production.
Emboldened by early success, they worked toward becoming a full-fledged theater company. Their first show in Charlotte was The Vagina Monologues, which they produced at the former UpStage space in NoDa in April 2013.
Tiffany Bryant-Jackson (above, left to right), Callie Richards, Becky Schultz and Robin Tynes-Miller.
Starting off strong
The Vagina Monologues had an entirely sold-out run. “We knew we were on to something,” Tynes-Miller said. “We’re in the middle of season 11 and are now planning season 12.”
That production was also the beginning of a partnership that has endured for 10 years and counting. Becky Schultz, who would go on to become Three Bone’s executive director, was in the cast.
“We were lucky enough that that initial production came along with some fabulous talent, including Becky, Davita Galloway and some other amazing artists,” Tynes-Miller said.
“That show allowed us to begin to create a big, beautiful network in Charlotte. And I love that Becky, [Production Manager] Callie [Richards] and [Education Manager] Tiffany [Bryant-Jackson] have stuck around since that first Charlotte show. They’re all our leadership team now.”
“We used to joke that we started this because no one told us we couldn’t,” she continued. “But we were really committed and believed we could do something different that had an impact. And I’m grateful I did it when I was 22 because I think, if I tried to do that now, I would be too tired.”
Nasha Shandri as Toni Stone
The intersection of art and social justice
From the beginning, the women behind Three Bone (named after a witticism often attributed to Reba McEntire: “To succeed in life you need three things – a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone”) had lofty goals for the company. This is not merely art for art’s sake.
“We always wanted to use theater as a catalyst for conversation and change,” Tynes-Miller said. “And we’ve definitely sharpened that focus over the years.
“Our first two seasons, we produced shows, like A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room, which are probably considered part of the theater canon. But we wanted to cast them in ways that gave people opportunities to see them in a new way. I’ve always been interested in how social justice and art meet, and we’ve definitely honed in on that and will continue to.”
All the work Three Bone produces shines a light on some timely topic. The first show of the current season, Sanctuary City, focused on undocumented young people in this country – the Dreamers – and how they navigate the (broken) system. “We have a lot of young people in Charlotte who are navigating that system,” Tynes-Miller said. “And it’s tremendously unfair.”
They’ll do it again in their upcoming Danielle Melendez-directed production, Andy and the Orphans by Lindsey Ferrentino (Feb. 10 – 25).
“Amy (or Andy) and The Orphans is about adult siblings dealing with the passing of their parents,” Tynes-Miller said. “And one of the siblings has Down syndrome. The play [which ran off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company] featured the first lead character played by an actor with Down syndrome on or off-Broadway. Lindsey made a version called Andy and The Orphans and Amy and the Orphans so you can cast the sibling – the character with Down syndrome – as either gender.”
‘Our first Equity contract’
“We’re so lucky that Eddie Barbanell, who originated the role of Andy, is coming to Charlotte to be our Andy,” said Tynes-Miller.
“He’s remarkable. It’s been such a joy to get to know him and his family. This is our first Equity contract, and Eddie is our first out-of-state actor [for whom we’re providing housing]. I cannot wait for Charlotte audiences to get to see him. We’re partnering with Best Buddies North Carolina. We’re excited to highlight their amazing work.”
Barbanell co-starred with Johnny Knoxville in the film The Ringer and has also been seen in Hall Pass and Dumb and Dumber.
With every play Three Bone produces, they partner with a relevant nonprofit. The nonprofit gets to place marketing material in the theater lobby, and a representative from the nonprofit can make a curtain speech to introduce their mission and solicit volunteers and donors.
In addition to his acting, he’s an advocate and athlete for the Special Olympics. As the Special Olympics International Board Director, Barbanell was part of a delegation present for President Obama’s signing of Rosa’s Law, which banned the use of “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” in federal policy, replacing them with “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability.”
A proving ground for new actors
Barbanell is far from the only new face theatergoers will see at Three Bone. They’ve become known for casting actors new to Charlotte stages – and sometimes entirely new to acting.
“Theaters can get really insular on who they work with,” Tynes-Miller said. “And it becomes this bubble that people feel excluded from. We want people to feel comfortable auditioning for us. If it’s their first audition or 50th, we’re constantly looking for people who’d be fabulous to work with.”
“We don’t want to be a repertory company,” she added. “We don’t want to have the same 10 actors on our stage, although there are certainly folks we’ve worked with and love dearly and want to work with again. But we also love having new talent.”
Frequent Three Bone collaborators – Dennis Delamar, Dr. Charles LaBorde, Sarah Provencale, Dr. Corlis Hayes – include a Who’s Who of Charlotte’s theater community.
Mitzi Corrigan (above, left to right), Michael Harris and Lillie Oden in the 2022 production of “The Children.”
Something lost, something gained
Three Bone’s former home was the Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square, but that black box space is gone now and is making way for the main library’s expansion. These days, you can catch Three Bone productions at Johnson C. Smith’s Arts Factory at West End Studios.
The space can be configured to seat between 60 and 80. But the best part about it is that Three Bone “can rent the space for three weekends, which theater makers say is the magic number,” Tynes-Miller said. A three-weekend run allows word of mouth to build.
“We’re very grateful to be in that space,” Tynes-Miller said. “There are such limited options right now. That’s been really stressful for every theater company, and it’s largely what led to Actors Theatre closing. It’s incredibly disheartening.”
The company also has rehearsal space now at Corrigan & Johnston Casting in NoDa. It’s much more convenient than the previous rehearsal space near the airport. “It’s more central, and it’s great for actors to connect with C&J, as well,” Tynes-Miller said.
The cast of the 2022 production of “Toni Stone.”
Direct from (off) Broadway
See Edward Barbanell in Lindsey Ferrentino’s Andy and the Orphans at Three Bone Theatre at the Arts Factory at West End Studios, 1545 W. Trade Street. It runs from Feb. 10 through 25 – Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
The show contains adult language and themes, including trauma to disabled people and is recommended for ages 16+. Tickets range from $15 (students and teachers) to $30 (adult, night of show) and are available at threebonetheatre.com. Follow Three Bone Theatre at threebonethteatre.com and on Instagram and Facebook.
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