The Biscuit – March 3, 2023
The Queen City creative community is strong.
Your talents and passions run deep.
Your power to bring people together is real.
The creative community isn’t an add-on; it’s vital to Charlotte.
To our quality of life. To economic mobility. To our identity. To our reputation. To our economy. To our future.
We’re proud to be part of it.
To our core, we believe all of the above to be true. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be working every day to develop resources and opportunities creatives need to build their careers, their businesses and their impact. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t see the challenges. It does mean, we think our community has what it takes to overcome them.
The City Council’s vote Monday night not to provide operational funds to grantmaking organizations such as Arts & Science Council (ASC) and others in future fiscal years may have surprised or upset you. And, whether the ASC has funded you in the past or not, the future may feel uncertain. After all, the ASC has served – and we believe will continue to serve – the Charlotte creative community for decades with promotional and capacity-building support, as well as grants.
The reality is that the future of arts funding in Charlotte has been uncertain for a while now. Since the market downturn of 2008, for sure.
That’s part of the reason the city formed the Arts & Culture Advisory Board (Board) and steering committee, composed of artists and business, civic and nonprofit leaders. These groups have been working for over a year to create a roadmap to sustainable, equitable and (hopefully) increased arts spending. They were tasked with developing a 10-year-plus arts funding plan to build a strong, sustainable arts ecosystem.
What may have gotten lost in the wake of the City Council meeting is that the State of Culture report, managed by the Advisory Board and Priya Sircar, the city’s arts officer, was also released Monday.
This report is the result of nine months of independent research and open community meetings assembled at the Board’s direction. It was designed to identify threats, challenges and opportunities to the strength and prosperity of the arts community here.
The report raises important questions about equity, cultural resources and balanced investments in creative individuals and organizations of all sizes across the sector. We highly encourage you to read it for yourself.
The report was created to provide a baseline and direction to inform the development of a comprehensive arts plan … the next step in the process. That plan will provide recommendations to the City Council later this year on HOW funds are raised moving forward and WHO administers them.
That’s where you can play a vital role.
Whether you participated in one of the community discussions used to create the State of Culture report or not, your thoughts on the report matter greatly, as they will be taken into consideration for the plan. We know you have strong feelings about arts support and funding, so we urge you: Put your passion into the process.
Here’s how you can get involved right now:
- Read the State of Culture report released Monday
- Take the online survey sharing your thoughts on what you read in the report
- Make plans to attend the virtual public meeting about the State of Culture report on March 8 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Beyond that, keep investing your passions and abilities in our creative community at all levels. Collaborate. Share what you need to succeed.
Whatever you’re feeling today … whatever you think after reading the report, put it to work. Put your passion into the process — and the plan.
Your perspective, your experience, your insight, your ideas and your voice about how arts funding is raised and expanded, how it’s managed and how it ensures balance are critical.
Matt Olin & Tim Miner
Charlotte Is Creative
STATE OF STAGES: Charlotte Conservatory Theatre dreams big
By Page Leggett
Formed in 2022, Charlotte Conservatory Theatre is geared up for its second production. The group aspires to be an officially professional theater for the Queen City and surrounding region. Although they’re not (yet) a League of Resident Theatres, or LORT theater, they’re producing high-caliber work.
“Right out of the gate, we want to give the audience an experience that feels professional,” said Stephen Kaliski, one of the theater’s co-founders.
Kaliski also starred in the company’s inaugural production, Witch, last August and will direct the upcoming (March 16 – 19) POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive. He’s a triple threat – actor, director, playwright. He’s also a visiting assistant professor at Davidson College.
ABOVE: The cast of the Charlotte production of “POTUS” | CREDIT: Fenix Fotography
Establishing a professional theater company
“We’re not at a point where we have a fully salaried staff,” said Kaliski. “We don’t have our own brick-and-mortar location. We’re not that close to functioning as a true regional theater. That’s the North Star we want to get to eventually.
“But we’re trying to figure out these first couple of years. How can we sustain a practice of giving audiences professional theater while slowly implementing the infrastructure that will allow us to eventually make that leap?”
Kaliski noted that “professional theater” means different things to different people. As for Charlotte Conservatory Theatre, they’re working on what it means to them now.
“Are we paying our actors?” he asked. (They are.) “Does it mean hiring ‘professional’ actors? What’s the audience’s perspective of ‘professional’? Does it feel different from – and this is not a pejorative at all – a typical community theater production?”
There’s a misconception among Charlotte audiences that “professional” means “touring.” Kaliski and company want to change that, starting with how they manage their own productions.
Fortunately, they don’t have to go far to find talent. Charlotte provides a rich pool of actors and crew.
“The talent pool here is incredible,” Kaliski said. “We should dispel any notion that in order to have professional theater in Charlotte, you have to fly in artists from New York.”
BELOW: Poster from 2022’s production of “Witch”
This group is legit
Kaliski was a working actor in New York for 11 years, but he’s no outsider. He grew up in Charlotte and graduated from Davidson College before moving back in 2018.
“I am coming at this with a real love for the city and an awareness of theatrical history but also as somewhat of a newcomer as a practitioner here,” he said.
“Everybody else [in the collective] has been involved in Charlotte theater for decades.”
In addition to Kaliski, “everybody else” includes Marla Brown, Ph.D., founder of Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius and part-time lecturer at UNC Charlotte; Frances Dell Bendert, a TV, film, stage and commercial actor; Kellee Brewer Stall, a theater and casting director and playwright; and Savannah Deal, theater producer and venue manager at Queens University who also performed in Witch. On the production side, Carrie Cranford and Kathryn Harding – both formerly at Actors Theatre of Charlotte – are also involved.
When it comes to background and pedigree, this group is legit.
“We’re thinking of [ourselves] as a collective versus establishing any sort of hierarchical structure,” Kaliski said. “We don’t have an artistic director, an executive director, a development director at this stage. We’re rethinking organizational structure.”
Without their own space, the team holds auditions all over town (and some via video), rehearses in a warehouse in Cornelius and performs in Blumenthal Performing Arts’ Booth Playhouse in Founder’s Hall.
The Booth is a deluxe space. “We want to work at a venue like the Booth, but we can’t afford to rent it for three weeks,” Kaliski said.
“There are trade-offs. You can either do a small venue for a longer run or a large venue for a shorter duration.”
The company hopes to eventually increase the length of its runs. (They’ve already been able to extend POTUS. It will move to Cornelius’ new Cain Center for the Arts and run April 26-29. Showtime and ticket information will be available soon through charlotteconservatorytheatre.org and cainarts.org.) A three-weekend run is considered ideal for smaller companies; it allows time to build crucial word-of-mouth advertising. And the group has the same mandate every local or regional theater company has – keep ticket prices affordable
BELOW: The cast of the Charlotte production of “POTUS” | CREDIT: Fenix Fotography
An “equal opportunity offender” direct from Broadway
Kaliski and company didn’t think they could get the rights to POTUS: “It hasn’t been on the market very long. We must be one of the first, if not the first, regional groups doing it.”
The play, written by L.A.-based Selina Fillinger, was a hit on Broadway, where it starred Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives), Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars) and Rachel Dratch (SNL’s Debbie Downer).
The play’s slapstick nature is similar to Noises Off or The Play That Goes Wrong.
“There are doors slamming all over the stage, people popping in and out of things,” Kaliski said. “The plot gets absurd at times. People are piling on top of each other, and someone seems like they’re dead at one point.”
(You know, just like the White House has been reported to be in recent years.)
In POTUS, the president, who’s never seen, is a horrible boss. The women in his life – including his Chief of Staff, his mistress and the First Lady – have to continually avert disaster.
He’s a mashup of several former presidents – both Democrats and Republicans, Kaliski said.
“The playwright was clever enough to appeal to a broad audience,” he said. “What makes it funny is that we can, I hope, all unify over how the office of the president has become a source for parody.”
“The political culture surrounding the president has become sort of a sideshow,” he added. “The play is not a liberal pile-on or conservative pile-on. It’s an equal opportunity offender.”
The play offers something we’ve never seen in real life – a President who’s white and First Lady who’s Black. “She’s not Michelle Obama or Kamala Harris,” Kaliski said. “She’s feisty and ruthless and the smartest person in the room. She’d be a better president than her husband. The president is goofy and affable, and the First Lady is a highly-intelligent, accomplished, hawkish kind of person with her own ambitions.”
As a self-described “politics nerd,” Kaliski was naturally drawn to the material. “It shows the stressful, fast-paced world of politics where the boss is sometimes the least qualified person around,” he said.
He described the play as a sibling to HBO’s VEEP, which starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “It’s rude and angry and hilarious,” he said. “It moves at a mile a minute. I’m just letting these amazing women in our all-female cast of seven [go]. They’re hilarious naturally, so all I really need to do is make sure they feel safe to do their very best work and get out of their way.”
Like the cast, which includes Brown, Sarah Molloy and Iesha Nyree, the crew is also top-notch.
Chip Davis – a Davidson colleague of Kaliski’s – is the set designer, Ashleigh Poteat (a Charlotte native who teaches at Coastal Carolina University) is designing costumes, Gordon Olson is designing the lighting and Matt Sherwin is in charge of sound.
Davis is creating realistic interiors, but not, said Kaliski, “just the parts of the White House we’d see on tours. We’re also interested in the cramped, back hallways and offices. We’re trying to blend those two elements.”
Kaliski cautions that the show is best for those 17 and up.
“The language is salty, for sure,” he said. “Anyone who enjoys a stand-up comedy show will probably appreciate it. It’s got that crowd-pleasing sensibility.”
The dumbass POTUS and the women trying to save him
See the recent Broadway hit in Charlotte at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Booth Playhouse (130 N. Tryon St.) from March 16-18 at 8 p.m. and on the weekend (March 18 and 19) at 2 p.m. Tickets for the Charlotte Conservatory Theatre production range from $25 to $45 and are available at carolinatix.org.
|The Biscuit is proudly sponsored by:|