"We are doing more with less and trying to replace the absence of funding by spending even more of our creative energy," says Charleston Stage's founder and producing director Julian Wiles. In the midst of the Dock Street Theater's renovation and a temporary move to the Sottile Theater, a fundraising sag, and the inevitable layoffs it caused, Wiles remains optimistic that with innovation and imagination his company will overcome the odds. Charleston Stage's huge education program however — with over 20,000 students annually — has had to slow expansion. It's not dead yet, but it's hurting. Once an economic revival occurs, Wiles hopes funding will return.
Some call them old chestnuts, but Wiles prefers the term crowd-pleasers when describing Charleston Stage's 2009-2010 season. It's filled with favorites such as Steel Magnolias, A Christmas Carol, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. While many would assume the company's decision to stick to safe-bet theater would be due to financial struggles, Wiles says the lineup is a product of the Dock Street Theater's building project (and the company's current home at the Sottile Theater) rather than the economy. "When you have a stage as big as Broadway's and 800 seats to fill, you simply can't produce small-scale, off-Broadway like shows. It would be a disservice to the shows themselves," Wiles says.
However, that's not to say Charleston Stage is giving up the fun smaller projects. "Once we return to the Dock Street in September 2010, we can't wait to once again produce Wit, I Am My Own Wife, Omnium Gatherum, The Marriage of Bette & Boo, and Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which we've produced to great acclaim in the past."
Wiles is quick to mention that even though patrons will have to wait a spell for these smaller nuggets, Charleston Stage continues to produce familiar shows in exciting ways. "For instance, this season's production of Shakespeare's classic Twelfth Night is being set in a 1920s speakeasy," he says. Even the much adapted A Christmas Carol takes on a new formation. "This year there's a whole new musical score, including a finale that features a grand new production number. And many of the spirits will pop up in new and unexpected ways as well."