Sometimes when Charlotte theatre veteran Donna Scott drives past Charlotte Jr. Gym, a fitness center for tots in South End, she feels nostalgic. That's because she produced her first show under Donna Scott Productions in what was then just a simple warehouse. The building, once a home for community theatre (Barebones Theatre Company resided there regularly for a number of years in the early 2000s) is now bustling with the 3-year-old & under pre-gymnastics crowd. Scott smiles when she reminisces on the good times she had at the complex, but keeps on driving. In her 10th year producing shows, Scott has moved on to another spot nearby in South End, a neighborhood she calls home.
In 2014, after stints working with Blumenthal's McGlohon Theater and Theatre Charlotte, Scott partnered with Historic South End for a project to bring theater back to the heart of the area. This move has taken Scott to pop-up spaces, including the lobby of Charlotte Art League for her latest production of The Book Of Liz — co-written by David and Amy Sedaris — running from Aug. 6-22.
As Charlotte's arts and theatre community knows all too well, changes are inevitable. Space, resources, city growth and an ongoing urban sprawl of development being the main factors that cause a hindrance for the performing arts scene. In 2014, Carolina Actor's Studio Theatre closed its doors; the sign still lingers at its former home a few spaces down from Amelie's in Noda. C.A.S.T started out in a grungy warehouse in Plaza Midwood and later upgraded to the now empty space. Just last week, it was announced that Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, which has resided at their space on 650 East Stonewall Street in Uptown for years, will be relocating to a new spot to make room for condos and retail shops on the property.
The new opportunity for Donna Scott Productions was organized by Tobe Holmes, Center City Partners' director of Historic South End. The partnership comes at a time when theatre in the artsy neighborhood was running dry.
"The reason that we're in South End is because they were game for it and they wanted to help us," Scott says. "They wanted us there. They helped us find the space and they subsidized the space for it."
DSP also received a grant from the Arts & Science Council to apply for the 2015 shows in South End, which kicked off in January with a staged reading of Carrie Ann's Kiss, written by Charlotte playwright and DSP partner Tonya Bludsworth, at the Charlotte Trolley Museum. Then, in March, DSP presented a fully staged production of Doris Baizley's Shiloh Rules at Charlotte Art League. It was first slated to go down at Charlotte Trolley Museum, but because of last minute changes had to be shuffled next door.
The plotline for The Book Of Liz revolves around Sister Elizabeth Donderstock (played by Tonya Bludsworth in this Donna Scott Productions piece), a longtime cheeseball maker in the Squeamish community (Think: Amish) who leaves her sheltered life after her place on the community's culinary turf and expectations are challenged. What prevails is to be expected: She meets some very interesting characters (played by the likes of Matt Corbett, Field Cantey, Tania Kelly and Donna Scott) and discovers a life outside of the one she's known in the simple and strict Squeamish community.
The show resonates the importance of growth, change, passion and home. To go along with the shows cheesy plot, several local businesses will be competing in a cheeseball contest on opening night.
"There seems to be a divide somewhere on the Mason-Dixon Line on whether or not you've had cheeseballs and know what they are or not. Bludsworth and I are both from the Carolinas and we had a conversation about having cheeseballs at Christmas, but Glynnis O' Donoghue [DSP partner and director for The Book Of Liz] is from Connecticut and she thought we meant cheese puffs," Scott says.
The shows writers, the Sedaris,' are originally from Raleigh, North Carolina — hence their familiarity with the Southern staple. But if you can't attend on opening night, you'll have a chance to expand your cheeseball knowledge. Scenes shed some light on cheeseballs (no tasting involved though).
The show, 90 minutes total with one intermission, also gives theater-goers the chance to explore and buy art from Charlotte Art League's gallery. During DSP's two-week run of Shiloh Rules, 17 paintings were sold, social media hits quadrupled and membership doubled for CAL.
"Charlotte Art League has benefited from an increase in sales and exposure to a segment of the Charlotte population that might not have come down," Cindy Connelly of CAL, says. "We were cautiously optimistic having not done this before. After the first week we were pleasantly surprised with the bump in sales."
Scott hopes The Book of Liz's occupation will bring similar results. For this show, the group also took advantage of the gallery's artistic hands by commissioning CAL artist Raed Al-Rawi to create a painting for the set.
"It [CAL] was not one of the places that we looked at originally but they have turned out to be the perfect partner," says Scott. "I always need to remind myself that when weird stuff happens while in production, you just need to go with it and know that something good is in the works."