As Charleston's arts scene continues to grow and develop, the area has become home to an increasing number of performance venues, both large and small. On the larger end, of course, you have the North Charleston Coliseum, a 13,000-seat multi-purpose facility that is also home to a performing arts center that seats 2,300. Looking at the peninsula, you'll find the renovated Gaillard Center, which after years of renovations and upgrades, reopened just one year ago. Looking ahead, in addition to the Gaillard's 1,800-seat Martha and John Rivers' Performance Hall, Charleston is also preparing for an additional 400-seat venue on Daniel Island. After organizers settled on a site and secured $5 million in funding, the Daniel Island Performing Arts Center is set to become the first venue of its kind in Berkeley County. Now, even without doing the math, it's easy to see that's a lot of seats to fill. So how do the people behind these new and improved venues plan to carve out their own niche in the Lowcountry arts scene and hit their marks? Well, it will be a matter of finding the roles that fit them — and playing their part.
It was first announced in April of this year that the city of Charleston's longtime CFO Steve Bedard would be taking the reins at the Gaillard Center. Transitioning into his current role as chief executive officer of the Gaillard Management Corp., Bedard sees his new position as a fresh challenge to sustain what he believes to be a world-class facility.
"We've gotten off to a good start. I think we have a venue here that I would argue is probably the premier acoustic venue in the area," says Bedard. "That's not saying anything against the PAC or the Music Hall or anybody else. They have a place in the whole thing. So I think what we're doing and have been doing and we continue to do is try to find the mix of entertainment that we want to provide the community that matches the venue that we've been given."
As home to the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and many of Spoleto's largest productions, there is a constant juggling act at the center. Bedard says they must work to make sure that the shows brought into the Gaillard don't compete or interfere with symphony or Spoleto performances, while offering a diverse range of entertainment for the local audience. For a few examples of the variety of talent coming up this fall at the Gaillard Center, comedians Bill Burr and Hannibal Buress are set to appear in September, as well as Chicago's own Second City. Looking into October, the center will host the Dance Theatre of Harlem and an evening with Bernadette Peters, followed in November by ZZ Top.
"We want to find that spot where we're not really in competition with the other guys, but we're providing some good quality entertainment to the whole community and the whole region," Bedard says of the center's eclectic mix of shows scheduled this fall. In addition to the center's educational outreach efforts, which worked with approximately 30,000 local students last year, Bedard says the key to keeping the Gaillard Center on track will be a focus on quality over quantity — a belief he shares with Mary Gould, who is leading efforts to make the Daniel Island Performing Arts Center a reality.
As executive director of South of Broadway Theatre Company, which will serve as DIPAC's resident performance group, Gould hopes the new venue will bring something to the Lowcountry and South Carolina as a whole that the area has been lacking up to this point.
"We have several theaters. We have two large performing arts centers. Why do we need another one? My answer again is so simple and so obvious. What makes this very, very different from the others is that this is going to have a LORT (League of Resident Theatres) theater as the anchor tenant and there are no theaters of this designation in the entire state. That's what makes it different."
According to Gould, the LORT designation is the highest designation that can be received by a regional theater, opening the venue up to compete for regional Tony awards and partner with Broadway production houses to incubate shows before they head to the Great White Way. In order to qualify as a LORT member, a theater must be incorporated as a nonprofit, rehearse each self-produced production for a minimum of three weeks, have a playing season of 12 weeks or more, and operate under the organization's union contracts. For Gould, bringing South Carolina's very first LORT theater to the Lowcountry is not only a great opportunity for South of Broadway, but a necessary step to making sure that DIPAC stands out among the crowd.
"We don't have an animal like this in South Carolina and it's time that we had one. It also means that this is going to be a locally produced product," says Gould. "So those are really the major differences and why what we're doing is not going to impact negatively what the other large performing arts centers are doing. We're not doing what they're doing, which is booking in all the product. We will have an in-house theater that has a very high designation and will attract people from across the country."