Theatre on the Edge

by Julie Clay

IT'S ONE THING TO CHALLENGE theatergoers with edgier, even occasionally controversial material. It’s another to do it successfully here in quiet Southwest Florida – and for the last two decades! Theatre Conspiracy has been doing just that and their 20th anniversary season looks to be another fine assortment of thought-provoking entertainment, having kicked off with ‘All My Raisins in the Son,’ running through November 2. Written by John Twomey, winner of Theatre Conspiracy’s annual New Play contest, ‘All My Raisins in the Son’ deals with the quirky personalities and inner politics of a staff of high school teachers, one of whom is a recent hire, ready to inspire his students. Other productions to look forward to this season include Pulitzer Prize finalist ‘Becky Shaw,’ described by The New York Times as “engrossing as it is ferociously funny like a big box of fireworks fizzing and crackling” (November 22 - December 15); ‘Relatively Speaking,’ a collection of three one-act comedies by four-time Oscar winner Ethan Coen, two-time Oscar winner Elaine May and four-time Oscar winner Woody Allen (January 3-19); ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane,’ winner of four Tony Awards (February 7-23); and ‘The Whale,’ Obie award winner Samuel Hunter’s story of a 600-pound morbidly obese man, sitting in his apartment, depressed and slowly eating himself to death (March 14-23).

The Theatre Conspiracy story goes back to 1985 when founder Bill Taylor, a Florida native, started the troupe as a response to the lack of challenging theatre available in the area at the time. That production’s success led to another and, eventually, the opening of their first permanent location.

“We were lamenting the fact that there were no challenging roles or plays for us to do,” Bill relates, “We decided we would pool our resources and put on our own show. In 1988 the Royal Palm Players went out of business and left this little theatre across from the Edison Mall. We made a deal with the landlord to use that space.” After about a year, Bill left town. Returning in 1990, he discovered that his old college professor had started a theatre. Soon after, the Alliance of the Arts building was built and this theatre took up residence for about two years. Bill was then offered the chance to move Theatre Conspiracy into the Alliance’s 137-seat Foulds Theatre, and this is where they reside to this day. Bill refers to the Foulds’ scaled-down space as the ‘Three Bears’ theatre, as in “it’s not too big and not too small...’ It’s a nice, intimate theatre space,” he smiles, “It’s just right.”

Although Theatre Conspiracy is branching out into the equity actors’ talent pool for the first time this season, they regularly feature talented local actors including Joann Haley, Christopher Brent, Scott Thompson, Joan Olson, and Karen Goldberg.

“The Alliance knew that I used to produce shows myself and asked me to become the new resident theatre company. We used to be called Avalanche Productions, then changed to Southwest Theatre Conspiracy, then finally settled on just Theatre Conspiracy,” Bill shares.

From the beginning, it was clear Theatre Conspiracy was determined to stand out. Bill asserts, “When we first started we were the only ones challenging the public. We wanted to do stuff that was more meaty, with a little more controversial subject matter. Our moniker in the beginning was ‘The Classics to the Cutting Edge’. We’ve evolved over time and our emphasis now is supporting new work and up-and-coming playwrights. We do that through our annual New Play contest, now in its 15th year. The winner of New Playwright, John Twomey, also won the national Neil Simon playwrighting contest this year.

Theatre Conspiracy has also organized a local playwriting group. Whereas the New Play contest is nearly an internationally recognized entity, this local group, called Playwright Conspiracy, is where Theatre Conspiracy reaches out to help local playwrights develop their work. We’re talking to Edison State College about a joint production.”

Reflecting upon 20 years’ worth of productions, Bill recalls some of his favorites out of nearly 120 shows, ‘Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Moe show,’ ‘Greater Tuna,’ ‘Lonely Planet,’ and ‘Becoming Eleanor’ (about Eleanor of Aquitane) come to mind. Taylor explains, “Word of mouth took over on that one. I was amazed at the reaction I got on that show. We did a show in the art gallery with an exhibition of art by the mentally ill, called ‘Marat Sadd’.”

Not only is Year 20 looking to be another engaging season, but donors and fans will be able to enjoy a special anniversary reception in early December. “We’ll decorate the lobby with old pictures, list all the shows and try to track down some older actors,” Bill shares. They are also planning to celebrate the holidays with a free children’s performance of ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ Theatre Conspiracy has written a complete script for this production.

It’s a symbiotic relationship between Theatre Conspiracy and Lee County Alliance for the Arts. Bill says, “We support the Alliance and they help us, too. It’s a very good working relationship.” The well-appointed theatre space is nestled among galleries featuring ongoing art exhibits and classrooms devoted to arts of all types.

Alliance for the Arts is located at 10091 McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers. For more information about the Theatre Conspiracy season schedule and to order tickets for all productions, call 936-3239. •

November-December 2013

“We wanted to do stuff
that was more meaty,
with a little more
subject matter.”

Theatre Conspiracy’s
first production, ‘K2’ (top),
‘Red Herring’ (above),
‘Tower of Magic’ (below).

“We’ve evolved over time
and our emphasis now
is supporting new work
and up-and-coming


for the Arts
10091 McGregor Blvd.
Fort Myers