New triangular sites help fill gaps for performing arts companies

Any stage manager will tell you that the real drama is always offstage.

Such was the case at the start of a roaring autumn season here, when 39 separate productions in its first three weeks pushed local theaters to capacity.

But that triumph came just as the region’s traveling theater and dance companies — the groups without rehearsal or performance space, which make up more than two-thirds of the region’s performing arts community — have received an unpleasant shock. As the INDIA reported last week, three prominent venues have closed or signaled they are scaling back, a move that has left the largest living arts demographic here with even fewer venues and opportunities to show their work.

Then, in a Shakespearean intrigue, four venues in the area began to pull together to give performing artists somewhere to be seen and audiences somewhere to come for live theater and dance.

As we speak, Jack Reitz surveys his surroundings with puzzled eyes: a 1,600 square foot cube inside the Warehouse building in Golden Belt, nestled between Hi-Wire Brewing, Urban Tails Veterinary Hospital and Cugino Forno.

Right now the decor around a boom lift in the middle of the room ready to hang the theatrical light and sound rigging is nothing if not industrial: plasterboard and construction dust cover the floor, a table filled with blueprints, pizza boxes and coffee cups, and stacks of carpet squares and uninstalled bathroom fixtures to one side.

Still, Reitz is confident that by the end of October, the 60-seat theater will be ready for a soft opening as a new space for award-winning improv comedy collective Mettlesome. That in itself is a welcome change of fortune for a group including founder Ashley Melzer and comedians April Dudash, Lauren Foster-Lee, Jonathan Yeomans and Hillary Yonce, who had hauled a truckload of chairs to venues in the area before a one year residency. in Geer Street’s large coworking space, The Mothership.

“Programming this space for a full year taught us that we were capable of doing this,” Reitz recalls. “Then when we got dark for the pandemic, there was no doubt we would be back.” More than 200 patrons contributed $41,500 to a Kickstarter fundraiser to build a theater for Mettlesome, which the band completed with savings they had accumulated since their debut. Golden Belt’s property management also helped with the layout needed to turn the new dig into a functional performance space.

When it opens, Mettlesome will feature iconic company acts including Hush Hush and Golden Years, as well as a selection of local improv troupes on Friday and Saturday nights. It will also host regional theater and dance groups; after the opening, the company installs a suspended floor to accommodate the dancers as well as other performing artists.

Bulldog Ensemble Players, an avant-garde group that loves current scenarios, will stage an urban comedy called The Garbologists in Mettlesome from November 3-13. And choreographers Alyssa Noble and Chris Strauss of Barriskill Dance Theater will produce Recitalan unusual and original variety show of embodied performances, the weekend of November 18-19.

“So many of the Triangle’s artistic worlds are compartmentalised,” says Reitz. “We really hope to have a space where artists from different disciplines can come and show off their work in a way that inspires everyone. We are eager to welcome other artists.

While putting the finishing touches on the main stage at Theater Raleigh, Production Artistic Director Lauren Kennedy Brady quietly added to what she now calls the company’s “campus” on Old Wake Forest Road. A studio one block away hosted Children’s Theater Groups, a five-star late summer production by David Henry Hwang yellow faceand readings by the North Carolina Playwrights Lab.

The company is now gearing up to feature many more local bands. It has hired rental manager Allison Dellinger Hopfer to administer not only the studio, but also two new spaces it will bring online in January 2023: a 99-seat studio theater adjacent to its main stage and a cabaret-style theater. at the end of its present hall.

“Essentially we will have four performance spaces in the footprint that we have right now,” says Brady.

The desire to open up new spaces is more artistic than economic, adds Brady. “I love a creative space where different artists from different companies and different backgrounds work. You feed off of each other’s creativity and the enthusiasm and excitement of what’s going on.

During the fall and spring seasons, the Raleigh Theater will host companies such as Honest Pint Theater and Pure Life Theater, groups that were not housed during the space shortage this year. “We’re extremely excited to be here,” said Honest Pint co-founder David Henderson. “We have a good idea of ​​what we are getting.”

The demand for the new spaces took Brady by surprise; at this point, only a few weeks remain available for the four chambers through 2023. “It’s taken off faster than expected,” she says.

Memorable theater can happen in non-traditional spaces. In August, a cast of local independent scene royalty, including Marcia Edmundson, Lenore Field and Thaddeus Edwards, staged a production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s dark comedy. Ripcord at Lanza’s Cafe, a cozy neighborhood cafe in Carrboro.

When producer Edith Snow was out looking for a place to break the pandemic’s long theatrical fast, Catherine Coley and Christina Vad, co-owners of Lanza’s Cafe, said yes.

“They were fantastic from the start,” says Snow. “They made it clear that they wanted to be hosts to an artistic community.”

The city has been anything but a theatrical wasteland in recent years, but during RipcordDuring the weekend race, crowds filled a hodgepodge of vintage loveseats, sofas and upholstered chairs at the cafe.

Such settings are no problem when the acting, directing and script are all top-notch. As the night ended, enthusiastic applause – and questions about future shows – emerged from the audience. In addition to coffee, tea and pastries, Coley and Vad’s funky venue also has a solid menu of weekly events across the arts, including open-mic nights, monthly poetry jams and a series of shorts. independent footage allowing regional filmmakers to show their works. .

They are also accepting proposals for other theatrical productions.

First through the doors this fall will be theatrical gadflies Ian Bowater and Paul Deblinger, who will bring their unique take on two-man improvisational drama, Ian and Paul’s One-Man Showat the café as part of free performances and workshops on their techniques on October 8, November 11 and December 10.

“I didn’t realize space was such a challenge for local artists,” notes Vad. “But the arts must express themselves more in free and accessible community spaces.” Co-owner Coley agrees: “It’s part of our mission to provide a safe space where people can come together and express their creativity, collaboration, communication and community. »

More recently, Back-to-One Acting Studio hosted the first Scrap Paper Shakespeare production of Julius Caesar last weekend at her dance and theater studio classroom space on Capital Boulevard.

A mirrored wall the length of the room was draped, as were the skylights on the opposite wall for the Sunday morning; a modest array of general theatrical lights hung from the hall’s drop ceiling. Although the sightlines in the narrow 75-seat venue weren’t the best, the venue was available and affordable – the two things a start-up business needs most.

“We would love to be able to help produce maybe four shows a year,” said co-owner Daryl Ray Carliles. “You have to start somewhere; we just want to give companies that want that first step a space to work or rehearse before going to bigger places.

So do these developments solve the lack of space for local performing arts groups? Barely, says longtime arts administrator Devra Thomas.

“Because so many amazing artists want to do their work here, even if you add five more rooms, there will always be more work than available space,” says Thomas. “The question is: how are we trying, as a community, to adapt to this? How do you make sure people can see their work? »

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