As another season opens on Charleston’s stellar art scene, there’s one thing that’s impossible not to notice: everyone’s getting all mixed up in each other’s business. In a good way. If we didn’t hate how jargony it sounds, we’d say this could be the season of collaboration — music groups are working with visual arts studios, theater companies are teaming up to experiment with staging and casting, comedy troupes are stepping outside Theatre 99 and working with conventional theaters, like the Woolfe Street Playhouse and the Flowertown Players.
Of course, this sort of thing has been going on to a degree for years, especially since the recession began. But what’s interesting is that the creative partnerships that are in the works for this season seem born not out of necessity but out of a desire to offer better, stronger programming, whether that means presenting more affordable concerts or helping out fellow Holy City arts institutions.
Take Theatre Charleston, for example. This league of local theaters recently hosted the first Theatre Charleston awards, recognizing last season’s best productions, directors, actors, and behind-the-scenes crew across their 13 member theater companies. South of Broadway and the Flowertown Players launched the Next Stage program this fall as well, which stages one production at two different theaters with a cast pulled from the two companies. They performed their first play, Sartre’s No Exit, at South of Broadway’s black box theater in August, and will perform it again at Flowertown’s James F. Dean Theater in September.
Perhaps the most extreme, and as yet most uncertain, example of collaboration is Avondale’s the 827, the arts-music-science collective that’s run by some of the same team who started the Gadsden Funeral Home (the Gadsden shut down in fall 2012). They’ve already opened a small gallery space that’s hosted all kinds of events, from visual arts openings to comedy nights, but they’re still trying to finish construction on their real center of operations, which is the old Junk ‘n’ Jive building. Once that space is completed and open to the public, the 827’s leadership plans to work with local artists and performers to host theater productions, concerts, classes, workshops, art shows, and pretty much anything and everything that interested community members bring to them. Last we heard, they were shooting for a late fall opening. If they accomplish even half of the goals they’ve set for themselves this year, they’ll be a spot to keep your eye on.
One of the biggest success stories of the season is the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, which is not only going into its second year fully in the black, but is also launching a year-long process to find their next music director. For their Meet the Maestro series, they’ll be bringing in the six final candidates for the position to conduct Masterworks concerts and meet the public starting in October. The CSO hasn’t had a full-time music director since the death of David Stahl, who held the position from 1984 to 2010 and was a legend in the organization. Since 2010, concertmaster Yuriy Bekker has filled the role as acting artistic director. If all goes as planned and the orchestra selects one of their final candidates, Bekker should have some relief from pulling double duty by early next summer.
Also new this season is the CSO’s Remix series, which is aimed at young professionals and their families. Remix is offering intimate concerts in unique venues like Redux Contemporary Art Center, capitalizing on the younger generation’s love of pop-up-style gatherings. They’re even working with Charles Towne Landing to host a family performance of Peter and the Wolf in honor of Charles Towne’s red wolf exhibit. The CSO is also continuing their popular Magnetic South series, a partnership with the College of Charleston that performs music by living, contemporary composers.
With so much happening in the city’s classical music world, it’s a shame that the classical dance world is still suffering from the aftermath of the Charleston Ballet Theatre’s shutdown. The CBT’s board resigned for the second time in two years this past January, which is also when the dancers were informed that their pay would be suspended indefinitely. That left the CBT’s talented performers without a company, and those who could moved on to other cities or even other careers. So far, no one has stepped in to fill the void left by CBT — DanceFX, which is home to at least one former CBT dancer, does mostly modern dance and hosts only a handful of performances each year, focusing much more on teaching.
Holy City theater, however, is going as strong as ever. The two-year-old Holy City Shakespeare company continues to work hard at keeping the Bard’s work alive in Charleston. The small, currently volunteer company is led by bona fide Shakespeare devotee and scholar Laura Rose, who both acts in and adapts the plays HCS performs. So far they’ve only performed twice — Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet — but both were done with a clear vision and expertise. Rose is smartly keeping HCS within its abilities, avoiding the overreaching common to young companies. We’re looking forward to seeing what they’re planning next.
PURE Theatre continues its reign as Charleston’s go-to for the best in contemporary theater. With yet another great season planned, including a play by one of our favorite playwrights, Conor McPherson, we feel confident saying that a night at PURE is always a sure thing. The company is going through some interesting administrative changes too, as they’ve hired Laurens Wilson, a PURE Core member, to act as managing director. Wilson held that position at a theater in Baltimore before coming to Charleston and apparently was quite successful at it. We can only imagine that this will mean even more good things to come for PURE, though we probably won’t start seeing the results until 2014 or so.
The Woolfe Street Playhouse is also stepping up its game, using what could be a liability — the still-unfinished former warehouse that they moved into back in 2012 — to its advantage by hosting the spooky “ghost play” The Woman in Black for Halloween. This will be their first full season in their new digs as a full-fledged member of the downtown theater scene. It’ll be interesting to see if and how they adapt their programming to fit the (somewhat) edgier crowd that frequents Upper King.
And finally, even though it doesn’t officially start until 2014, this arts season also includes the Halsey’s 30th anniversary celebration, which is shaping up to be a standout. The big news recently was that they’ve confirmed an anniversary show with Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns, but it remains to be seen what else they’ve got in the works to mark the occasion. In the meantime, their fall shows with Herb Parker and Joseph Burwell (hanging now through October) and Renée Stout (hanging October through December) look quite promising. We think they’ll tide us over until the big 3-0 hits.