Local Arts

Theater is popping up in Charlotte’s bars, breweries and other offbeat venues

PaperHouse Theatre performs Much Ado About Nothing at the Frock Shop in 2016.
PaperHouse Theatre performs Much Ado About Nothing at the Frock Shop in 2016. Courtesy of Anne Lambert

NoDa has long been considered Charlotte’s arts district, but if you were in Plaza Midwood during the BOOM Festival, the city’s annual theater, music, art and dance showcase, then you know the venues there are giving NoDa a run for its money, at least where the performing arts are concerned.

Festival programmer Camerin Watson said Snug Harbor, Open Door Studios, Petra’s, the Rabbit Hole, Coaltrane’s and a gravel lot across owned by White Point Partners all became non-traditional theater spaces for the three-day festival. “All these venues have been hugely supportive and amazing festival partners,” Watson said, adding that they also used NoDa Brewing for a preview party.

They’re not just festival partners, though — they’re partners in the arts community year-round. Plaza Midwood’s unconventional venues have become go-to locations for local theater groups, mostly via word of mouth.

Although the Arts & Science Council has a $75,000 Special Project Grant to Blumenthal Performing Arts to support underwriting local performers in Duke Energy Theater, that simply doesn’t translate to enough affordable space for all the local troupes to rehearse and perform. So, area artistic directors have one of two options: cold call bars, restaurants and breweries to see who’s interested in striking a deal, or use the venues they’ve heard about through the grapevine that are affordable and accessible.

“While I know there are people who have successfully cold called venues, in my case partnerships have typically come out of pre-existing relationships,” said Matt Cosper, artistic director of XOXO Performance. “I have been living and working in Charlotte since I was a kid. I’ve always been friends with musicians and so have spent a lot of time in clubs and so you get to know people over the years.”

Cosper said beyond those mentioned above, XOXO has also booked The Frock Shop and The Common Market and, outside Plaza Midwood, The Milestone Club.

Lacking affordable space

“We need more affordable theater rehearsal and performance spaces in Charlotte. Full stop,” said Anne Lambert, artistic director of Charlotte’s Off-Broadway.

A theater producer, director and regional performer for more than 20 years, Lambert said many of the spaces where actors used to perform are now dormant. She often struggles to find venues that have both the amenities her productions need (parking, seating, accessible bathrooms and concessions) and are available for a longer period of time.

“What is the responsibility of funders like Knight Foundation, Leon Levine Foundation, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Duke Energy and Foundation for the Carolinas, and other heavily resourced groups with an ostensible mandate to help rally people together around civic causes in Charlotte?” Lambert said, suggesting the city create an online resource to help directors find spaces that meet their needs.

Bernie Petit, the communications manager for the Arts & Science Council, said ASC has provided coaching, counsel and technical assistance to individual groups as they have navigated space needs over the years. He said the The Cultural Facility Master Plan also acknowledges the need for affordable performance and rehearsal spaces.

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Chickspeare performs at NoDa Brewing. Courtesy of Anne Lambert

To take a temperature reading of possible venues, CharlotteFive reached out to local breweries to see if any would be interested in hosting more theater groups. GoodRoad CiderWorks and Triple C Brewing both said yes.

Katherine Winchester, brand experience manager for Triple C, said it hosts theater events about once a quarter, but the brewery would be very open to hosting them more often.

“We just haven’t been approached by many small theatre groups,” she said. Triple C’s Barrel Room holds anywhere from 250 to 300 people, and has beer, wine and cider available. The brewery also has food truck partners who could be on-site during shows.

GoodRoad hasn’t hosted theater events before, but events manager Ahna Thaxton said she would be open to discussing ways to make the events work out. Its Orchard Room capacity is 100 with room for a stage if the event was standing room only, and the whole venue’s capacity is 264.

GoodRoad charges per hour to book its space during business hours; however, Thaxton said it would be interested in having a conversation about troupes using the space for rehearsals when the cidery is closed.

Other options

Other spaces for theater groups include Camp North End, which Charlotte Off-Broadway has booked, and Goodyear Arts, which is currently XOXO’s home. Warehouse Performing Arts Center, a 60-seat black box theater in Cornelius, is also another option.

Cosper said performing in unconventional spaces gives people the opportunity to be introduced to theater, especially those people who don’t traditionally seek it out. “Additionally, we have found that the folks who run these venues are accommodating and professional,” he said. “Good-hearted folks who are past masters at facilitating entertainment for large crowds of (typically drunk) people. We salute these heroes of the fringe.”

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Becca Worthington in a Charlotte’s Off Broadway performance at Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius in 2018. Courtesy of Anne Lambert

If you’re not familiar with Charlotte theater productions outside Blumenthal, these nine theater groups can help you navigate other options.

(1) Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte

Winner of the North Carolina Theatre Conference’s George A. Parides Professional Theatre Award three times over, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte has been staging contemporary plays, providing acting classes and leading workshops since 1989. In 2018, they kicked off a five-year partnership with Queens University to perform in Hadley Theatre as the school’s resident company.

(2) Davidson Community Players

North of Charlotte, nonprofit organization Davidson Community Players has been around since 1965, performing both mainstream musicals like “Mamma Mia!” and lesser known plays like “Wait Until Dark.” It also offers theater classes at Actor’s Lab in Cornelius and has a children’s theater division called The Connie Company. Shows take place in Davidson at Armour Street Theatre or Duke Family Performance Hall in the Knobloch Campus Center at Davidson College.

(3) Charlotte Comedy Theater

Charlotte Comedy Theater performs in the VIP Room at Wet Willie’s in AvidXchange Music Factory on most Friday and Saturday nights. The ensemble, made up of multiple improv groups, does both long- and short-form improvisation and hosts private events, training sessions and corporate workshops. Expect a highly interactive audience experience.

(4) Charlotte’s Off-Broadway

Led by Anne Lambert, Charlotte’s Off-Broadway dramatizes questions of social injustice and women’s experiences through provocative contemporary works. The plays touch on everything from pop culture and art to interpersonal and romantic relationships and careers. Charlotte’s Off-Broadway’s venue locations vary, but most recently, it has booked Camp North End.

(5) Comedy Arts Theater of Charlotte

Improv ensemble Comedy Arts Theater of Charlotte’s (CATCH) studio is in the LoSo area off South Boulevard. Groups here perform long- and short-form improvisation, and CATCH offers a number of classes for students of all comedy skill sets.

(6) Historic Latta Plantation

In addition to its historic and natural offerings, 52-acre Historic Latta Plantation is known for its Revolutionary War and Civil War reenactments, which take place throughout the year, as well as its World War II reenactment in May. The events showcase infantry, artillery and medical demonstrations, and you can interact with reenactors.

(7) Theatre Charlotte

Started in 1927 by Charlotte branch of the American Association of University Women, volunteer-based Theatre Charlotte has been in Myers Park off Queens Road since 1941. The company, which performs plays like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Producers,” has been named Community Theater of the Year three times by the North Carolina Theatre Conference.

(8) Three Bone Theater

Performing adult contemporary theater meant to drive conversation and social engagement, Three Bone Theater calls Duke Energy Theatre at Spirit Square its home. In the past few months, Three Bone has used that intimate space to stage the local premiere of “Appropriate,” a play about an Arkansas family’s racial history, and the regional premier of Tony Award-winning play “Oslo.”

(9) XOXO Performance

Founded in 2009, XOXO Performance is committed to performing experimental theater that is radically different from contemporary theater — more playful, rowdy and strange. The company’s current home is Goodyear Arts, but artistic director Matt Cosper said it has performed in at Frock Shop, Snug Harbor, Petra’s, The Common Market and The Milestone Club, as well as in private residences and out in the woods.

This article was originally published at CharlotteFive.com.

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