Cof­fee With

South­west Florida’s Bill Tay­lor

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - DEPARTMENTS - BY GLENN MILLER

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

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