THE COUPLES AND THE CHARITIES
Friday, May 18: 8 p.m. -- J. Mitchell Haley and Joann Haley to benefit Island Coast Aids Network
Saturday, May 19: 8 p.m. -- Terry and Mimi Tincher to benefit Abuse Counseling Treatement
Sunday, May 20: 2 p.m. -- Will Prather and Andrea Fiore Prather to benefit HOPE Clubhouse of SWFL
Thursday, May 24: 8 p.m. -- Todd Blanton and Stephanie Davis to benefit PACE Center for Girls
Friday, May 25: 8 p.m. -- Chris Black and Lydia Antunes Black to benefit Lee County Alliance of the Arts
Saturday, May 26: 8 p.m. -- Bill and Lauren Taylor to benefit Junior Florida Everblades
Thursday, May 31: 8 p.m. -- Stephen Hooper and Ellen Poage Hooper to benefit Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center
Friday, June 1: 8 p.m. -- Robert Cacioppo and Carrie Lund Cacioppo to benefit Florida Repertory Theatre
Saturday, June 2: 8 p.m. -- Greg Longenhagen and Liz Abbott to benefit Olivia's Wagon of Wonder
IF YOU GO
What: Nine couples perform A.R. Gurney's touching play over nine nights to benefit their chosen charity
When: 8 p.m. May 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 31 and June 1 & 2; one 2 p.m. matinee on May 20
Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
When Bill Taylor calls, people pick up the phone.
The Theatre Conspiracy artistic director rounded up nine Southwest Florida power couples to take the stage over nine nights, reading tender A.R. Gurney play "Love Letters" to delighted audiences. Half the proceeds benefit nine different charities.
"Love Letters" follows the fifty-year correspondence of Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, all told through letters, notes and postcards. Actors read the touching, funny and often heartbreaking missives to an audience - who relive the decades-long love affair between headstrong Melissa and an honorable Andy.
Taylor decided to produce the show now, instead of a time like Valentine's Day, "because it came up now." He also made note that many of the couples involved, like Robert Cacioppo & Carrie Lund or Will & Andrea Prather, simply wouldn't be available with their busy schedules during the height of Southwest Florida's season.
"Mitch Haley actually mentioned the show to me first and said that he and Joann would be interested," Taylor said.
After tossing around a three-week run of the show with just one couple in the title role, Taylor considered doing one night with his own actress wife Lauren. There, an idea was born
"Well, if Lauren and I do it, then maybe I could get somebody else and somebody else and then, a three-week run [with nine different casts] would be an exciting thing to do," Taylor said.
Taylor describes the recruiting process as "remarkably easy."
"People latched onto the idea," he said. "Liz Abbott and Greg Longenhagen had actually talked about retiring at some point and touring the country doing 'Love Letters,' now here's their chance!"
There was at least one couple Taylor couldn't recruit - Trey Radel and Amy Wegmann. Between the demands of Radel's congressional campaign and the couple's new son, the scheduling just didn't work out.
For Taylor, he gets the rare chance to be onstage with his own wife. The pair met while doing a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Edison Community College and last acted together in the Theatre Conspiracy production of Rich Orloff's "Romantic Fools."
"Lauren and I, we never really get to work together," Taylor said. "We've got the kids and everything else. It's a great opportunity for her and I to do a show together."
For Taylor, the appeal of "Love Letters" is simple.
"It is just a very sweet, funny show," Taylor said. "It hearkens you back to another day."
Audiences will see what Taylor calls "a certain chemistry" from each of the married couples on stage each night, even though not all the performers are, strictly speaking, actors.
"I think you can get ... just the certain little nuances that a married couple would have that two actors might not get," Taylor said.
Half the proceeds from each night's ticket sales will go to a charity of each couple's choosing. Beneficiaries range from Olivia's Wagon of Wonder to ICAN to the Junior Florida Everblades.
Off-stage, there has been just a little good-natured competition between various couples as they compete to see who can bring in the largest crowd.
"It's all in good nature," Taylor laughs. "Liz and Greg have hit the ground running with their ticket sales, and there was some good-natured ribbing [on Facebook] between various casts that we'd have to rent Germain Arena because they're gonna pack the house so much!"