Lo­cal the­ater has wish­bone, funny bone, back­bone

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN Arts cor­re­spon­dent ex­traor­di­nar­ily

n the the­ater world, an or­di­nar­ily crazy per­son grad­u­ates from col­lege and bolts to New York, liv­ing in a tiny apart­ment with ir­ri­tat­ing room­mates and wait­ing on ta­bles un­til dis­cov­ered.

An crazy per­son cre­ates a the­ater com­pany in a new city where cul­tural star­tups of­ten last as long as dan­de­lions in a cy­clone.

Robin Tynes went to Catawba Col­lege think­ing she be­longed in group

1. She came out with a B.A. in mu­sic the­ater and re­al­ized she was in group

2. She im­me­di­ately moved to Char­lotte in 2012, co-founded Three Bone Theatre with Car­men Bartlett and re­mains its artis­tic di­rec­tor.

“We started talk­ing in col­lege about artists tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for their work,” she says. “A small part of me won­ders what New York would’ve been like, but I’m type-A: I wanted to get some­thing go­ing right away. I don’t think I’d have been com­fort­able with a starv­ing artist’s life.”

A starv­ing pro­ducer’s life? Not so bad. By day, she crunches data as Chil­dren’s Theatre of Char­lotte’s sys­tems and an­a­lyt­ics man­ager. By night, week­end and in other wak­ing mo­ments, she pushes her own com­pany for­ward with as­sis­tance from a small, loyal cadre of Bone-afides.

(The com­pany takes its name from Reba McEn­tire’s dic­tum that you need three things to suc­ceed: A wish bone, a back bone and a funny bone.)

Three Bone launches its sev­enth sea­son this week with the lo­cal pre­miere of “Ap­pro­pri­ate,” a play about the strange racial his­tory of an Arkansas fam­ily. Later this sea­son, it’ll pro­duce the win­ner of last year’s Tony for best play: “Oslo,” about back-chan­nel talks and hero­ics that led to the 1993 peace ac­cord be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans. That’s a re­mark­able catch for a small com­pany op­er­at­ing in Duke En­ergy The­ater.

The pre­ced­ing para­graph tells you two things that make this com­pany unique: Al­most none of the plays have been done here – even on na­tional tours – and all have some tie to so­cial is­sues. Here’s a third: Three Bone takes a lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion as a part­ner on every play, from the teen-fo­cused Pos­si­bil­ity Project to HopeWay, a non­profit men­tal health fa­cil­ity for adults.

Tynes’ love of cul­ture and so­cial aware­ness lie deep in her DNA: She grew up around Asheville and Black Moun­tain, where her par­ents (both vis­ual artists) took her and her sis­ter to marches as far off as Wash­ing­ton D.C. She had a teenage epiphany watch­ing


“Marisol,” a play by José Rivera, at UNC-Asheville. “It was the first time I saw the­ater that dealt with so­cial is­sues but wasn’t preachy,” she re­calls. Years later, she de­cided to form an en­sem­ble to tell such sto­ries.

It be­gan at Up­stage, the beloved but di­sheveled space in NoDa that housed count­less per­form­ing groups. When the own­ers de­cided not to host the­ater any more, Tynes de­ter­mined to sur­vive the evic­tion.

But how? She hadn’t taken a sin­gle busi­ness class in col­lege. Nei­ther she nor Bartlett, who still takes an in­ter­est in the

group, had fund-rais­ing or man­age­ment chops. Becky Schultz, who’d acted in “The Vagina Mono­logues” in sea­son two, stepped in.

Schultz, now ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, used her bank­ing back­ground to free Tynes to han­dle artis­tic chores. (Tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Ryan Maloney and pro­duc­tion man­ager Cal­lie Richards com­plete the core quar­tet.)

“I was so im­pressed when she di­rected me by the re­spect she and Car­men had for the ac­tors,” Schultz says. “They were well-or­ga­nized, pol­ished, re­spect­ful of our time. They had a vi­sion of what they were try­ing to do and just had sparkles in their eyes. No one had told them they couldn’t do this, so they were do­ing it.

“I’d been em­bed­ded in a the­ater in Lit­tle Rock, but af­ter I moved, no com­pany in Char­lotte felt like a place where I could put down roots. Three Bone was. At the same time, they knew that be­ing com­pletely un­fa­mil­iar with the busi­ness side was a weak­ness. They didn’t want to be a group of friends who put a play on when­ever they could (raise money).”

Tynes proudly de­clares the com­pany has never lost money on any of its 23 pro­duc­tions and pays ac­tors and crew at least a lit­tle each time. Three Bone now part­ners with Blu­men­thal Per­form­ing Arts, which waives rental costs for Duke En­ergy The­ater.

She’s proud of two other things not every artis­tic di­rec­tor can claim: The com­pany never au­di­tions for a pre-cast role just to see what ac­tors can do, and she hires di­rec­tors of dif­fer­ent gen­ders, races and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions who un­der­stand the ma­te­rial. “She re­al­izes she’s a white fe­male of priv­i­lege and be­lieves any­thing she pro­duces should be au­then­tic,” says Schultz. “It’s hum­bling for artists to ac­knowl­edge they can­not tell a story best, but she does.”

Peo­ple in the­ater pro­duc­tions of­ten feel they be­long to “fam­i­lies,” al­beit dys­func­tional ones where cousins can go years with­out see­ing each other. Tynes aims for con­nect­ed­ness with­out con­tention: She worked with ac­tress Ta­nia Kelly for six months on the one-woman “Every Bril­liant Thing,” about the child of a mom who at­tempted sui­cide.

“Robin is such a col­lab­o­ra­tive di­rec­tor,” says Kelly. “She in­cor­po­rated my ideas openly, and she makes it easy to work with her, be­cause she is so hon­est and clear. She holds her­self and her ac­tions to such a high stan­dard.”

Tynes will com­pli­cate her life even fur­ther by mar­ry­ing fel­low Chil­dren’s Theatre em­ployee Scott Miller in Oc­to­ber. She and Miller, the grants man­ager, met as ac­tors in a CTC tour of “The Lit­tlest An­gel.” With­out his sup­port for her and Ben Schultz’ sup­port for Becky, Tynes says, “We could not do this. Scott puts up with a lot of me sit­ting on the couch on TV Night, star­ing at my lap­top and click­ing on emails.”

CTC has been sup­port- ive of Three Bone, even lend­ing space for a fight re­hearsal for “Ap­pro­pri­ate.” Yet Tynes’ em­ploy­ers “ex­pect me to be on top of my job all the time, as they should. Luck­ily, that work is very left­brain, so I have men­tal space to do right-brain (cre­ative) things with Three Bone. Yet I feel like I have two full-time jobs.” And in her free time? “I never have any. But I am teach­ing my­self to learn to re­lax.”

Tynes en­vi­sions an even big­ger fu­ture for Three Bone, where the com­pany can score more coups such as “Oslo,” add per­for­mances – it now does six per show – and pay peo­ple more.

“We want to grow in a re­spon­si­ble way,” she says. “Char­lotte’s still a hard com­mu­nity for the arts in a lot of ways, so we’re hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about how Three Bone can stick around.”

DAVID T. FOSTER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Robin Tynes is the founder of Three Bone Theatre com­pany, which has achieved the small mir­a­cle of do­ing four shows a year steadily at Duke En­ergy Theatre – many of them Pulitzer nom­i­nees or win­ners – for five full sea­sons.

Courtesy of Three Bone Theatre

“Ap­pro­pri­ate” is next up for Three Bone.

Courtesy of Three Bone Theatre

Robin Tynes di­rected Ta­nia Kelly in “Every Bril­liant Thing.”

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