STATE OF STAGES: The Show Goes on at Theatre Charlotte
“We are, first and foremost, a theater for this community. All our talent onstage, backstage, front of house, you name it – they’re all from this community. These are all people that live and work right here in Charlotte. That’s what makes us special. That – and our longevity. We were the theater in town 95 years ago.” – Chris Timmons, Theatre Charlotte’s acting executive director
The white house on the little hill along Queens Road has seen a lot of laughs – and a lot of drama over the years. At least it has since Theatre Charlotte (TC) opened its first production – George Washington Slept Here – in 1941.
But, the drama hasn’t always been limited to the stage.
An electrical fire on Dec. 28 of that annus horribilis caused major damage to the building. A year that had seen most productions canceled due to COVID gave way to another year of uncertainty.
Nevertheless, they persisted …
Undaunted, the staff, board and volunteers ensured that the show did go on, albeit under less-than-ideal circumstances.
TC, originally called the Little Theatre of Charlotte, made lemonade out of lemons by becoming nomads in 2021-22. “The Road Trip” season tour took them to the Great Aunt Stella Center, The Palmer Building, Dilworth United Methodist Church, among other venues.
Artistic Director/Acting Executive Director Chris Timmons said The Road Trip 2021-22 season helped introduce Theatre Charlotte to people unfamiliar with the group. Ironically, having no fixed abode taught TC that it was welcome all over Charlotte.
“It was a different take for us,” he said. “And we want to build on those relationships we started last year. We want to connect with audiences in other areas of the community.”
Now, the group has embraced its temporary situation as part of its long-term solution – looking for opportunities to venture out in the community moving forward.
TC will do that in May 2023 when the company partners with the Mint Museum Uptown for Steve Martin’s comedic Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The Off-Broadway farce is a tie-in with the Mint Museum’s blockbuster exhibition, Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds.
Taking the long road
Hitting the road while the fire damage was being repaired came with inherent challenges. Financial and logistical, primarily.
“Venues in this town are not cheap,” Timmons said. “And the timing of being able to get into some of these venues affected the number of shows we were able to produce and how long the runs were. We’re used to doing three-week runs, which is our sweet spot. Suddenly, we didn’t have that luxury. We had to condense our preparation time.”
This season was to have seen the company return to its long-time Queens Rd. home. And it will – soon. It’s just been delayed … again.
For a while, it looked like the team was going to be able to mount its 95th season on schedule and as planned. But construction and permitting delays meant more changes to a schedule that had already seen more than its share.
Misery, originally scheduled for November, has been shifted to March 2023 – with the same director and cast that had already been announced and begun rehearsals. But the planned production of Rumors has been canceled.
“With construction delays and waiting on county approvals, we just couldn’t get definite answers,” Timmons said. “We couldn’t create an accurate timeline, and we live and breathe by that. We got to a point where it was clear we didn’t have time to prepare a show in our space, and our actors need time to prepare. It became overwhelming to try to squeeze final walk-throughs and rehearsals into a couple of days. We needed to postpone, and the actors agreed it was the right decision.”
Shows of Christmas future
A Christmas Carol (Dec. 9-18) will now be the first show in the refurbished space.
“It’s fitting, in a way, because it was actually the last show in the building before the fire,” Timmons said. The same actor – the stalwart Hank West – is playing Ebenezer Scrooge again this time around.
Timmons is excited to get back home, but he also wants to manage expectations.
“The building didn’t burn to the ground,” he said. “I think, in some ways, that would have been easier. Renovating after the fire has been complicated by the fact that we’re dealing with a building that was built in 1941. It doesn’t meet current standards for so many things. The challenge has been figuring out what we can and can’t do and what we’re required to do to meet code. The space itself – the layout – is unchanged.”
New bling for a dear old thing
Here’s what’s new – the finishes, carpet, paint and seats in the auditorium. “And the exterior of the building is going to look better than it has in decades,” Timmons said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to the parking lot pretty soon. Many adjustments we’ve made won’t necessarily be seen by the audience, although we do have a whole new sound system and lighting system, so productions will look and sound better.”
The staff of four has been mostly working from home since the fire; the building hasn’t had electricity since the night of the fire on Dec. 28, 2020.
But Timmons is counting his blessings, as if he took a line from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
“Reflect upon your present blessings – of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
But now the grand reopening is only days away. And A Christmas Carol is just the beginning.
“This will be one of our biggest seasons we’ve had in recent history,” Timmons said. “I’m excited for the variety of stories we’re telling and the opportunities to showcase local artists and performers. We’ve got lots of roles and opportunities.”
The production Timmons is most looking forward to is Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67 (May 26-June 11). It was supposed to have happened last season, but – in yet another real-life plot twist – the venue, CPCC’s new Parr Center, experienced its own construction delays.
Ron McClelland – like Hank West, a fixture on Charlotte’s theater scene – will direct the riveting play about a pivotal, violent year in recent American history that’s set to the beat of Motown hits.
Detroit ’67, written in 2014, is among newer, edgier plays TC is staging along with the traditional fare it’s long been known for. People who love the classics have relied on TC to produce shows like Arsenic and Old Lace (2013), The Odd Couple (2020), The Producers (2019) and The Music Man (2011). Timmons said this tradition will continue.
Of, by and for the community
In a sea of uncertainty for Charlotte stages (RIP, Actor’s Theatre), TC is the Queen City’s long-time community theater – and Timmons wants new audience members to know that, especially if they want to get involved before and after the applause.
“We are, first and foremost, a theater for this community,” he said. “All our talent onstage, backstage, front of house, you name it – they’re all from this community. These are all people that live and work right here in Charlotte. I think that’s what makes us special. That – and our longevity. I mean, we were the theater in town 95 years ago.”
It’s the community that’s kept Timmons going through a rocky couple of years. “We keep thinking about the people – the people we’ve met along the way, the people who attend our shows, the people who show up and try out and become part of our casts,” he said. “For me, that’s really been the driving force. That’s why this place is still here. For this community.”
And if you should get bitten by the acting bug, Timmons encourages you to audition for an upcoming production.
“We are here to serve the community and provide opportunities for people interested in theater,” he said. “Maybe you did theater in high school and now that you’re settled in your career, you want to try it again. Maybe you had the itch in college but for whatever reason, you never tried out. We all have a creative side that deserves to be explored.”
Acting, leading, stretching …
I asked Timmons if he’d been the acting executive director so long (two years) – and through such tumult – that we could just remove the “acting” from his title. (He took on that role after long-time Executive Director Ron Law retired in late 2020 after 15 seasons. Timmons, who’s been with TC since 2007, had previously served as technical director.)
“I don’t know what the shelf life for that title is,” he said. “I mean, at this point, it might as well have been 10 years. We’ve all aged and lost track of time due to COVID. Over time, we definitely want to expand our staff because we’re all stretched so thin right now. We want to focus more directly on our areas of expertise and our skills.”
For now, everyone’s focus is on readying the building for audiences to return and on putting the finishing touches on A Christmas Carol, a Theater Charlotte holiday tradition for the past 16 years. After a pandemic, a fire, a leadership change and a season of road shows, a return to normal will be nice – even for people who thrive on drama.
“We still have a lot of stories we want to tell,” Timmons said. “We hope to expand on our offerings and what we’re able to do in and for the community.”
Join the TC community
And what can the community do to help? Buy tickets, of course. But there are other opportunities to support Theatre Charlotte. Audition. Donate. Volunteer in front of house – ushering and selling concessions. Shop for branded merch. TC also has an Amazon wish list, which allows you to support Charlotte’s community theater with just a couple of clicks.
“Obviously, financial support is helpful,” Timmons said. “Even with insurance, there’s still a pretty significant amount of money needed to keep the building going this year and make sure we’re able to move ahead in a healthy way.”
‘This is a long-standing institution, and we want to make sure it’s here for decades to come.”
No “Bah, humbugs!” allowed
See A Christmas Carol at Theatre Charlotte. It runs from Dec. 9 through Dec. 18 – Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15 (student) to $30 (adult) and are available at theatre charlotte,org. Follow Theatre Charlotte at theatrecharlotte.org, on Instagram and Facebook.
Get FREE tickets to A Christmas Carol
We love local theater – no humbugs about it.
Charlotte Is Creative, publisher of The Biscuit, is doing our part to keep theater alive and thriving in the Queen City. But, local stages – and those who play upon them – need more than publicity and good wishes. They need ticket sales they can count on.
To that end, we’re buying four tickets (split into pairs) to A Christmas Carol as rewards to loyal readers of The Biscuit. If you’d like to be considered for one set of tickets to this Theatre Charlotte production, email your name and why you love Charlotte theater to hello@CharlotteIsCreative.com by noon on Monday, Dec. 5.
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