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A place for actors and writers to Just Do It

Vito Abate (right) performs in a scene. hspace=4

Big Broadway shows like The Color Purple, which just opened in Charlotte, tend to get a lot of attention from theater-goers. Community theater thrives here, too, thanks to a large group of performers who work regular jobs by day and live out acting dreams on stage by night. But there's only so much room in the spotlight, though, and competition can be stiff, as actor and writer John Price knows well. "It's very difficult to find gigs - and paying gigs are even harder to find," says Price. "So, I've always wanted to write. And most places it's worth your left arm to get on a stage and have your own work performed." While he waits for the right roles to come along, Price has found a solution to keep his skills sharp. It's a performance series at Theatre Charlotte called Just Do It. WFAE's Julie Rose explains: With 90 minutes to show time, Amanda NiCastro is getting nervous. She's an actress, so it's not the spotlight that worries her. It's that she won't be on stage tonight. Instead, two actors will be performing something she wrote. "I've never written for anyone but me," says NiCastro. "I was in like a creative writing club in high school, but that was about it." The typical lineup for a Just Do It performance is full of first-timers. Most of the material is written just a few weeks before the show. Actors read from scripts rather than memorize. Rehearsals are rare, which is another reason NiCastro's on edge. She waits in the lobby of the theater with Ann Israel, one of the two actresses who will perform her short play. The other is an hour late and . . . Israel admits they're not ready: "No, we haven't had a rehearsal yet," Israel says laughing. "And I don't even know Susan." NiCastro corrects her. The actress is named Sarah, not Susan. The actress finally arrives and they start to rehearse. When they take the stage an hour later, the performance will go just fine. The whole trying-something-new-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thing is part of what attracts an audience of about 100 people to Just Do It every month or so. They crowd the lobby at Theatre Charlotte eating cheap crackers and drinking wine from plastic cups during intermission. This is Doug Pritchett's first Just Do It. "It's a blast. They're doing a great job for no rehearsing and winging it." Pritchett's here to see his wife perform. As usual, the audience is friendly - kind of like at a high school play where everyone seems to be an aunt, sister or cousin of someone on stage. That's exactly the point, says Theatre Charlotte executive director Ron Law. "If you've written a piece and it's the first time you've had anything done in public, of course you're gonna get all your friends and family there," says Law. "At five bucks a head it's not gonna bring in a lot of revenue, but it's gonna bring in a lot of people that are gonna see where we are and might come back." And Law says community theaters need all the support they can get in this economy. So do actors and writers who struggle even in good times to get work. For five-bucks, Just Do It is the cheapest live theater ticket you'll find. And Ed Sullivan couldn't offer more variety. There's acting, singing and poetry. Dancing and dramatic readings. Sometimes there's photography or a short film. And always a campy number to introduce the night's theme performed by Vito Abate. He's an actor, director and writer. Just Do It is his baby. Well, actually, Phoebe the dog is his baby - and a crowd favorite, by the way. The crowd cheers when Abate introduces the dog, "You'll get to see her or be sniffed by her through the night." Abate picks the themes, recruits the performers and runs the night like the bohemian salon nights his struggling artist friends used to host in Greenwich Village. "Really the whole idea of Just Do It is that anyone can, just do it," says Abate. "And because performers are most of them coming right out of the audience and they're mingling during intermission and after the show - it's an everyman kind of a thing." Anyone really can take the stage. They just have to meet the submission deadline, stick to the theme and follow the 10-minute limit. Abate doesn't edit or censor anything. Most people seem surprised at how good the performances actually are. And if they're not, that's what the 10-minute limit's for. "It will soon be over and we'll be on to the next thing," says Abate. "But it still goes to the bottom line which is, good for that person that got up there and did it." Just Do It is back at Theatre Charlotte tonight at 8 p.m.