A Lifelong Love Affair with Stages by Matt Olin
When I was eight years old (how old my daughter is now), my parents took my twin brother and me to our first live theater production. It was a revival of Peter Pan on Broadway starring Sandy Duncan and that guy who played Mr. Belvedere on TV.
Somehow we ended up with front row seats, and the moment (s)he flew over our heads, I was hooked. I was head-over-heels in love with theatre, with music, with live performance. From that point forward, I would spend much of my life helping to bring things to life on stages in New York City, Charlotte, around the country and across the globe.
What happens on live stages – community theaters, performing arts centers, independent concert halls and more – are irreplaceable experiences for those on and off the stage. With due respect to the virtual platforms that we’re all relying on during the pandemic, the energy created between live performers and a live audience during a show is a uniquely human necessity. It connects us, inspires us, opens our eyes.
Our stages serve as a conduit to that vital, life-affirming energy.
They are the filling stations for our hearts, minds and souls.
They are places where many Charlotteans earn their living.
Charlotte is home to a plethora of beautiful stages, large and small. (We’ve lost some over the years, and we need more in the years to come.) I have amazing memories at almost all of them, on both sides of the stage. Whether it was my young creative self cracking open at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte or watching The Laramie Project at Spirit Square, my band playing The Double Door’s legendary room (RIP … band and venue) or melting in awe of Jon Batiste performing “in the round” at the Booth Playhouse, these moments and countless others are true touchstones in my life. I need them. We need them. (Side Note: The picture at the top is Matt with the cast of Bye Bye Birdie at Charlotte Catholic High School in 1991.)
But as COVID rages on, our stages – and the seats that face them – remain empty. They are hurting, they are dying, and they need our help to survive. And, it turns out, we need them to survive, too. And, so do the people who have devoted their lives to giving us those experiences. They are hurting twice. First, they don’t get to do what they were born to do, from actors and dancers to set designers and crew. Secondly, they don’t know how they’re going to pay their bills, feed their families and prepare for the future.
Stages need people. Audience banks need people. Backstages need people. Sound and light booths need people. Box offices need people. Without people, it’s just not the same.
Twenty years after “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” soared over my seat at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and changed the course of my life, I was on the producing team of a show in that exact same theater. Miracles are possible. And, we need one right now. Our city’s stages were among the first businesses to close, and they will be the last to open. Many are experiencing upwards of 90% revenue loss, and their permanent closing would greatly damage both our creative sector and our region’s economy.
Like Tinkerbell, our stages need our belief. But, they also need our dollars and our voices. Please support the Save Our Stages Act by going to www.saveourstages.com and voicing your support for funding that will help venues cover costs incurred during the pandemic – and survive to the other side of it.
To illustrate this, The Biscuit commissioned Charlotte photographer, Heather Liebler, to bring her lens to six of the empty stages of our city – the McGlohon Theater, the Knight Theater, Theatre Charlotte, the Neighborhood Theatre, the theater at Northwest School of the Arts, and the Sandra Levine Theatre at Queens University. We asked Heather to capture the perspective of both the audience member and the performer. What resulted was a haunting and breathtaking collection of images that reveal the beauty of these spaces and the sadness of our current moment. Moreover, we hope these images stir up something inside of you as they did with us – a memory, a realization of how fundamental these stages are to our lives, and an urgent call to action to save them.
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