It’s almost Christmas, y’all! I love this time of year because it brings out the best in people. I also love this time of year because of all the festive happenings around the city and all the wonderful sounds of the season. Awwwhhh, just music to my ears. One of the performances that I really enjoy going to every year is right here in my city of Charlotte.
It’s called Soulful Noel, and today I got to sit down with Quentin Talley. The name Quentin Talley is very recognizable. He is known for his many talents as an accomplished actor, director, poet, producer, and amazing musical abilities. He takes spoken word, jazz, funk, R&B, and soul, ties it into a pretty bow, and presents it to us. One can’t help but love the gift. He is the founder of On Q Productions, a non-profit theater company based here in Charlotte. On Q Productions has hosted Tony Award-nominated playwright Samm-Art Williams, partnered with Obie Award-winning director Lou Bellamy and toured nationally and internationally.
Janet: So, let’s start with an easy question, shall we? What is your Swagger? What makes Quentin, Quentin?
Quentin: Being born and raised in the South. I’m from Greenwood, S.C. I’m from a big family. Just always being involved in the arts in some way, as little as I can remember.
Janet: You’re very gifted in the arts. How did you begin this journey?
Quentin: I grew up in the church. My mom always played opera around the house, and then there was hip-hop and R&B for us. I was also in a play when I was very young. I can remember this play that I was in. One of the characters was a gingerbread man, and a Caucasian kid wanted to be the gingerbread man, but I looked at him and said he couldn’t be the gingerbread man. LOL! That’s how I started my acting. LOL!
Janet: LOL! He didn’t look the part, huh? LOL! That’s too cute! Now, this is a two-part question. Who or what motivates your creativity? Who are your musical influences?
Quentin: What motivates my creativity is being able to tell our story as a Black person and being able to tell our story safely. Our history lives through stories. You become empathetic to the characters. As for my musical influences, that’s easy, James Brown, Nina Simone, and OutKast.
Janet: You have a musical group called The Soul Providers. Tell me about the group and how long have you all been in existence.
Quentin: We are a Charlotte-based group formed about seven years ago and consists of five regular band members, including me on vocals. We mostly play jazz and funk. Our EP, Fall Thru, debuted July 1st. It served as an anthem about getting outside this past summer.
Janet: When did you start On Q Productions?
Quentin: I started it in 2006. At the time, there were no other Black-led theatre companies.
Janet: Complete this sentence… On Q Productions
Quentin: Started with a mission to produce classic, contemporary, and original performance works that reflects the black experience.
Janet: Soulful Noel was one of the things born out of On Q Productions, right? I’m a fan! Tell us about it.
Quentin: Thank you! This year is our 10th anniversary. I love plays. Plays like August Wilson’s Fences. Those types of productions take a lot of money. When we first started On Q Productions, we started off with shows that we could do that was affordable for us, but the great thing was we had a lot of talented writers. Long story short, Tim Scott, Jr., the musical director for Soulful Noel, said I have an idea for a holiday show.
At that time, I was like, “I hate Christmas shows” LOL, but I told him I would hear him out. Now, here we are, ten years later. At first, it was 50% dialogue and 50% musical, but the more we did it, the more we realized people loved the music, so that’s what we focused on. We take Christmas songs, flip them with some R&B, Funk, Gospel, and Soul and do them, especially for Black folks. You know, songs like Silent Night, Santa Claus Comes to the Ghetto, and What Do the Lonely Do. Flipping them the way we do resonates with Christmastime and us.
Janet: How long does it take to put the production together?
Quentin: Everybody is a professional. This is what they do for a living. The singers send us the songs they want to sing. The rehearsal process is short, like two days. The pre-production starts in July when we start gathering the artists, making sure they’re available to do the show in December.
Janet: I’m telling you, the music will have you swaying, tapping your foot, snapping your fingers, bopping your head, singing along; off key for me, LOL, and dancing in your seat. How do you choose your performers?
Quentin: I know a lot of talented singers from the open mic. They are some of the best performers and artists in Charlotte.
Janet: Soulful Noel is performing on December 21st and 22nd. What can we expect to see and hear this year?
Quentin: You’ll see a couple of singers that haven’t been there in a while and we have a lot of returnees. The best of the best! It’s going to be a great time! Each show is super different. The matinee is chill, but always a good crowd. They’re an older crowd, but they can get crunk too. LOL! The evening crowd is always super crunk! LOL! It’s truly family-friendly. I look out at the audience, and I think the kids be having more fun sometimes than the adults. LOL!
Janet: How many performers will be in the show?
Quentin: We have about 10-12 performers each year.
Janet: How long is the show?
Quentin: It runs about 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours. There is a short intermission.
Janet: What’s something you wished the African-American community understood about the arts?
Quentin: It takes a lot of time and funding. Even if folks receive grants or foundation money, putting on a production takes a lot of money. I would say just support us. If you purchase a ticket, add a little extra as a donation. It really helps.
Janet: Out of all your experiences, what would you tell your younger self?
Quentin: Slow down, young sir! LOL!
Janet: What is a fun fact about Quentin Talley?
Quentin: I was our first mascot for my high school. I was a Viking. LOL! It was a fun time! LOL! One of the most fun times ever. LOL!
Janet: What’s next for you and On Q Productions?
Quentin: We are working on another show we’ve been developing over the years. It’s called Miles and Coltrane Blue Period. It’s another hybrid piece written by a group of poets. We’ve been together for over a decade now. We started developing around 2006 and put it out in 2008. Now we’re back at it. It’ll be our 15th anniversary since we first put the show up.
Janet: How can people keep up with what you’re doing?
Y’all, if you’re in Charlotte, N.C., or the surrounding area, come out to one of the shows. Soulful Noel will be showing on December 21st at 7:30p and December 22nd at 1:30p and 7:30p at the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.
Interview Done by: Janet Downs| Janet Downs is an instructor with over 20 years of experience, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. She volunteers and is a resource for the homeless community and is working towards starting her own non-profit. She’s passionate about mental health and seeks to bring more awareness to the black community. She is active in church ministry, a writer, and loves music, hiking, and travel.