This time of year, every critical hack at every media outlet in the world, both online and in the quaint traditional medium known as print, is sitting down and cranking out obligatory end-of-year lists. This A&E editor, though a contrarian and iconoclast down to the silver bells on his furry green shoes, is no different. Reporting on a Charleston beat that includes arts and culture, film, and the internet year-round does provide a certain sense of perspective, for what it's worth.
And so, in an effort to somehow justify my job and stave off redundancy for at least a short time longer, it seems like a good idea to look back over the past year and noodle a little about exactly which of the stories I've covered in the Arts and Screen sections that stood apart in terms of significance or, might as well admit it, sheer entertainment value.
1. The Charleston Symphony Orchestra Looks the Grim Reaper in the Eye and Spits
It's been a long year for the embattled CSO. As with the past three, they ended last season several hundred thousand bucks in the red. They were booted out of their administrative offices at the Cigar Factory. They narrowly avoided a musicians' strike and took on another couple hundred grand in debt by agreeing to restore the players' salaries back to their pre-cut 2003 levels. They lost their executive director. They began talking openly about the possibility of going under and dissolving the organization.
And then they pulled up their socks and got to business – literally – with a corporate-oriented fundraising campaign and a big push from the mayor and some local business heavyweights. The complete results aren't in yet, but things are looking decidedly up for the 75-year-old symphony. With a little luck – and an increasing awareness on the part of local business owners that the CSO is a big hunk of what makes Charleston such a good place to live and do business – they'll be back in black next year. Now, about that executive director...
2. Charleston Stage Company Seeks a Temporary Home Anywhere, Everywhere
With the Dock Street Theatre scheduled to undergo a two-year, $9 million renovation starting next June, the city's biggest theatre company has been seeking a short-term home away from home for almost two years. Julian Wiles and Co. thought they'd found it last May in the New Tabernacle First Baptist Church in Mazyck-Wraggborough, whose congregation had decided to move to roomier digs. The neighborhood's NIMBYish residents thought otherwise, however, and screamed until the Zoning Board of Appeals denied Charleston Stage's request just to shut them up. (Expect a report on the inevitable condo-fication of the church soon.) Last month Charleston Stage settled on a less perfect but acceptible solution: producing in both the American Theater and the CofC's Sottile Theatre for the next two seasons.
3. The Donnelley Foundation Plays Daddy Warbucks to Local Arts Orgs
With resources of $140 million and a mission that expressly calls for investing in the Lowcountry, the Chicago-based philanthropic organization known as the Donnelley Foundation has become a supersized presence on the Charleston arts scene, providing critical operations support to performing and visual arts orgs in every corner of the city. In 2006, the foundation had some 15 major local organizations in its accounting books, to the tune of nearly $500,000. And the group is making its mark with more than just green. Donnelley has taken an unusually proactive approach to the concept of "support" that's as much about buttressing administrative and organizational strength as it is about doling out the cash. It's no exaggeration to suggest that the Foundation is completely transforming Charleston's cultural landscape, and for the better.
4. State Film Production Tax Incentives Start to Pay Off in Spades
In 2004, S.C. state legislators finally got wise to the win-win aspect of drawing filmmakers to our slice of the East Coast and passed a passel of tax incentives aimed specifically at film production companies. They've since had to increase those incentives twice, as states everywhere dueled in an ongoing contest of Who Can Pass the Most Generous Incentive Package. But the most recent version, which makes S.C. a tempting financial honeypot to budget-minded film, television, and commercial producers, finally started to yield big results in 2006. The tax credits lured five feature films to the Upstate and Midlands this year, including George Clooney's Leatherheads, Kevin Bacon's Asylum, and Liv Tyler's The Strangers. The new Lifetime series Army Wives will start filming in Charleston next month, and several more projects look to be on the way. Can The Patriot II be far behind?
5. 2006 as Virtually Everybody's Anniversary Year
Whatever else 2006 held, it was a big year for birthdays and anniversaries. The Footlight Players observed their 75th season, the Charleston Symphony turned 70, Spoleto Festival USA noted its 30th, your humble City Paper turned 10, and if I heard one more thing about Wolfgang Amadeus' Mozart's 250th, I felt sure I'd puke on the nearest piano.
6. The Internet Officially Takes Over as the Single Most Distracting Thing Ever Invented
For a full rundown of what the year in local online culture held, see Holly Burns' Weekly Geekly column on page 66. But as you do, note also that a year ago I couldn't have referred you to such a column, because it didn't exist. 2006 was the year of Web 2.0, when, like it or not, the internet became an unavoidable part of our everyday existence. The population of Charleston bloggers exploded, Google became as indispensable to us as oxygen, YouTube eclipsed crack for useless addictiveness, MySpace gave creepy stalkers everywhere a fresh MO, podcasting turned anybody with a mic and a laptop into a global DJ, and Charleston even got its own wiki – which you're welcome to edit as you see fit.
7. Sniping Offenses Now Punishable by Hanging, Burning At the Stake, Beheading, Drawing and Quartering
An ongoing string of murders and violent crimes in the latter half of the year were distracting, but not enough to deter the City of Charleston from throwing everything it had at what was obviously the real problem: snipes – those colorful, creative flyers and banners around town acting as visual proof of our city's thriving cultural and entertainment scene. A crackdown on snipe laws had nightclub owners and theatre club members scrambling to avoid trips to Livability Court and $1,000 fines and still get word out about their shows. Frankly, I think we all feel safer. Let's just hope city officials never have to travel to an urban cesspool like Paris, France, where sniping is still – incredibly – legal. In this day and age, can you believe it?
8. Theatre League of Charleston Has Rival Local Theatre Companies Speaking, Hugging, Emoting
After years of competing for the same set of seemingly limited resources – butts and bucks – Charleston's professional and community theatre companies this year took a big breath, grimaced, and shook hands – and instantly became BFFs. The new League of Charleston Theatres, modeled after a similar league funded by the Donnelley Foundation in Chicago (see No. 3 above) and now known simply as Theatre Charleston, hired its first executive director late this summer and opened up membership to all comers. The League's raison d'etre is to provide common promotional and advocacy services for member theatres. But mainly it's to get you (yes, you) into a play sometime this year or next. The sooner the better. You'll like it, really. Now about that sniping law...