It’s like telling people the name of your new child,” says Jan Powell, describing how things have gone rolling out the new moniker of the combined Richmond Shakespeare and Henley Street Theatre companies: Quill Theatre.
After working together since March 2013, the troupes announced the decision Saturday, with the hopes of “taking the best of the former companies and really moving forward,” says Powell, the theater’s artistic director.
The name emerged during a months-long strategic planning process that the combined company went through late last year.
Quill’s managing director, Jacquie O’Connor, says, “It was the first name that either [Jan or I] mentioned where the other didn’t go, ‘Umm … I don’t think so.’”
The establishment of Quill marks the second major relaunch of a combined theater company in recent Richmond history. Virginia Repertory Theatre emerged from the combined Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre companies in 2012.
The benefits of the new name are myriad, not the least of which is that it marks the retirement of debts that Richmond Shakespeare was carrying. While that process was concluded quietly months ago, the company relaunch makes it official.
The new name also resolves lingering confusion over a Shakespeare company that produces shows that aren’t always written by the Bard.
“We are grounded in our love and admiration for the genius of Shakespeare,” Powell says. “But we are also committed to doing contemporary classics. As the new names suggests, we will continue to look to the writing and the sophisticated use of language to decide what we will produce.”
Powell has shown a willingness to shake up traditional views of a classical theater company, staging “Sam and Carol” this spring, a new work by Richmond author David Robbins. The production of “Hamlet” she’s directing in the summer will star actress Molly Hood as the title character.
Quill will continue to present the summer Richmond Shakespeare Festival, held outdoors at Agecroft Hall in Windsor Farms and starting its 17th season. But it will also continue to make adventurous and challenging choices. In January, for example, the company will present the Richmond premiere of “Stupid Fucking Bird,” a parody of Checkhov’s “The Seagull,” which won last year’s MacArthur Award for outstanding new play.
While the new name resolves many issues, there are still significant challenges remaining for Quill, the most pressing being a permanent home. When the combined company staged both its annual “Bootleg Shakespeare” production and a much-praised “The Lion in Winter” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ Leslie Cheek Theater this past season, there were hopes it might land there.
“The VMFA is very reasonably thinking, ‘We have this resource here and maybe we should let as many people use it as possible,’” Powell says. “We’ll have to see if we can convince them of the benefits that come from working with an organization that is in synch with their mission and the momentum that comes from working with a resident company.”
Quill has plans to produce “King Lear” at the museum theater in March, starring Richmond favorite Joe Inscoe.
In the meantime, O’Connor and Powell are enjoying the excitement generated by the new name. O’Connor relates the story of receiving a clay quill holder from an aunt last Christmas before anyone knew about the new name: “When I told Jan, we both said, ‘It’s a sign!’” S
Quill’s Richmond Shakespeare Festival kicks off with “Much Ado About Nothing” opening June 4 at Agecroft Hall. Details and tickets are available at quilltheatre.org.