Poetry in Motion

Local playright stages ballroom-filled play

By Michael J. Solender

Photos courtesy of Andrew N. Wheeler

Golf course superintendent Andrew N. Wheeler turns a 28-year-old unfinished poem into “The Tragedy of Lucender and Venetia,” debuting October 18 at Booth Playhouse.

As a young undergraduate student at Longwood College in northern Virginia, Andrew N. Wheeler’s poetry flirted with the romantic notions of love, loss and the existential meaning of life.

Wheeler studied theater and discovered poetry as an outlet alongside acting where he could creatively express himself and unleash his inner passion.

In 1991, he began writing a long-form prose poem entitled “The Graveyard Waltz.” It was an epic tale set in Victorian England about a wealthy aristocrat who found true love in a beautiful young woman only to tragically lose her to an untimely death.

After struggling to complete the poem, Wheeler set it aside only to misplace it. His wife, Shelly, discovered it a few years ago, and she encouraged him to complete it.

The finished poem so moved Shelly she encouraged Wheeler to create a play around it. The resulting two-act theatrical production is filled with 33 ballroom dance sequences (the Wheelers are active dancers) and debuts at the Booth Playhouse for two performances, Oct. 18 and 19.

We sat down with Wheeler, who lives in the Maplecrest subdivision in the Ballantyne area and is the greens superintendent at Raintree Country Club’s North Course, to learn more about his new play.

Ballantyne Magazine: What was the inspiration for the original poem?

Andrew N. Wheeler: I am one of those romantics and wanted to explore the heaviness of loss. I started out and set it aside; I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to proceed. I was intrigued about the feeling of losing a deep love – I wanted to explore those feelings.

BMag: What is the play about?

AW: The show is about the struggle of the human condition through love and loss and where to look for redemption and self-worth. It is a two-act performance, set in 19th century Victorian England, with ballroom dance sequences reflecting the character’s emotions through their movements.

I play the older Lucender, a wealthy, socially awkward individual. Most of the performance represents his memories. He’s been looking for love and meets Venetia, who opens his life up to a world of possibility. She brings him out of his shell to a point where he blossoms.

Tragically, she dies, sending Lucender back into his shell, leaving him more remote and distant than ever before. He eventually recognizes he can’t continue living like this, confronts his internal feelings of anger, frustration and depression and comes to realize a higher spiritual order can provide him with solace and bring meaning back into his life.

BMag: How did you decide to stage a full-fledged production?

AW: Through our ballroom communities here in Charlotte (primarily Metropolitan Ballroom, Ballroom at Quail Hollow and Midtown Ballroom) we’ve helped stage their showcases (themed ballroom dance performances). I’ve built sets and helped with scripting and staging. It wasn’t that great a leap for me to create a show. Initially, I thought the production would be something staged at the ballroom. Shelly wanted us to take it to a bigger venue and stage a larger production – thus our appearance at the Booth.

BMag: What do you want audiences to know about the show?

AW: Audiences will discover the quality of our dancers is world-class. We have many award-winning performers, and they are thrilling to watch. The performance is heartfelt; people may see some of their own trials or struggles represented. If it helps others understand themselves a bit better, it will be rewarding.

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