This week, I follow up with more news and analysis about Charleston’s ongoing venue problem. Last week, I wrote about issues facing the American Theater, Charleston Ballet Theatre, Redux Contemporary Art, PURE Theatre, the Village Playhouse, Spoleto Festival, and Waterfront Memorial Park. For today’s paper, I discuss Buxton’s East Bay Theatre, the Charleston Music Hall, and the proposed arts center at the Ashley Hall School for Girls. There’s sure to be more venue news on the horizon. Right now, I looking into the Gaillard Auditorium, the Dock Street Theatre, the proposed Folly Beach Fine Arts Center, and the old controversy about using the Tabernacle New Baptist Church in Wraggsborough as a theater venue.
Another thing about venues in Charleston — and really any city our size — is that most are too big. That is to say, they are too big and therefore too few in number and too much for small, grass-roots performing arts groups to use. Right now, we have a handful of venues that house audiences in the hundreds. That’s fine. But suppose we have a handful of venues that seated a mere 70-100 people? These would be smaller in scale, cheaper to rent, easier to manager — and more importantly, they would give grass-roots performing arts groups a place to blossom and mature and take some calculated risk and meet Charleston’s growing demand for quality theater.
Los Angeles is chock full of 99-seat theaters. I say 99, because by having just under 100 seats, these grass-roots theaters can hired Equity actors without breaking the bank to pay Equity pay scale. The image above is from The Underground, an example of one of those theaters. I don’t think Charleston has to worry about that too much, but the scale of the theater is what matters. By thinking smaller, perhaps we can have more of what we need. By thinking bigger, we’ll only have less.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Turner Riggs, a resident of Mt. Pleasant, writes to say that something needs to be done about Charleston’s venue problem. She read last week’s report and sounds pretty upset. Perhaps this is a good time to consider the 99-seat venue model. It’s at least worth a look. Here’s Mrs. Riggs’ letter:
I particularly enjoyed reading your article regarding the lack of appropriate theater space in Charleston. It is time for private property owners to embrace the issue and turn their properties into secure space for expanding the arts.
My husband has been in the profession of promoting Charleston as a destination for almost thirty years. Prior to that he was a member of professional organizations which attended conferences in Charleston even before the city’s re-vitalization. It took one advocate, Joe Riley, to bring this city back from the run down tenements of the 1950’s. The same holds true for theater venues. We need to form a grass roots group who would approach city officials on the issue of creating permanent venues which will not fall victim to developers or other means of destruction.
Our family has spoken often about turning our second floor on King Street into a small venue for improv comedy. There are many other property owners who may share the same belief. If you have had any other response to the article or if you know know who is willing to join a
group to advocate for theater venues, I would appreciate your letting me know.
Rebecca Turner Riggs