by Matthew Hogan

The world of theater offers a safe space where many feel at home and find themselves. Full of self-expression and acceptance, this art form acts as a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, who are still underrepresented in mainstream media. Dane Leasure, Artistic Director and Founder of Rubber City Theatre in Akron, has experienced firsthand the warm embrace of the theater community.

Now Dane, alongside his creative team, is on a mission to further develop the theater scene in Akron and to amplify marginalized voices.

Dane attended the University of Akron. He originally intended to be a film director, but changed his mind after taking several drama classes. He finished a Bachelors of Arts in humanities with a focus in English, history and drama.

“Once I got to [the University of] Akron, I didn’t really think about [theater] for a year, until my sophomore year. That’s when I knew I really wanted to do this,” Dane says. But even after he began studying theater, “I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.”

He continued on to graduate school at Mary Baldwin University in Virginia, where he studied Shakespeare and performance with an emphasis in acting. During his last year of graduate school, Dane returned to the Akron area and created the Rubber City Shakespeare Company, which was later renamed Rubber City Theatre. It was then that he decided that he didn’t just want to be an actor — he wanted to direct.

“At the time, I was so convinced I was going to be an actor, but I kept doing more directing stuff and thought that I might actually want to be a director. Once, I was describing my character’s backstory and their overarching story to a teacher and I was told that I think a lot like a director,” he recalls.

Born and raised near Akron, Dane fell in love with the city at a young age. He knew that he wanted to stay in Akron to help develop its community theater scene and to help put Akron on the map.

“When I was in undergrad, we had a lot of really good community theaters that did a lot of good things, but there weren’t a lot that paid and there were even fewer that accepted new people. When we first started, I knew we had to be professional from the get-go. People need to be paid and we have to offer these things,” Dane says. “Even if it didn’t pan out, I knew we had to start this and give opportunities to people in this area. For me, that was a defining moment in my life, because if I wasn’t doing theatre I wouldn’t be happy. I couldn’t imagine doing something else, because this is what I’m meant to do.”

Dane’s aspirations for the community don’t stop there. On top of bringing professional opportunities to Akron, Dane wanted to make Rubber City Theatre as inclusive as possible. With a focus on the LGBTQ+ community and some help from a Knight Foundation grant, Dane created the Shakesqueer Project in 2017. The Shakesqueer Project is an original initiative by Rubber City Theatre to create new interpretations of classic Shakespeare plays that are centered around the contemporary LGBTQ+ community. 

“Last season, we produced a world premier adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew by local playwright Josy Jones. Our concept was, let’s do these plays by taking classic Shakespeare, but make the majority of the characters in the play members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Dane says.

The concept blew people away. After one performance, Dane says an audience member remarked. “This is a story that needs to be told.” Another said, “I’ve lived through this.” 

This year, Dane wanted to take the concept a step further by teaming up with Amy Burgess and Rachel Dean from New York to turn A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a musical. Titled Masked, this work will premier in May at Rubber City Theatre.

Dane wants his audiences to see themselves and their struggles in the plays and musicals that they are watching.

“Take the bone structure, make it a new play, and create comedies where we can see members of the LGBTQ+ community that aren’t going through tragedies,” Dane says. “We neglect the joy and happiness from this community, and I wanted this to be about things that end well. That’s the point. It doesn’t always have to end in a tragedy.”

Inclusion at Rubber City Theatre doesn’t stop there. Whether through the discounted ticket prices at “pay as you like” shows or youth outreach programs that make it affordable for everyone to learn about theater, Rubber City Theatre believes that everyone deserves a seat at the table.

“With the musical incubator and beyond, I want to make Akron known as a hub for really cool theater, and that you can come from all over to do theater here,” Dane says. “You’re gonna get something real cool when you come to Akron.”

You can see Dane’s latest work in Rubber City Theatre’s upcoming production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, which runs from Mar. 6 through Mar. 22. For more information, visit https://www.rubbercitytheatre.com or call 866-811-4111.

Matthew Hogan is a PR professional and community theater actor. Full disclosure: He has previously performed with Rubber City Theatre, most recently in their 2017 production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Photo used with permission from Dane Leasure.

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