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Rep moving center stage

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Guided by two Charlotte natives who honed their theater skills in New York, the Charlotte Repertory Theatre aims to expand its local base while claiming some Broadway limelight.

The Rep, now in its 26th season, is working to build its subscriptions, attendance, fundraising, board, operations, season and repertoire.

The company also has teamed with a New York producer to co-produce The Miracle Worker, starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank and set to open in Charlotte in March and on Broadway in April.

“I want to create a theater that serves not only the community but whose work is recognized nationally,” says Michael Bush, who joined the Rep in June as producing artistic director after 22 years at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Bush, who as associate artistic director of the Manhattan group focused on developing and producing new works, plans to stage a “vast variety and diversity of work” in Charlotte, including American and world classics, musicals, comedies, dramas, contemporary plays and new works – with a Shakespeare or Checkov play likely next season.

Working behind the scenes while Bush drives what’s on stage is Matt Olin, who joined the Rep in 2000 as managing director and associate producer after producing and managing New York shows and national touring productions.

A big challenge, he says, is boosting support for an organization that covers only 40 percent of its $2 million annual budget through ticket sales.

The Rep, for example, will recruit new theatergoers in South Charlotte and in Davidson, Mooresville and Lake Wylie north of the city, while courting students with matinee discounts and classroom programs to teach violence-prevention and spur interest in the theater.

One of only two professional theater companies in the Carolinas, the Rep stages six productions from September through April.

Each production, performed at the Booth Playhouse in the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, runs for three weeks, six shows a week – although Olin aims to increase the typical run to four weeks.

With an 11-member staff and employing more than 200 theater artists each season, the Rep this spring will consolidate its administrative offices, rehearsal space, storage facilities and shops for making sets, costumes and props in 20,000 square feet it will lease in a warehouse in the NoDa arts district just north of uptown.

Olin also has created a “virtual” agency of freelancers to handle advertising and marketing tasks ranging from graphic design and media buying to public relations and the Rep’s Web site.

And the Rep is building a development department under veteran arts fundraiser Anne Lambert, and working with the Arts & Science Council and the Foundation for the Carolinas to expand its $412,000 endowment.

“To pull off theater of this caliber,” Olin says, “takes additional support over and above the purchase of one’s ticket.”

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