Finding the right space — one that’s affordable, physically appropriate, flexible — can be difficult for a theater company in Charleston. But patience and determination can sometimes pay off.
In 2012, after 11 years in Mount Pleasant, Village Repertory Co. landed in a cool building on Woolfe Street, a former meat-packing facility. It transformed the open space into a cabaret-style theater (and set up a more traditional, proscenium theater in an adjacent room).
The Woolfe Street Playhouse caught the attention of Spoleto Festival USA, which has rented the space for a few years now to mount its Music in Time series and some theater productions.
Last year, Pure Theatre settled into the refurbished city-owned Cannon Street Arts Center, a former church that has space not just for theater productions but for art shows, offices and more.
Footlight Players last year implemented a plan to accommodate a variety of artists, from comedians to musicians to festival organizers, and renamed its venue the Queen Street Playhouse.
Also last year, Charleston Stage, based at the Dock Street Theatre, opened a second location, the West Ashley Theatre Center, meant to provide not only another stage for theater productions, but a venue for classes, presentations, civic gatherings, offices and more.
And Midtown Productions, which has been mounting its shows at the Midtown Theatre for five years, has expanded its offerings, too. No longer will patrons only find plays and musicals; now they can attend a concert series, the brainchild of pianist Chee-Hang See, who serves as Midtown’s music director and who is a faculty member of the Charleston Academy of Music.
“Midweek at Midtown” is wrapping up its first series of four concerts with a chamber music recital featuring music of Mendelssohn and Beethoven performed by See, violinist Yuriy Bekker and cellist Norbert Lewandowski. The concert is 7:30 p.m. May 15, at 2816 Azalea Drive.
The series kicked off earlier this year with a program of tango music. That was followed by a presentation of Jonathan Kamer’s Hello Saxophone! For the third show, singer Leah Edwards offered up some Broadway tunes.
See said he’s purposefully curating an eclectic mix of music. Some of the concerts feature faculty musicians of the Charleston Academy of Music. Future concerts will include jazz, opera, pop and more. Next year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, so See is planning to feature the great composer’s music prominently.
“So it’s a little bit for everybody,” he said. It’s interesting because we’ve had different audiences for each concert.”
The idea for the series came up after Midtown Productions received a donated baby grand piano about a year and half ago, See said.
“It’s a pretty decent instrument,” he said. And it got him thinking: “In between productions, it would be a great idea to do something else, so the space doesn’t sit empty.”
And Midtown’s strong production team surely could help. Besides, it’s the company’s 30th anniversary, time to do something new, he said.
It seems to be working.
Some are initially hesitant to drive to the venue, situated at the south end of North Charleston, but then discover how cozy and cool the space is, See said.
“It sounds great in there.”
Sheri Grace Wenger, founder and artistic director of Midtown Productions, said her company started out in a space on the corner of King and Calhoun streets, moved to James Island, then relocated to its current venue.
“As vagabonds, we kind of get lost in the shuffle,” she said.
Nevertheless, Midtown Productions has kept at it, and now is firmly ensconced in a flexible cabaret-style theater that has “opportunity” written all over it, Wenger said.
Currently, it's presenting Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Tell Me on a Sunday," a one-woman show starring Allison Sharpley, through May 18.
She quickly embraced See’s idea. He had helped with several productions of musicals, starting with “The Fantastiks” two years ago, and was well-positioned to curate this music series, she said. And the space can easily be configured to accommodate all sorts of presentations.
“Having the concert series is definitely helping to get people into the theater and having them discover us,” she said.