‘Queen’ director finds daring spirit in Meyers, ETC and Cincinnati
It was inevitable that one day Bridget Leak would direct a show for D. Lynn Meyers and her Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati.
The two are kindred spirits – indefatigable, optimistic, fascinated by plays about ideas and able to turn almost anything into a memorable theatrical experience.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise when ETC announced that Leak would direct Madhuri Shekar’s “Queen,” running Feb. 19-March 19. It’s a tale about friendship. And ethics. And issues surrounding the precipitous decline in the population of bees, so necessary for pollinating many of the world’s crops.
“It was very important to me to do a play not only about the ethics of science and academia, but also ethics in honesty,” said Meyers in a press release announcing the production. “I hope we can look at this play as a community to celebrate the important mission we need to undertake to save the bees and our world.”
Vital stuff, to be sure. But those sorts of issues are enough to drive a marketing person crazy. Ideas are much less saleable than romance or action or comedy. But while Meyers is not averse to plays that are fun, she has built ETC as a place where audiences can find plays that revolve around important concepts.
In fact, it’s precisely the sort of show that Meyers might have opted to direct herself.
But she had been looking for a project to involve Leak for several years. And “Queen” seemed like the perfect fit.
“She deserves to work,” said Meyers. “I love so much of what she has done. She is so talented and so smart.”
And enterprising, she might have added. Leak came to Cincinnati in 2013 for a one-year gig as a Playhouse directing intern. But when she was done, she and her husband, playwright/actor Trey Tatum, kept involving themselves with one theater project after another, each one more imaginative and challenging than the last.
“So much of my career here in Cincinnati has been making my own work,” said Leak. “Ultimately, it’s that work that kept us here.”
There was “Andy’s House of [blank],” a show created with storytellers Erika Kate Macdonald and Paul Strickland. Initially, it was a 15-minute snippet that was part of the Know Theatre’s “Serials” series. But as the musical play grew, it became so ambitious that Know artistic director Andrew Hungerford asked them to expand it into a full-length play that premiered in 2015.
There was “Slut Shaming,” which debuted at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival and went on to be presented for incoming students at Xavier University. And the harrowing “of Monster Descent,” a 2018 Fringe show that gave birth to a podcast called “Have Monster, Will Travel.”
When Tatum wanted to write a series of plays based on all of the Tom Sawyer tales, the pair created a production company called Queen City Flash to raise money for and stage dozens of pop-up shows in area parks.
“I never expected Cincinnati to be the sort of place it has turned out to be,” said Leak. It was personal connections that initially drew her to the Playhouse. She had worked with Blake Robison (producing artistic director) and Timothy Douglas (artistic associate) at the Bound House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland.
“This is the most supportive community I’ve ever lived in. We’ve been able to find funding for our projects. We’ve found an audience that is adventurous and willing to take chances. And we’ve found a community of actors and writers who make life interesting nearly all the time.”
But it didn’t just happen. They actively sought out the funding and the audience. Leak and Tatum went out of their way to involve themselves in many different groups around the city. They teach and direct – she at Xavier University, he at Seven Hills School. And Leak has directed projects for the Playhouse and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, all while fulfilling the occasional out-of-town guest directing gig.
“Bridget is the kind of theater director I want involved at ETC,” said Meyers. “She is fearless. And she has a big and genuine heart.”
And, like Meyers, she has developed a great faith in her audience.
“Whatever venture we set out on, they were ready to come with us, no matter how weird or wacky it might have been,” said Leak. “When Trey wanted to write a play attacking The Creation Museum, they were with us. I love that our audiences have a very eclectic taste. They’ll go to the Broadway in Cincinnati series. But they’ll also come to ETC. And to the Bengals. It’s impressive. So for me to finally be here at ETC – it’s an aligning of the moons.”