Gordon Stettinius photo
The selectors said: The founding director of Richmond Triangle Players created a professional theater company with a national reputation for excellence while changing the landscape of theater in Richmond. For 16 years, this company has presented artistically diverse and acclaimed work honoring the gay community while sharing it with the larger Richmond audience. Providing a positive voice while promoting high-quality theater, Gooding continues to share his vision and mission with the region. Now in its 17th season, the Triangle Players is the only full-time professional theater in the mid-Atlantic area serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
In 1992, friends Michael Gooding and Marcus Miller were talking with actor Steve J. Earle about the dearth of gay-themed plays in Richmond. Gooding, with a sensible head for enterprise and an interest in the arts stemming from a background in music, said, "Well, what if I got you a place?" He worked the door nights at Fielden's, an after-hours club, and thought its upstairs appropriate for a cabaret before the dancing started.
Gooding chuckles, "So I went back to Steve and said, ‘OK, I got you a place.' And he said, ‘Oh, no! I don't know what to do!' "
Between them, Gooding, Miller and Earle came up with a three-night showcase of comedic plays by Harvey Fierstein grouped together as "Safe Sex" to raise awareness and money for the Fan Free Clinic's AIDS-prevention program. The sellout shows filled 60 mismatched folding chairs facing a stage illuminated by kitchen track lights with dimmer switches.
"We paid for our royalties and printing costs and gave $500 to the Fan Free Clinic," Gooding says.
Gooding is from Fort Myers and Dixie County, Fla., where his family operated restaurants and funeral homes. Growing up, he played piano and he performed in University of Florida operettas, but his mother counseled him that his tastes were too expensive to pursue music as a career. He instead started a property casualty insurance firm, and in Richmond, served as an insurance consultant for the region's restaurant association.
The Triangle Players was his riskiest venture and the least remunerative, yet the most rewarding. This is its 17th season, and the company is moving out of Fielden's into a refurbished, mid-century modern space at 1300 Altamont Ave. in Scott's Addition.
Gooding, who this year stepped down as managing director of the company, says that he's taken just one phone call from a person displeased about a gay theater in Richmond.
"We've never waved any flags or proselytized," he says. "We just put up good shows that entertained and maybe moved people, or even taught them something."