Theatre Charlotte turns 75

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As it prepares to kick off its 75th season, Theatre Charlotte has completed some critical renovations but shelved plans for others in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and defeat of the city-arena bond referendum in June 2001.

“We’re hoping that somewhere down the line a miracle happens and we get the money to complete the renovation,” says Candace Sorensen, the troupe’s executive director.

Founded in 1927 by the Charlotte branch of the American Association of University Women, Theatre Charlotte says it is Charlotte’s only community theater and the oldest theater company in North Carolina that has operated continuously.

Playmakers Theater at UNC-Chapel Hill is older but halted production during World War II.

With a paid staff of five, the group depends on volunteer performers for the five main productions it stages for 11 shows each during its season, which runs from September through May.

Ticket sales, including 500 memberships, generate $174,000 a year in revenue, or just over a third of its $478,000 annual budget.

The Arts & Science Council provides another $142,000 through a basic operating grant, with the remainder coming from contributions, program advertising, corporate underwriting and facility rentals.

The nonprofit also provides an acting school staffed by theater professionals from throughout the state.

After raising $50,000 in 1999 to replace its 220 seats, the theater last year raised another $250,000 to renovate a shack at the rear of the theater that houses its green room, dressing rooms and scene shop.

That work, completed in July, leaves two other renovation projects, each with a $250,000 pricetag.

The first would create a new lobby and administrative offices in the front of the theater, located at 501 Queens Road in Myers Park.

The second would convert the existing lobby into a black-box theater – flexible space that could seat 100 to 150 people and be used as a classroom or for plays not requiring a proscenium stage.

The lobby and office project hinged on getting $200,000 through the bond referendum.

“Unless the city decides to give it to us, we are in a stalemate,” says Sorensen, a playwright and director who has run the theater for six years and previously was director of arts education for Spirit Square.

The black-box project was counting on two big corporate donations that were put on hold in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

But the attacks, occurring the week after the theater opened last year’s season, did not hurt season attendance because of strong membership and advanced sales.

The terrorist attacks were commemorated at a private party Sept. 11 and in a special opening-night tribute Sept. 12, followed by the opening performance of Showboat, which premiered on Broadway the same year Theatre Charlotte opened.

The season will close with Man of LaMancha, which Sorensen will direct.

“As the theater enters its diamond age,” she says, “we hope its carat weight will increase.”

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