A year-round, professional Charlotte theater will turn 30 next season, which has happened before exactly never.
(Children's Theatre of Charlotte turned 70 this year, but offers a calendar that's more tied to the school year.)
Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte has nestled into Hadley Theater as a tenant of Queens University with a five-year lease and an option to extend. Staffers have learned to co-exist with Myers Park Traditional School, which occupies the main part of the building. (Few theater professionals have to undergo security checks to be allowed in their facility or tone down language because impressionable ears abound.)
“The opportunities have far outweighed the disadvantages,” says artistic director Chip Decker. “We have 24/7 access to our work space, free parking and a theater that suits us. We just have to be respectful of the school and the neighborhood.
“We’re still exploring ways to work with Queens. We’ll do our nuVoices festival (readings of new plays) next summer in conjunction with the MFA writing program, introducing playwrights to students. They have a design program, and we always need posters and design work. Maybe we’d find a way to bring outdoor Shakespeare to the quads here in summer; we don’t produce Shakespeare, but we can find a producing partner and help make it happen.”
After a season spent doing plays in accommodating but inconvenient facilities, then a season spent training audiences to visit their Radcliffe Avenue home, Decker and his team are ready to celebrate. Mostly, they’ll celebrate women.
Straight women, gay women, white women, black women, moms and daughters, women who are actually Elvis impersonators in drag, femmes who are fatale and some who are just fatal. And a boy on the autism spectrum. And holidaymakers in a trailer park (who have now become a moneymaking ATC tradition, a “Christmas Carol” with Keg Nog).
Decker says another theme came to him after his team had picked all the shows: Every one has a character who must persevere against extraordinary odds, sometimes with survival at stake. That’s something to which this 30-year-old theater can relate.
ATC will offer five locally produced premieres and one world premiere in its six-show package. Flex pass prices start at $109 for four general admission tickets to $250 for six premium seats; those include taxes and fees and save more than 20 percent over single tickets. (This pricing ends May 31.) You can get details at 704-342-2251 or atcharlotte.org.
Here’s what’s on the way:
“Lizzie,” July 26-Aug. 18 – Musicians call a guitar an ax, so it’s apt that this musical version of Lizzie Borden’s story sets four actresses in front of a hard-rocking band. Though her neighbors in Fall River, Mass., believed Borden slew her father and stepmother, an 1892 trial acquitted her. (The state never charged anyone else.)
“This is the type of musical we’ve always gravitated toward, like ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ or ‘Toxic Avenger,’ and the music is killer,” says Decker. “It’s not just a slasher show. It looks at whether she was abused, whether she may have been a lesbian. It’s about her relationships.”
“The Legend of Georgia McBride,” Aug. 30-Sept. 22 – The last ATC play by Matthew Lopez, “The Whipping Man,” dealt with racism and class struggle. So Decker was pleased to stumble across this cheerful comedy about an unemployed Elvis impersonator with a wife and child on the way who reinvents himself by trading one sequined outfit for another.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Oct. 11-Nov. 3 – The winner of the 2015 Tony for best play relied on complicated special effects to put us inside the mind of an autistic boy, who tries to learn who killed his neighbor’s dog and why his mother has gone missing. Decker believes Simon Stephens’ play can work in a less mind-blowing approach.
“We can explore that character and make people feel just as connected,” he says. “There’s an advantage in a small theater to being so close to the actor physically. We can also find a way to present a sensory-friendly performance, which the Broadway tour could not. We want to tell a story about someone on the (autism) spectrum to audience members on that spectrum.”
“The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” – Armadillo Acres residents have Texas rockin’ around the Christmas cactus again. Not part of the six-show package.
“Nina Simone: Four Women,” Jan. 24-Feb. 16 – The title refers to Simone’s 1965 song about black female archetypes who suffer at society’s hands. Christina Ham’s play follows the singer’s progress as a voice of the Civil Rights Movement, especially after a Birmingham, Ala., church bombing killed four girls in 1963. Decker says ATC will be one of the first theaters to produce it after Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.: “I got an e-mail from the property manager saying it was available, and 24 hours later we said, ‘Yes, we have to bring it.’ That almost never happens.”
“The Great Beyond,” March 14-April 6: Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte commissioned Steven Dietz to write two plays that take place in the same house on the same night. This half of the joint world premiere – which can be seen independently but makes more sense in tandem – shows what happens to the adults upstairs, while their kids congregate in the basement. Decker says pairs of theaters in cities around the country have already expressed interest in the two supernaturally tinged pieces.
“Fun Home,” June 6-29: Alison Bechdel’s graphic novels tell her story of growing up gay in a funeral home run by her closeted dad; Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron made it a musical about Bechdel at three times in her life and won the 2015 best musical Tony. Charlotte’s Abby Corrigan wowed critics on the national tour as college-age Alison; Decker hasn’t approached her but says, “If she’s not doing another project then….”