Although Ron May started in theater during junior high, it was his experience at College of DuPage that continues to stay with him.
“To this day, there are things I find myself regurgitating from classes I took what seems like forever ago from Connie Canaday Howard, Craig Berger and Jodie Briggs,” he explained. “Truthfully, I still credit Connie with a lot of my ‘career path’ landing where it did.”
May landed at COD in the early 1990s based upon its location, cost and reputation. Then he received the John Belushi Scholarship, which provided the impetus to continue his education.
“Without the Belushi scholarship, I’m not sure I would have had the wherewithal to attend,” he said. “COD also provided invaluable connections, both personally and professionally, that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
May earned his Associate in Arts degree in 1994 but took some time to pursue social work. He returned to his passion and transferred to Arizona State University on a directing scholarship to study with Marshall W. Mason and earn his bachelor's degree.
Although he planned to return to Chicago, May was fortunate to find work locally in Phoenix as both an actor and a director.
“Phoenix was really good to me, so it was hard to justify leaving. For a while, I directed shows at Planet Earth Theatre, which was a kicky little armpit of a space in downtown Phoenix where we did these very ‘in-your-face’ shows. I even did a little hiccup of a stay in Los Angeles for a time thinking maybe I would do theater out there.”
During a class he took at Arizona State, in which students came up with ideas for a theoretical non-profit theater company, May developed a rudimentary business plan for the Stray Cat Theatre. Once the class was over, he decided to implement it.
“Phoenix is a very different environment culturally than most. In Chicago, starting a company like Stray Cat would be a little odd since there are three or four companies there doing the kind of work we do. Out here, there wasn’t anyone. And all these crazy talented people I met in school all wanted to leave Phoenix because they felt no one was doing the kind of work that excited us.
“I also met so many people who weren’t from here. Phoenix had been growing exponentially for years and it wasn’t because of a baby boom. People were moving here from other cities – a lot of times, cities with a richer, more diverse cultural menus. Since we had achieved some semblance of success with the shows we did at Planet Earth, we kind of figured, ‘What the heck!’ I think that combination of knowing there was an underserved niche audience out here that no one was really doing anything FOR and a strong desire to try and retain some of the killer talent we had HERE for a while – was ultimately the catalyst.”
The first performance was in November 2001, and the theater continues to attract raves and accolades. These include multiple AriZoni Awards – Stray Cat Theatre has taken home the coveted Best Overall Production Award for Non-Contracted Theatre for six of the past nine seasons.
“We knew we wanted to do more ‘indie’ stuff -- plays that were contemporary, new, more provocative, basically things that would lead to a stronger ‘R’ rating if they were films. And plays that would showcase the talents of younger actors using material that was age-appropriate for them,” he said. “Our mission was to cultivate the next generation of theater artists and theatergoers by seeking out and showcasing the most vital contemporary material. I know this still holds true today.”
Even with the recognition, May returns to his days at College of DuPage and what he learned.
“Throughout most of my education, I was always an actor – always wanted to BE an actor. Connie was the first -- and really only -- person to sit me down and tell me I might also be good at something else. I took one directing class with her and found I really loved it. When she initially spoke to me and told me that directing was something I should consider going after, I took huge offense – I thought she was trying to gracefully tell me I should reconsider the whole acting thing. But as she was a director I really looked up to, I eventually realized it was probably the most flattering thing she ever said to me.
“I’ve studied with a LOT of different people and I can categorically say Connie is hands-down one of the best.”
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