This story is featured in CityBeat's Oct. 4 print edition.
Falcon Theatre is not located in a cultural zone. Newport’s Monmouth Street is not the “avenue of the arts” by any stretch of the imagination. The address of 636 Monmouth, where Falcon has produced five shows per season for two decades, has a notorious past. In the mid-20th century, it was La Madame’s Cocktail Lounge, one of several strip clubs in Newport, commonly called “Sin City” back then. Today, Newport is a progressive Northern Kentucky town, and Monmouth Street has few vestiges of those seedier times. Falcon Theatre has been a big factor in improving the neighborhood.
When Ted Weil and Dave Radtke launched their theatrical venture in 1989, they were miles away in the historic Westwood Town Hall, a building from 1889. With a mix of musicals and dramas, Falcon was an all-volunteer community theater for a dozen years. In the early 2000s, the city of Cincinnati decided to modernize the building’s interior. Falcon needed a new temporary venue. The family of Weil’s friend, Joy Galbraith, operated the Costume Gallery at 638 Monmouth St. in Newport and owned 636 Monmouth, used for occasional cabaret shows. Falcon became their tenant. The first show there was Gilligan’s Island in 2003.
The changes in Westwood Town Hall made a fine recreation center, but it was no longer suitable for theater productions. Falcon’s volunteer board made improvements to the Newport space, including replacing a drop ceiling with theatrical lighting and slightly expanding the seating capacity to 75.
Falcon is truly a “storefront” theater, wedged into a business district. “Having the flexibility to do something to that space, even before we bought it, made a big difference,” Weil said in a recent conversation with CityBeat. “We had joked with the Galbraiths for years about ‘Oh, we’re going to buy the building from you.’” Then one day they told him they needed to sell it soon. “We weren’t ready. We hadn’t saved any money for a down payment. Fortunately, the Galbraiths really wanted us to have it, so they were flexible and waited a little bit for us.” Falcon is now the owner, with a friendly mortgage from a Heritage Bank branch across the street.
Weil and his board have produced shows there for two decades. They voluntarily provide administrative support; actors and designers are paid a modest stipend. Programming has stepped back from edgy shows and settled into balanced seasons of offerings — typically a classic, several more established works and maybe a premiere or two. “It’s turned into a very comfortable niche,” he says. “People recognize the kind of stuff we do and say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a Falcon show.’”
Falcon has also established outreach programs. An engagement with the Campbell County Library nine years ago for a reading of Soldier, Come Home, a play using family correspondence from the Civil War, began a regular engagement. Now the company offers several additional readings under the heading of “Falcon Takes Flight.” More recently, HIVoices® was developed with the Northern Kentucky Health Department, based on interviews with people living with HIV that became monologues; it might be developed into a full-fledged theater piece. Future plans include a workshop program, “Falcon Play Incubator,” to cultivate new scripts. The theater is also a rentable venue for everything from magic shows to occasional musical acts.
Falcon’s 2023-2024 season features five shows, eight performances across three weeks. Up first is the regional premiere of Home, I’m Darling by British playwright Laura Wade (Sept. 29-Oct. 14). Weil said choosing it was a no-brainer. “It’s so new and fresh, an interesting look at gender roles and what if we lived like the 1950s.” The characters discover how hard it is to turn back the clock to a simpler time. Their choices make them question everything from sex to careers to their relationships. Becca Howell will direct. An Olivier Award winner in London in 2019, the show has scarcely been produced in the U.S.
Next is another regional premiere, Two Point OH by Jeffrey Jackson (Nov. 17-Dec. 2), a show that vacillates between sci-fi and today’s news. A pioneering software mogul dies, and his virtual simulation begins to meet with his business partners and his widow. “It reads like an episode of Black Mirror,” Weil said. The current attention to artificial intelligence (AI) makes this the perfect time to do this show.
2024 kicks off with Vincent (Jan. 26- Feb. 10, 2024), a one-man show about the famously tormented painter Vincent Van Gogh. It was developed and first performed in 2017 by late actor Leonard Nimoy. Vincent’s brother Theo talks about Van Gogh’s early obsession with religion, salvation and love. His paintings and drawings are used to portray him. The production will be staged by David Derringer, theater director at Milford High School.
Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore (March 15-30, 2024) is about Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked the secret Nazi code during World War II, saving countless lives from German U-boats. The 1986 play is an insightful portrait of the brilliant mathematician and the persecution he endured in the 1940s when homosexuality was a crime. Veteran local director Ed Cohen will stage this one.
The season’s final production will be Sharr White’s The Other Place (May 3-18, 2024), a show that premiered locally at Ensemble Theatre back in 2015. It’s an account of a scientist who has researched and promoted a drug to treat dementia. She finds herself in the early stages of the disease when her lectures begin to veer further and further from reality. Another Falcon regular, Piper Davis, will direct the show, which Weil called “beautifully powerful and poignant.”
Falcon Theatre lives up to its motto: “Intimate theater. Inspiring performances.”
Falcon Theatre’s 2023-24 season runs from now through May 18, 2024. Info: falcontheater.net.
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