Over 10 years ago, the words of a professor at Catawba College sparked something in musical theater graduate Robin Tynes-Miller.
This prompted her to open Three Bone Theater, a professional company in Charlotte, rather than pursue an acting career in New York City.
“I had a real interest in (knowing) why we tell the stories we tell on stage,” said Tynes-Miller, 31. “(I wanted to) tell stories that weren’t told on stage.”
In October, Three Bone kicked off their 10th season at The Arts Factory at West End Studios with “Open,” written by Crystal Skillman. Tynes-Miller also became the association’s first full-time employee as artistic and operations director.
Balancing art and business
In November 2012, Tynes-Miller and her classmate Carmen Bartlett, co-founders of Three Bone, raised $ 300 and produced the company’s first show, Steven Dietz’s “Fiction.” The production took place in a black box performance space at their alma mater, Catawba College.
Charlotte was a natural home for Three Bone due to Bartlett’s connection to the city and the diverse community. In early 2013, auditions were held for “Vagina Monologues,” and both experienced and novice actors came out, Tynes-Miller said. A cast of 12 rehearsed in the former Dupp & Swatt space at NoDa and sold to UpStage (now Salud Cerveceria).
Becky Schultz and Tiffany Bryant-Jackson both performed in this Charlotte debut show.
Since then, they have been active in the organization: Schultz became executive director in 2013, and Bryant-Jackson has played eight of 10 seasons and now serves as director of education on the executive team.
During a rehearsal, Tynes-Miller remembers handing Schultz a spiral notebook with the company finances written down and asking her if she would take a look at it. Bartlett and Tynes-Miller admitted that they lacked the business skills to make the organization sustainable.
Schultz came on board as the association’s executive director. His experience in the financial industry has proven invaluable to Three Bone.
“If we wanted to be a sustainable organization, we needed someone who understands the business side,” Tynes-Miller said. “This balance between artistic side and business acumen has been essential to our success. “
Inspire, strengthen and entertain
The name of the company is derived from the quote from country music artist Reba McEntire: “To thrive in life, you need three bones. A triangle. A spine. And a funny bone.
Three Bone aspires to inspire, empower and entertain their audiences, Tynes-Miller said.
The company tells original stories and produces Charlotte premieres with local actors, designers, directors and stage managers. It works as a catalyst for conversation and change in Charlotte, as well as being a professionally run business, Tynes-Miller said. The actors and the crew receive a stipend.
“We don’t pay a living wage, but we’ve steadily increased our artists’ fees,” Tynes-Miller said. “A lot of times they have day jobs because it’s the art economy that we have here. Being able to pay them even a little bit for their time… is something that fascinates us.
Environmental, gender, family and race issues are reflected in the stories told in Three Bone’s productions. An audience member’s comments, “Thanks for making me so uncomfortable,” summarizes the experience Tynes-Miller wants for every audience member.
“We tell some really interesting stories that aren’t told on stage in Charlotte,” Tynes-Miller said. “We want our plays to be entertaining and engaging, but we also want people to think.”
Each show is paired with a community partner organization related to the theme of the show.
For ‘Open’, the local chapter of PFLAG, a non-profit organization that supports and educates the community on LGBQT + issues, was invited to be a community partner due to the gay and lesbian topics discussed within the episode. PFLAG members were on hand to answer questions and provide resource materials.
“Having strong community partners gives us the opportunity to help people determine the next step or how to help them connect,” said Bryant-Jackson. “We give our partners a space to share what they’re doing with an audience that otherwise wouldn’t know what they are. “
“Space for you”
The theatrical company’s management team includes Bryant-Jackson, Ryan Maloney, Callie Richards, Becky Schultz and Tynes-Miller. Bartlett took a step back from day-to-day operations in 2015.
Bryant-Jackson attributes part of Three Bone’s success to its inclusiveness, especially on stage. “You know there is a place for you,” she said. “You never have to read a notice of hearing and say, ‘I can’t show up there. “”
Only a resilient business could have survived changes of location and a pandemic, said Bryant-Jackson. For six years, UpStage was the scene of Three Bone until it suddenly closed. The next four seasons were spent at the Duke Energy Theater in Spirit Square.
It ended last season when Spirit Square announced an upcoming renovation that would shut down its space for a while.
Reasonably priced theater space is limited in Charlotte, and Three Bone struggled to find a performance venue. The Three Bone management team are still looking for a location to produce the company’s three remaining shows in Season 10.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that creative spaces are scarce,” said Bryant-Jackson. “It would be very easy for any business to take a break, but not for Three Bone. It was: ‘Let’s figure out what happens next.’ ”
Theater of three bones
Next production: “The Children”, by Lucy Kirkwood, directed by Robin Tynes-Miller
Auditions: December 12, December 14
Opening: March 11
Or: The Arts Factory, 1545 W. Trade St.
Tickets: www.threebonetheater.com/the-children or season tickets are available at www.threebone.booktix.com
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