Ask Tony Prince which Louisville independent theaters he’s worked with, and he’ll laugh and ask, “How far back do you want me to go?” As a mainstay of the Louisville theater scene, he’s worked with companies like Savage Rose, Pandora Productions and the Necessary Theatre, but he’s also been around long enough that he was in the room when a group of fresh-faced actors and directors chose the name Bunbury Theatre for their group.
After decades of working with other companies, filling all sorts of roles including acting and directing, Prince is teaming with partner Richard McGrew to start his own company, The Liminal Playhouse.
More than a catchy name, The Liminal Playhouse wears its mission statement on its sleeve.
“I’ve always been fascinated by things that are liminal — liminal spaces, threshold spaces, between one thing and another. Twilight is a liminal time of day,” Prince tells Insider. “In our culture, people tend think in dichotomies. You can see it in politics: We’ve gotten very polarized, and it’s gotten us in a lot of trouble.”
Often when he speaks, Prince’s profession peeks through. He’s a teacher at Atherton High School, and he betrays his academic leanings as he discusses larger concepts surrounding art, the human condition and false dichotomies.
“We think it has to be this, and if it’s not this, it’s that (one) other thing. That’s really not how people work,” he says.
According to Prince, addressing narrow definitions is not just the cerebral goal of The Liminal Playhouse, it’s also good drama, plain and simple.
“Liminality makes some people really uncomfortable,” he explains. “You don’t know where you are. People have crises when they find out things about themselves that don’t fit into tiny categories. It’s the kind of thing that’s dramatically interesting to explore.”
Prince’s partner in this new endeavor is also his romantic partner of 22 years. In addition to launching a new theater company, the two are planning a wedding for shortly after Liminal’s opening production of “Christmas on Mars.”
Unlike Prince, McGrew doesn’t have a background in theater, but he has something just as important to the survival of a young company in our current arts-funding landscape: business acumen.
“I have been thinking about this for a while,” says Prince. “So he was, like, ‘You really should do this,’ and he would have all these great business ideas. It became obvious, between my skill set and (his) skill set, we should probably actually (start a company). He’s the producing director, and I’m the artistic director.”
Prince and McGrew already have an impressive group of collaborators assembled for their inaugural season. Some of the best designers, actors and directors around town will help bring their first two plays to life.
First up is “Christmas on Mars,” which opens Thursday, Sept. 3, at The Henry Clay. Prince describes the play as “a very dark comedy about people’s need to be needed, and be desired, and have a sense of family and a sense of belonging, and how the desperation of that need can make fulfilling it even harder.”
Prince is handling directing duties, and the actors include Jon Patrick O’Brien, who Louisville audiences will remember from his excellent Macbeth at Kentucky Shakespeare earlier this year.
Liminal’s second show is Sarah Ruhl’s seldom-produced first work, “The Melancholy Play: A Contemporary Farce,” which they’ll put on in late March. Prince points to the production’s need for a cellist as the cause for the play’s sparse production history. Lucky for Liminal, they have a cellist they can use; McGrew was a classically trained cellist before he began focusing on business.
Although Prince didn’t know it when he decided to produce this play, Actors Theatre of Louisville is premiering the newest work by Ruhl at this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.
“It’s turning into quite the little Sarah Ruhl spring fest,” says Prince. “It’s nice, because ‘Melancholy Play’ is her first play, so people will be able to sort of (see) where she started and where she’s going.”
“Melancholy Play” will be directed by Louisville theater veteran Tad Chitwood, who has previously worked with Prince at both Savage Rose and Necessary Theatre.
With so many theater companies in Louisville, many of whom seem eager to work with Prince, one may well ask if Louisville needs another company.
“If there are great novels coming out, you don’t say, ‘Well what’s the point of writing more novels?’ People continue to do the work. And what happens if there is lots of great theater is more people become theater-goers,” says Prince.
“Christmas on Mars” runs Sept. 3-13 at The Henry Clay Theatre, 604 S. Third St. Tickets are $18. Check Liminal Playhouse’s website for showtimes.