Entertainment

Charlotte theater needs less money, more truth

Charlotte loves money, growth and all things new and shiny.

The preoccupation with money is so pervasive that it has even infected our theater scene. And yet, amidst the obsession, inferiority complexes and fretting, Charlotte is still essentially a city without professional theater.

We can't seem to make it happen, and it is driving us crazy! I think we need to chill out and reassess.

Make no mistake, I wish fervently that Charlotte, as a city of its size, would decide it needs a professional theater producing classics and new works on a large scale. That kind of organization is an asset to any community, economically and culturally.

Still, there is a large and thriving theater scene. A lot of theater is being done, and some of it is exciting. Much of it is underwhelming, and I think a lot of the blame can be laid on an obsession with size and money that far outstrips a potentially more useful obsession with quality.

The amazing growth and success of Children's Theatre of Charlotte has convinced many theater makers in Crowntown that bigger is better, and that superior production values are a substitute for innovative, engaged and skillful storytelling.

The irony is delicious, as Alan Poindexter, the city's reigning master of grand spectacle as CTC's artistic director, made his name creating work with nearly nonexistent budgets. His work for Children's Theatre's ensemble company had no budgets. But those plays were fierce and engaging, and for local audiences they were events. The work was good, and people spread the word, hungry for strong art.

Children's Theatre grew to become the champion of local theater by telling stories that mattered with a distinctive voice. The budgets came afterward.

Now local artists and smaller companies are straining to create spectacle in lieu of telling stories well. This is a misdirected strategy doomed to failure.

Find a way to make the work good. Straining to find money to tart up your lackluster work won't fool anybody for very long. If you aren't directing the action with insight and leading your actors toward truth, you're going to lose your audience quickly and they won't come back.

There is good news though: There are warriors who are putting their energy into making work that matters, and making it well.

I can't name everyone doing good work but I would like to plug two companies.

I am so encouraged to see the work that Mark and Meredith Sutton are doing with PlayPlay! Theatre, introducing the joy of storytelling and the magic of live theater to the young and their families. Their original production "Uh-Oh!" was easily the best piece of theater I saw last season, and was performed to an audience of toddlers.

Jimmy Cartee and his Citizens of the Universe put up rawboned and exciting experiences aimed directly at audiences who largely scorn the theater, and as Jimmy imposes more and more rigor on himself and his actors, the work is growing into something very exciting.

It's awesome - and more is coming!

I hear rumor and see evidence of more artists heading once more into the breach because audiences deserve it and are hungry for it.

I feel them asking themselves and their community some important questions. What are the stories we need to tell each other? How can we tell these stories with more urgency and more truth? What are the ways we can connect?

It all becomes simple when you get down to it: a group of people coming together in the dark to share a story, to breathe the same air, to remember that we are human. It is simple and it often lacks the glamour to which we are addicted, but it is real and it resonates.

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