Though Tara Ayres will relinquish StageQ's reins at the end of the 2012-13 season, she's nowhere near the end of her run with the LGBT theater company. In fact, you might now see more of her than you did during her past eight seasons as artistic director.
Ayres looks forward to directing and acting in future StageQ shows, but she's eager to give up an unglamorous task: paperwork.
"A lot of what I do for a living mirrors the administrative work I do for StageQ," she says. "I realized that not being artistic director would actually let me focus more on the artistic parts of theater. I want to spend more time on the things that bring me joy."
Artistry attracted Ayres to theater in the first place. She got interested in acting as a little girl, during her family's many trips to see A Christmas Carol. She grew into a full-fledged "musical theater geek," performing Broadway show tunes in her parents' living room and later directing musicals as an undergraduate at Yale. These experiences prepared her for tuneful StageQ productions such as Falsettos and Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn.
And Madison's arts scene is a major source of the joy she seeks. Ayres came of age in the early 1970s, when the Equal Rights Amendment was making its way through the legislative system. It was a good time to come out of the closet, and she did as she found her bearings as a radical feminist and social justice advocate. But it wasn't until 1981, when she moved to Madison, that her identity crystallized. She came here for love, but an enduring crush on local theater made her stay.
Ayres has overseen many successful productions, from Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, a bittersweet love story by lesbian playwright Jane Chambers, to Riot Acts, a tribute to the Stonewall Riots that included singers from Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus and actors from the youth troupe Proud Theater. She's worked hard to create strong ties with local organizations such as these while building a solid financial base for StageQ.
"I'm really proud. We've done a lot of things we hadn't tried before," she says of her tenure. "We've done co-productions with other groups such as Mercury Players Theatre, we've hosted concerts, and we've raised our production values. And we're financially sound, which is pretty amazing."
Ayres hopes to devote some of her time to StageQ's diversity initiative, an extension of the company's efforts to engage youth and people of color.
"We take building community very seriously, and our productions are deliberately designed to bring people into the company," she says.
Meanwhile, StageQ has started looking for a new artistic director. The search continues through June 15.