It’s definitely not the solution Charleston Stage founder and producing director Julian Wiles would have preferred, but come next spring — when the Dock Street Theatre goes under the knife for a planned two-year, $12 million renovation following Spoleto ’07 — he and his 30-year-old theatre company will decamp northward to the Sottile Theatre on George Street and the American Theater on King Street for the following two seasons.
Plan A was torpedoed last May when the Charleston Zoning Board of Appeals declined a request by Wiles and supporters to refit the New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church in Mazyck-Wraggborough as a small theatre. Charleston Stage had a contract to purchase the church and hoped to create a 400-seat satellite home for the theatre company there while the Dock Street is out of commission. But Wiles and company underestimated the rabidity of Mazyck-Wraggborough NIMBYs, who gnashed their teeth, rent their garments, and convinced Appeals Board members that the sky would collapse instantly if they had to share their increasingly tiny residential neighborhood with anything so bourgeois as a theatre company. (The subtext: traditional mixed-use communities are great, so long as they’re someplace else.)
Under the original scenario, Charleston Stage would have maintained the Wraggborough theatre as a permanent production space after it moved back to the Dock Street in 2009, using it to showcase a more adventurous slate of programming each season to complement the more mainstream fare at the mothership on Church Street.
But with that option closed and the April deadline looming, Wiles and his board settled for the only available alternative. The Sottile is undergoing its own nip/tuck at the moment, and its almost 800 seats are nearly double the Dock Street’s 463. It’s got plenty of wing space and an orchestra pit, but it’s a cavern of a theatre. Wiles says, therefore, that he’ll program his more muscular stuff in it, the musicals and other production-heavy shows, while making the cozy American the immediate stand-in for what he’d hoped to accomplish with the Wraggborough theatre in ’09.
“”We’ll let the spaces dictate their uses to us,” Wiles says. “It does allow us to do one thing, which is to program in a different way,” he says of the change in plans. “The American is going to allow us to do more cutting-edge shows. So there are some opportunities we didn’t have before.”
The American, low on wing and backstage space, with a mere 172 seats, is essentially a black box theatre with stadium seating. It last served as a temporary home to Theatre 99 and The Have Nots!, while they were between their old Cumberland Street home and their current new digs at 280 Meeting St. There, he’ll program the counterpoint to the splashy Sottile series, dipping into smaller, quirkier, Off-Off Broadway-style shows that rarely see the light of day at the Dock Street.
Also, given that board members Charles and Celeste Patrick own the American, there’s a possibility that Charleston Stage may create a permanent satellite there, even after the move back to Church Street. Having gotten comfy with the notion of producing riskier material, Wiles seems disinclined to give up the idea.
“Whether we keep the American or have another space after that, we’re not sure what the answer will be,” he says.
In any event, he’s ready to get started. He’ll inaugurate the American next October with Doug Wright’s Tony and Pulitzer award-winning I Am My Own Wife, about the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite who killed her father and survived the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin.
“That kind of show probably wouldn’t fill up the Dock Street for three weeks,” he says, then pauses for a moment. “Though, you never know, it might.” Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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