Charlotte is often described as a bricks-and-mortar arts community, one willing to erect handsome buildings without worrying enough about the health of groups that fill them. We’re indisputably a mainstream metropolis, where producers can do “La Boheme” or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony every few years (or “The Nutcracker” every year) without necessarily drawing those same audiences to more adventurous fare.
Yet longtime residents know that more fun often lies in unexpected places. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra mounts traditional evenings at Belk Theater in the usual way, but its most festive moments come when shorter KnightSounds concerts rock Knight Theater down the street. So here’s a tip sheet to 14 things you may not have unearthed yourself.
1 Innovative Works: Charlotte Ballet scores its biggest financial successes with blockbusters such as “Peter Pan.” But its coolest evenings take place in its little home theater on North Tryon Street, where the Innovative Works program merges dance with live music, poetry and intriguing visual designs.
2 Innovative works: Smaller dance companies around town push the boundaries of stage movement: Caroline Calouche & Co. does so mostly in the air, Martha Connerton’s Kinetic Works mostly on the ground, Charlotte Youth Ballet mostly in extravaganzas for (and with) children. But there’s a mix of modern and classical styles if you search. Moving Poets Theatre of Dance defies a simple sentence.
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3 Theater that sets kids thinking: Children’s Theatre of Charlotte can sell out a splashy musical, yet its most provocative fare comes in work such as the upcoming “Jackie & Me,” where a 10-year-old white boy has an encounter with Jackie Robinson as he’s about to integrate major league baseball.
4 Theater that sets adults thinking: Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte has recently balanced shared world premieres (such as this season’s “River City”) with a series of Tony Award-winners and nominees (including the upcoming “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” by Christopher Durang).
5 Theater that sets everybody rocking: Theatre Charlotte, the city’s oldest extant performing company, has long built a reputation for traditional plays (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) and splashy musicals (“Footloose”) but has also added edgier fare, including this year’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.”)
6 Theater on the edge: Although the much-respected Carolina Actors Studio Theatre died this spring, Queen City Theatre Company has rebounded after a hiatus of nearly a year. On Q Performing Arts has just resuscitated itself with a $105,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Meanwhile, small groups abound in clubs (notably UpStage in NoDa), in bars, in city parks, on restaurant patios, in warehouses. They move around, so you’ll need to keep up with Observer listings to find them.
7 An importer with moxie: Charlotte Concerts, the city’s oldest extant presenting company, no longer imports just symphony orchestras, classical soloists and dance companies. The 85th season will include the flashy/fiery piano duo Anderson & Roe and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
8 An importer that maxes out: Blumenthal Performing Arts controls six spaces, from big Belk Theater to the pocket-sized Stage Door Theater. You can see national tours of “Pippin” or “Kinky Boots,” but the cognoscenti know to look deeper into their programming for poetry slams and one-person shows.
9 Opera that isn’t always opera: The 65-year-old Opera Carolina specializes in supertitled Italian-language productions, as the upcoming slate of “Nabucco,” “Turandot” and “Lucia di Lammermoor” reveals. But it kicks off its seasons with “Art*Poetry*Music” galas at which anything can happen.
10 Museums that do more than collect: The Mint Museum of Art, split into facilities on Tryon Street and off Randolph Road, ranges from art of the ancient Americas to modern craft and design – yet it also shows Spanish-language films and hosts an invitational potters market. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art showcases what the title implies, much of it from the Bechtler family of Swiss industrialists, yet it also offers a full slate of jazz and classical chamber concerts and runs multiple movie series.
11 Art that opens doors: McColl Center for Art + Innovation provides studio space for nine artists, who open their doors on certain Saturdays to let the public meet them and chat about art. The 5,000 square feet of gallery space provide a rotating stream of exhibits you’ll find nowhere else in town.
12 Art and history tangled together: The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with exhibits and presentations exploring the black diaspora. Levine Museum of the New South, now in its third decade, traces the rise of the post-Civil War South through text, photography, lectures and live events.
13 Movies beyond the multiplex: The Manor Twin, Park Terrace 6 and Ballantyne Village 5 (all Regal Cinemas) are likeliest to offer alternative fare, but you’ll find older programming at the art museums, at the Charlotte Film Society and at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
14 Culture in the suburbs: The rest of Mecklenburg County (let alone counties nearby) has much to offer. You can’t consider yourself au courant without an occasional thought for young folks acting at Matthews Playhouse, wide-ranging fare by Davidson Community Players (especially big summer musicals) and the quirky pieces that stream into the small, welcoming confines of Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius.