The Show Must Go On

Actors Theatre of Charlotte gets knocked down—and gets back up again.

The email came on a fall day last October. It was the day Actors Theatre of Charlotte was opening its 28th season in a space they’d been renovating. “Important Schedule Update from ATC—Please Read” was the subject line.

“We’ve run into some trouble… it’s going to take more time…to get approval from the city and county to perform in our space. But we’ve found an incredibly convenient solution, our next-door neighbors! Our sincere thanks to Center City Church & The Movement Center for working with us to get the show on its feet.”
he email came on a fall day last October. It was the day Actors Theatre of Charlotte was opening its 28th season in a space they’d been renovating. “Important Schedule Update from ATC—Please Read” was the subject line.

The show was also down one cast member because of a death in her family. The scrappy theater company had already had to vacate the space on Stonewall Street they’d been in for 12 years. Then, their first new location—the old Kellogg factory on Louise Avenue—fell through. The adage “The show must go on” could’ve been coined for these guys.

The show did indeed go on—in a church. Kettling says, “Once we spoke to the lead pastor David Docusen, it was clear that his sanctuary would be our sanctuary.”

That night, at the Center City Church on Freedom Drive, the faithful came to see “The Toxic Avenger,” a musical whose protagonist is a sweet-natured nerd who gets pushed into a vat of toxic goo and becomes a reluctant superhero. Does it sound like it’s meant for 14-year-old boys? Hardly. This middle-aged woman was doubled over in laughter. And so were a few octogenarians in the audience.

 

Back in action

The play contained quick costume changes (including a few that take place on stage) and rapid-fire dialogue. There was one moment when a blind character got comically lost among audience members. Lots of things could’ve gone wrong.

But our hero, “Toxie,” the town’s blind librarian (his love interest), a comically corrupt mayor and her inept henchman, an earnest folk singer, a few fey beauticians, and sundry others won the audience over from the very first number. It was wacky. And triumphant. Kettling always figured the team would pull it off.

“I’d heard a quote from Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, about manned space flight,” says Ketttling. “You have to focus on: ‘What’s the next thing that’s going to kill me?’ Start working the problem, and then starting thinking about the thing after that.’”

A positive attitude helps, too. Dan Shoemaker, the only executive director ATC has ever had, says the theater’s newest home—in the up-and-coming “FreeMoreWest” neighborhood—is even better than their old space. “We were a little isolated there,” he shared on opening night. “Here, we’re part of a real neighborhood. We have restaurants and other businesses all around us, and they’ve already embraced us. We’re starting to see vibrancy here.”

Pinky’s Westside Grill and Savor Café are nearby. So are funky new condos and warehouse flats. And the lobbies (there are three) in the new ATC space allow for more mingling and better traffic flow than what they had before. The old tenant—a film production company—left behind a pool table and a film screening room. Shoemaker, who announced his retirement the day after “The Toxic Avenger” opened, says the cast rehearsed in their old space but laments, “The energy’s not there anymore. The energy’s here.”

Losing the Louise Avenue location was probably fortuitous. “Our new home is going to allow us to get up and producing much faster, and at much less cost,” Kettling says. “But this is just phase one.”

The company isn’t entirely out of the woods. For one thing, the staff shrunk. What was formerly a team of nine is now a team of five. “We are still in the struggle,” Kettling says. “We’re glad to have a place to hang our hats, but need to get our permits and occupancy in place. There are…things we need help with from the community.” Things like volunteers, patrons, and donors. The company now has a rent payment, whereas rent in the old space was gifted to them. “We need folks who’ve never attended a show to come out and see what we do. We need those that care about us to invite friends and re-introduce Charlotte to ATC.”

Consider this your invitation.

 

Learn more about Actors Theatre of Charlotte’s 2017 season at www.atcharlotte.org. Check out the new space for yourself at 2219 Freedom Drive.