Note: Due to an unexpected illness, Chesapeake is postponed until further notice.
What If? Productions’ upcoming performance of Chesapeake is a story we can all learn from — even South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.
Written by Lee Blessing, the one-man comedy centers on Kerr, a pretentious yet witty performance artist who receives a government grant for some of his work. When a politician sees the controversial performance, he pulls a Haley-style move and threatens to cut state-funded arts out of the budget.
In response to the criticism, Kerr ends up doing what any self-respecting artist would do: steal the politician’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
“It’s a very funny show,” says Kyle Barnette, the director and star of Chesapeake. “It’s art versus politics, but it’s also a story about karma and how we have to be wary of what we put out into the world.”
Though Barnette is well-versed in performing arts — he’s a musician, actor, and dancer — he says this role is no walk in the park. “It’s really challenging,” he says. “In one-man shows you have to be engaging at all times because you don’t have anybody on stage with you to share the pressure.”
But Barnette says he’s leaving no room for boredom. Like many What If? shows, Chesapeake will have a multimedia aspect to it with projections and other enhancing technology. And the play itself will have no problem keeping audiences attentive with its multiple plot twists and ironic scenarios. “The audience won’t see the ending coming, that’s for sure,” Barnette says. “Let’s just say that Kerr becomes transformed physically and mentally.”
Barnette wanted to bring the play to Charleston because of its relevancy to S.C. artists. As an artist himself, Barnette could just as well be seeking revenge on Haley for threatening to cut the Arts Commission from the budget. But unlike the character he plays, Barnette found a more productive approach to the problem.
Chesapeake will make its debut on Jan. 4, the same night What If? Productions is launching their playwriting competition. During the six-month-long process, aspiring playwrights can submit scripts, which will be judged by several panels. In May, four will be selected for stage readings, and the script with the best audience response will be performed by What If? Productions in 2013.
“Part of our mission is to do work of contemporary American theater,” Barnette says. “Nikki Haley is trying to chop at artists, but it’s so important to support their talents.”