With Building Damaged By Fire, Theatre Charlotte Hits The Road For 94th Season
Ever since it formed in 1927, Theatre Charlotte has been staging theatrical performances every year. What started as the Charlotte Drama League and became Little Theatre of Charlotte before finally settling on its current name in the 1980s didn’t stop for wars. It didn’t stop when the economy got bad or even when a pandemic prohibited crowds from gathering indoors just a year ago (hello, outdoor plays!).
And so for its 94th season this year, Theatre Charlotte was not about to let a fire that destroyed its auditorium in December 2020 stop it.
“There was never a doubt, one way or another, we were going to have a season of theater,” said Chris Timmons, acting executive director.
It’s all going to look a little different, though, as Theatre Charlotte’s 94th season has been deemed “The Road Trip” season tour.
Performances will be held at various locations throughout Charlotte – at least one traditional theater, but most are more unconventional – while the theater’s home site at 501 Queens Road undergoes extensive repairs.
A fire at the 216-seat auditorium that broke out overnight on Dec. 28, 2020, apparently was caused by faulty electrical wiring. Theatre Charlotte has been performing in the same Myers Park building since 1941.
“It could have been age, it could have been some sort of creature chewing on wires,” Timmons said.
Initial damage estimates for the 80-year-old building were $50,000, but Timmons says that was just for the structure of the building. That didn’t include smoke damage, lighting and sound equipment lost to the flames or the cost of restoration that will come amid a nationwide crunch for lumber and construction supplies.
“We know now that we lost more than that in sound equipment alone,” he said, noting the six-figure cost of such equipment.
Rather than attempt to stage its upcoming season around construction and repair delays, Theatre Charlotte opted to reach out to the community. It found willing partners throughout Charlotte who had space to offer.
But matching each potential location with a specific play turned out to be the most daunting part of creating the schedule.
“Once we sort of narrowed down venues, it became clear that some shows weren't going to work or we just didn't have the capacity to go in that direction to produce that show this year,” Timmons said. “So there was a lot that just kind of played hand in hand.”
The final schedule, which was released last week, begins with a performance Sept. 2 of “The Fantasticks” at The Palmer Building, a banquet and reception building on Seventh Street. There’s a stop at Dilworth United Methodist Church for “All Together Now!” before moving to Central Piedmont Community College’s Halton Theatre – the only traditional theater venue – for “A Christmas Carol.” “Smoke on the Mountain” will be at Great Aunt Stella Center on Elizabeth Avenue and “Love, Loss and What I Wore” will split time between Camp North End, The Palmer Building, Warehouse 242 and Mint Museum Randolph.
The season finale, “Detroit ’67,” is scheduled for May 26-June 5, 2022, but does not yet have a location determined.
The only traditional theater was reserved for the one performance that Theatre Charlotte has done for 15 consecutive years and wanted to make sure happens: “A Christmas Carol.” There’s not exactly flexibility around the timing of when that play can be performed, and Theatre Charlotte wanted to ensure there was adequate space for the performance.
“It was a very long, nerve-wracking process,” Timmons said of creating this year’s schedule. “But we're excited for the opportunity to work with people in the community and create some of these partnerships that may not have happened if we hadn't been put in this position to go out and look for community partners and some help.”
This has actually happened once before with Theatre Charlotte. After its founding and before the organization settled on its current home on Queens Road, what was then Little Theatre of Charlotte staged productions at venues throughout the city for 10 years. Back then, they had stops at Baird’s School, Alexander Graham Junior High School and the gymnasium of Thompson Orphanage.
The goal is still to return to their home building for the 2022-23 season, but hopefully with some significant upgrades and maybe a reconfiguration of space.
“This has obviously made us kind of rethink that building,” Timmons said. “It's 80 years old. So, you know, it's time for improvements.”
All that might take a lot more money, though, and how they’d find funding still is unclear. Timmons said they still are waiting on payment from the insurance company for the fire.
But not even that was going to prevent Theatre Charlotte from staging its 94th season.
“We have this legacy,” Timmons said. “We have this reputation. We've just finished 93 years of consecutively producing theater in Charlotte and in North Carolina, so, you know, there was never a doubt — whether we had a building or not — we're going to find a way to do it.”