I’m not much of a holiday person. Don’t come to my house looking for Christmas lights, trees or even a wreath on the door. You may call me a grinch, put me on your naughty list and try to fill my stocking with a lump of coal (you can’t, because I don’t own any stockings). But seriously, since moving to Charlotte, I’m slowly singing a new tune thanks to OnQ Productions’ annual holiday tradition, Soulful Noel. Despite the theater company’s ongoing hiatus, OnQ is back to bring contemporary renditions to your favorite Christmas classics.
Quentin Talley, OnQ’s founder and artistic director, invited me to watch rehearsals before the show opens on Dec. 21. It was like a family reunion accompanied by instrumentation. I recognized some of the talents as they walked in the room. All of them are from the Carolinas. Big smiles, hearty laughs and hugs for those who came from out of town to perform. As the cast dove into the creative process, they improvised, danced and effortlessly made performance changes when ideas sparked.
“All of this year’s talent are regulars, but some of them haven’t performed in two or three years,” said Talley. “Some of them moved to New York and other places, but since this is the closest our production has ever been to performing on Christmas, we were able to bring some old faces back to do their thing.”
Songs like What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?, Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’, Little Funky Drummer Boy and, the title single, Soulful Noel, will have you tapping your toes, singing along and humming on the way home.
Last year’s production featured The Hamiltones, the official background vocalists for Grammy Award-winning Charlotte native Anthony Hamilton.
During a 2016 show, Talley announced that part of the Soulful Noel cast was traveling to New York City to perform a live concert on the New York Times’ Facebook page.
OnQ Productions is one of the few black theater companies in the region. So when the nonprofit announced they were on a hiatus in 2018, it raised eyebrows.
“We’ll be back in fall of next year,” said Talley. “Every year we have a theme and this year is Season 12: Under Construction. We’re a small staff and we just needed to take a step back to figure out how to do bigger and better things to sustain the company. You have to take a step back sometimes and reevaluate your life.”
There were no major productions from OnQ this past season, but they did perform a few small shows. While Talley said it has gotten better over the years, again, the narrative of support for Charlotte creatives, particularly Black ones, emerged.
“The artists have been doing well, but the visibility of smaller companies is hard to come by. That’s where I think Charlotte is lacking. You have to compete with bigger institutions and sometimes you get swallowed up. I equate supporting nonprofits to voting. Everyone thinks everyone else is going to vote, so you don’t vote, thinking it won’t make a difference until the person you don’t expect to win does,” he said.
Basically, if you’re not consistently supporting the arts you enjoy, you can’t be surprised when they’re no longer there or forced to scale back.
Soulful Noel will have three performances, Dec. 21-22, at the Mcglohon Theater at Spirit Square. For more information and ticket purchases, visit BlumenthalArts.org.
Kallan Louis is a writer and consultant for qcitymetro.com. He does a lot, but never feels like he’s doing enough. His life can be described as a Venn Diagram: News media, Black culture and sports. He’s always on TV, but rarely seen.