Stephen Wayne, one half of the duo behind 34 West Theater Company, found his love for theater at the age of 14 when he landed the role of a bumbling waiter in a church play.
“The whole room busted up laughing at my performance, and I thought, ‘I can do this,’” Wayne told the City Paper. After nearly 20 years working as an actor and writer, Wayne paired up with his longtime friend, Jeff Querin, in 2014 to create 34 West Theater Co. at 200 Meeting St.
Wayne chuckles when the theater’s beginnings are mentioned. “We started 34 West because we were unemployed and didn’t know how to do anything else,” he said.
The name they came up with clearly reflected their lives at the time, Querin said.
“34 West was the road we were on when we decided to start our own theater,” he explained. “It also was the location of the building where I produced plays in college — so it just made sense to call our theater ‘34 West.’”
Since its founding, 34 West has become a part of Charleston’s theater community’s cultural landscape and has earned a loyal following.
Wayne joked, “I’m always surprised every night that people keep coming back.”
The reason for that loyal following, Querin said, is because the productions at 34 West can’t be seen anywhere else.
“We write and perform all of the shows. That’s the main reason we have such a following,” he said. “Audiences just want to see whatever it is we’re creating next.”
Wayne added, “Because we’re constantly creating new material, we’ve also garnered the attention of several Broadway producers who are always curious about what’s fresh and new in the industry. They’re always charmed by the concept of a boutique theater in Charleston doing something new and different.”
The theater’s latest foray into the new and different is a production called Can’t Buy Me Love — an ode to 1980s rom-coms.
“It’s overly sentimental, slightly inappropriate and loaded with melodramatic supporting characters, similar to such classics as Working Girl, Pretty In Pink or Brewster’s Millions,” Wayne said. “Audiences will leave with their cheeks hurting from smiling so much. The throwback tunes alone will give you all the feels!”
Wayne and Querin are also in the process of pitching their original concepts to entertainment executives and “seeing where it leads,” Wayne said.
With so many original ideas, the duo believes some of their storylines might be fit for television.
Querin said, “After several years of producing original content, we have probably eight to 10 entirely fleshed out stories — many of which have had their own sequels or follow-up shows. [So we thought], why not develop some of these stories into short films or potential series for TV?”
Besides the original work it produces, what really makes 34 West special, said its founders Wayne and Querin, is its cast of passionate actors and artists.
“Working with actors who care about the work and who care about the audience is by far our greatest reward,” Wayne said.
Can’t Buy Me Love plays at 34 West Theater Company Jan. 27 through April 1. Purchase tickets and find more information at 34west.org.
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