When Collaborative Arts renamed itself Charlotte Shakespeare last year, it adopted the motto “The Bard and beyond.”
“The Bard” seems obvious: The company has emphasized Shakespeare over its eight seasons and will open a darkly post-apocalyptic “Macbeth” Thursday at Booth Playhouse.
But what’s “beyond”? That question is beyond executive/artistic director Elise Wilkinson’s ability to answer.
“We’ll be tossing around a lot of ideas this fall,” she says. “Should we continue to do work that’s contemporary and classical? It’s more difficult to fund and find spaces for the contemporary plays. We have a lot of thinking to do now.”
The company traditionally does a June show on The Green uptown, an August show in McGlohon Theater – this is its first outing in the Booth – and other shows in fall and spring at Duke Energy Theatre in Spirit Square.
But Wilkinson says she’s been informed that subsidized shows in Duke Energy will now be limited to a two-week run, rather than three. And Sunday matinees are out, because Elevation Church uses Duke Energy as an overflow space for its McGlohon Theater sessions.
“Word of mouth grows slowly, and it really helps us,” says Wilkinson. “By the third weekend of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (in June), we had 500 people come for three straight nights. We had to drag people out of the bushes and say, ‘Sorry, but you can’t sit there.’ ”
Word of mouth about “Macbeth” has to build quickly, because the run lasts two weeks. Wilkinson, who is directing, promises a fast-paced (and slightly trimmed) version.
“I’ve stepped up my cardio,” says Christian Casper, who will take the title role. “I’ve had to start running on my treadmill every day: Playing Macbeth really takes it out of you.”
What does Wilkinson want us to take away from the production? “Its relevance: Every time you read the paper, there’s a struggle for power in some part of the world, with people wanting to rule at any cost. And I want the audience to be spooked out, too. This is a creepy play.”
Casper, who trained at Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, called Richard Easton as soon as he took the part. He says that Easton, his mentor in the Old Globe’s Master of Fine Arts program, told him, “Find one word that defines Macbeth after the witches speak to him.”
Casper decided that the word is “ambition” and built his performance around that idea. “I’ve wanted to play this role since I was 11,” he says. “I see him as a good man in the beginning, not a sociopath. He has tremendous doubts and recriminations, and his wife is the salesman.” (Gretchen McGinty takes that role here.)
Casper’s title with Charlotte Shakespeare is “core artist.” He played Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” last summer and directed “Shrew”; he also offers interactive educational workshops after Saturday matinees, helping people plunge into the texts of the plays.
“We’re trying to show that what you see onstage isn’t just about memorizing lines,” he explains. “There’s a lot of unglamorous prep work.
“But it also gives them more reasons to enjoy Shakespeare. People think they aren’t smart enough to appreciate him. When you read it, it may not make sense. But when you hear it spoken, it will.”
He can share that message at Johnson C. Smith University, where is visiting assistant professor of theater. That bond could yield the troupe benefits from interns to rehearsal space, though the black-box theater at JCSU may be too small for Charlotte Shakespeare’s performances.
Wilkinson and the board of directors must now weigh alternatives while making plans.
The company may benefit from a stronger emphasis on its Bardic brand – no one else in this community regularly does his plays – and by the cancellation of N.C. Shakespeare Festival’s Triad season. That could send Shakespeare fans down Interstate 85 to Charlotte.
“Producing theater here always feels like rolling a stone up a hill,” she says. “We’ve had volunteer staff people (including co-founder and managing director Joe Copley) in each position for eight years. We need at least a part-time development director to take us to a place where artists can be better compensated for their time.
“That’s not unique to us. But it’s one of the things we have to think about as we go forward.”
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