Crickets. That's what Vickie "Broadway on My Mind" Evans heard the first time she put out a call for play submissions to be read at a Charlotte theater event. But when she switched up her social media campaign, responses poured in from Ohio, New York, South Africa and the U.K., in a deluge of sound.
Evans' first play, A Change is Gonna Come, generated enough buzz to spawn a mini-tour of Delaware, D.C. and two runs in Charlotte. She wanted to continue showing it, but funds ran out last year. That's when the computer programmer-turned writer thought of holding an intimate stage reading, with three or four playwrights. Not only would it afford more exposure to Charlotte's up-and-coming stars of theater, it could defray some of the cost of staging more productions of her work.
"It grew a lot bigger than I thought it would," Evans says, in the understatement of the year. Now the intimate event is Playwrights on Parade, which features acts and scenes from the top 15 submissions she received, with 39 Charlotte actors reading the parts.
"There are a lot of new playwrights in Charlotte with original work, and I want to showcase their talents. I'm going to try my best to do them justice," Evans says.
Two of Evans' plays, Change and The Gift, will be read. The Gift will also be performed in Los Angeles Dec. 21. She's excited about all of the submissions, but especially Philadelphia playwright Charron Monaye, who will be in attendance to interact with the audience and answer questions about her work Get Out of Your Own Way. Shwele Dawo (A Grave Injustice), by playwright Motshabi Tyelele of South Africa, is also another she's anxious to see performed.
Evans readily admits she was initially overwhelmed by the scope of the project. She says she doesn't mind trying new things, but until she got the 39 actors signed on, she wasn't sure exactly how she could pull it off.
"It was not my original intent at all to be this big," she says laughingly. "I thought I would only get three or four playwrights, do something intimate. That was it. But when submissions kept rolling in, I kept going, 'OK, all right, how am I going to do this?' It's big, but doable."
Theater is not Evans' background. She's been writing since she was 9, and wrote her first play in 1991. At the time, she lived in Virginia, but the play generated enough interest that it was performed in several stops in the Northeast. She got the bug. She quit her job to move to Charlotte, where she planned to be a full-time writer.
"I saw all the theaters here in Charlotte and was drawn to here. I believe Charlotte is on the rise to really be something big in the arts, and not just theater. We are right there on the tip of being something grand. So yes, I want to get in on the ground floor!" Evans says.
That was six years ago, and while she's seeing success with her play and directing, she acknowledges she didn't predict every angle before leaping. According to Evans, Charlotte has only one professional, unionized theater (Actors' Theatre).
"When I first started, Charlotte was a hard nut for me to crack. Even though I saw the prospect of doing what I'm doing now," Evans says. "It still has that small-town, family feel, so it's hard getting in a door if you're not already part of the 'in crowd.' But JCSU invited me to be part of their lyceum series, and Pease Auditorium, and ..." she goes on to name a string of supportive structures in the Queen City.
She has many timeless idols in theater, such as August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry, but devotes a considerable amount of respect to Tyler Perry.
"I'm not a fan of his product," she's quick to say, "I don't do a lot of buffoonery. That's not me. But sometimes you have to make your own way. That's my path. You know how many doors got closed in his face? For seven years he struggled. His first play, no one came. Now he's in movies and it's not even his background. Who owns their own production studio? Who does that? He's willing to do it. That's me. I'm not theatrically trained, but I'm a good writer. His innovativeness is what I like about him."
Her goal is to help other playwrights produce plays. Supporting one another can be tough in the entertainment business, because the jobs are scarce and the competition is thick. But Evans thinks keeping that sense of camaraderie is key to maintaining confidence.
"Yes, I second-guess myself sometimes. But I know that this is my calling. I quit my job and for six years I've been doing this. Has it been easy? No! Sometimes I feel like I should throw in the towel, go out and get a job. But then I think, who does this? I can truly say I've been able to do my dream job. Who can say that?" Evans says.