The Village Repertory Co. is a local nonprofit professional theater company that consists of more than 25 ensemble members who have been bringing dramas, comedies and musicals to Lowcountry stages for the last 20 years. Uniquely positioned within Charleston’s arts scene, its mission is to create the sort of theater environment that breaks down barriers between performers and the audience. We recently caught up with producing director Keely Enright to discuss the company’s long run, the devastating predicament posed by the global pandemic and her hopes for the future.
City Paper: What can you tell us about your own background and education?
Keely Enright: I grew up in Southern California. I graduated from UCLA and produced theater in Los Angeles after college. I worked at 20th Century Fox and for New Line Cinema before moving to Charleston in the mid ‘90s. I moved to Charleston on a whim, looking for a short-term adventure, and never left.
CP: Has being based here informed your approach to producing theater at all?
KE: Having produced theater for more than 20 years in Charleston, I have really seen a change and growth to our arts scene. When selecting productions, I do try to keep our region and our audience in mind. Not always, but sometimes, I look at what might have more relevance to our community. For example, we did a play titled Ben Butler in the spring of 2019 that was all about a certain moment in Civil War history. While it might have been interesting for audiences in other regions, it really resonated in our community.
CP: Is there a particular aspect of your work with The Village Repertory Co. that you are especially proud of?
KE: That is like being asked who your favorite child is! I am proud that we have done so many genres of live theater, since many theater companies stay with one kind of tone. From the best dramas to the most absurd farces, we have done it. I am also so proud of our set designs over the years. We are really known for the detail of our sets and creating the world on stage is a passion for me.
CP: What sort of challenges did the COVID-19 outbreak bring about?
KE: COVID destroyed us. Our overhead was so high, and the loss of the production income and our venue rental income was devastating. We stayed in the building [the company’s longtime home at the Woolfe Street Playhouse] until September, but it just wasn’t something we could continue to pay for without full-capacity crowds. Our landlord wasn’t interested in working with us, and we couldn’t sustain it. We now have three massive storage spaces around town housing our 20 years of sets, props, costumes, lumber, etc. Our plan is to continue with outdoor shows throughout the spring and summer. We are also bringing a show to Forte Jazz Lounge in July, and we may pursue more production collaboration opportunities in the coming months. But, our end goal is to find a home.
CP: Can you elaborate on the upcoming shows you are planning?
KE: Right now, Village Rep. is on the road. Tradesman Brewing Co. is our home base with our outdoor stage and seating on the outdoor patio. We are in the midst of our third Music Makers Series production: Croce and Carole — The Music of Jim Croce and Carole King. These shows at Tradesman Brewing Co. have been so popular that we have added an encore performance at 7 p.m. May 13. We are also currently in rehearsal for our next production in the series: Summer Comfort 2 — The Music of James Taylor and Carly Simon. It will open at Tradesman Brewing Co. on June 10 and run through June 19. Tickets are on sale now at villagerep.com, and we are continuing to add dates depending on how quickly the tickets sell. I don’t have a season announcement for the fall yet, but I will keep you posted as we move forward. As we all get vaccinated, we’ll be looking at productions that we can do traditionally, where the actors can once again interact with each other.
CP: Given all that you’ve been through in recent months, how do you measure success these days?
KE: The success is in the patrons’ response. I didn’t realize that until we were closed for so many months. To see how your work affects the audience is the single most gratifying aspect of this work.