Southwest Florida’s Bill Taylor
B ill Taylor sits at a paint-spattered table in the Alliance for the Arts building with a Dunkin’ Donuts cup in front of him. The clear cup is about half-filled with his coffee drink of choice―a large dark roast with cream and a flavor shot … but no ice. “I can’t afford Starbucks,” Taylor says.
No, the producing artistic director of Theatre Conspiracy is a Dunkin’ Donuts guy. “I get more for my money,” Taylor says.
Taylor, 53, is a fixture on the Lee County theater scene going back more years than he probably likes to contemplate. He still recalls his first performance, a Fort Myers High School production of Johnny Belinda, which in 1948 was a film starring Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan’s first wife. “I was the rapist in that one,” Taylor says of his role in the 1980s.
The play hooked him on theater. “The thing that I remember the most about it was coming off stage after one of the performances and my drama teacher just gave me a look and a smile, like great job,” Taylor recalls, smiling. “There weren’t any words exchanged … but I remember thinking that feels really good.”
Theatre Conspiracy, a nonprofit that Taylor founded in 1985, has carved out a niche on the local theater scene, something he talked about over coffee on an April morning. As Taylor chats, Lydia Black, the Alliance’s executive director, pops into the room. “He’s like a local rock star,” Black says.
Theatre Conspiracy’s Facebook page notes the following: “Dedicated to producing and promoting the work of the next generation of American playwrights.”
Taylor in talking about his passion for theater says: “It’s the newer shows that drive me, finding the new play.”
Theatre Conspiracy this year, for example, gave us a new play by Jeff Lindsay. He’s author of the best-selling Dexter novels. The
Cave, Lindsay’s work about a runaway slave and two Civil War soldiers, played in March. Taylor holds an annual playwriting contest and the next one will be No. 19. Philadelphia playwright Jared Michael Delaney was picked last year from hundreds of others. His Noli Timere (Don’t Be Afraid) premiered in May. Taylor revels in the chance to produce new plays by new writers. “I get to call the playwright,” Taylor says. “It’s like you’re doing August Wilson’s first play and you get to call August Wilson … hey, now, obviously, that’s not August Wilson, but at the same time it’s the process of getting to pick the playwright’s mind.”
Staging edgier shows may not always bring in big crowds to the roughly 135-seat Foulds Theater on the Alliance campus in Fort Myers. Has he ever doubted his theater would succeed? “There was always that issue,” Taylor says. “There were times when I didn’t take paychecks just to be able to keep the company around.”
The playwright contest is a huge undertaking. “Every year I swear I’m never going to do it again,” Taylor says, smiling.
He receives more than 600 play entries a y ear. “From across the United States, Canada, England,” Taylor says. “We’ve gotten them from Belgium, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Czechoslovakia … we’ve gotten all 50 states.”
Choosing plays to stage is a never-ending project. How many shows does he consider every year? “Every one in the history of theater,” Taylor says. “Really. That’s really true. I’ve got bookcases filled with scripts at home. But it’s the entire history of theater you consider every year.”
Bill Taylor and Theatre Conspiracy continue making Lee County theater history, even though they haven’t staged every play in the entire history of theater.
Yet. Freelance writer Glenn Miller is president of the Southwest Florida Historical Society and a frequent contributor to TOTI Media.
THEATRE CONSPIRACY AT A GLANCE
• Individual tickets, $25 • Alliance for the Arts members, $22 • Students (with proper ID), $11 • Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with one Sunday matinee for each show at 2 p.m. • Group rates are $20 for 10 or more, $18 for 20 or more • Foulds Theater/Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, 239-939-2787, artinlee.org