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Arts: I Just Lost My Dream Job
Y'all Weekly kicks off our Arts & Culture Coverage with a message about why it's so important
Y’all, I just lost my dream job.
For most of my adult life I’ve worked in restaurants, and if you’ve been out to eat in Charlotte long enough I’ve probably served you. In the service industry, workplace fulfillment usually takes a back seat to paying the bills. When I transitioned to nine-to-fives, it got even harder for me to see the point.
Imagine my delight when I joined the staff at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte earlier this year. Since 1989, ATC had turned out season after season of thought-provoking, envelope-pushing, award-winning productions. It was a great fit for me. Whether I was on stage or in the audience, theater had always inspired and motivated me. I felt like I was hanging out at an arts school, promoting the hard work of my peers.
Then, suddenly, it ended. Before November, a third of the way into its 34th season, one of Charlotte’s only two professional theaters will be shuttered forever. Don’t worry about me – after all, here I am already writing about the arts again – but this is a huge loss for Charlotte.
There are many reasons why a theater company in a southern city fails. It could be anemic government funding or budgetary choices that didn’t pan out. Many companies suffered dramatic losses during the pandemic despite unprecedented government assistance.
These are a few of the reasons for ATC’s closure, but as the arts reporter for Y’all Weekly, there is one reason that matters most to me: Y’all didn’t know about it.
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That’s not just on you. Media from all over the world compete for our attention, and homegrown entertainment earns less and less bandwidth. Once we find a routine we like, we settle into our comfort zones. I wish we would all spend an hour each week tracking down local experiences, but our curiosity for plays, gallery showings, dance, and music has been stunted. With video access to mass-appeal performance from everywhere, the old modes have lost their luster.
Nevertheless, they keep on keeping on. Almost every night, The Milestone features performances from any of Charlotte’s 200 or so bands, usually in support of touring acts. Goodyear Arts, where more than 40 visual artists are in residence, has gallery showings every Friday. Charlotte’s dance companies will perform pieces throughout the year from Elsie Mufuka, Ana Ogbueze, Audrey Baran, Caroline Calouche, to name only a few of your city’s working choreographers.
That list is so incomplete it’s almost unfair to print. That’s why Y’all Weekly is committed to telling these stories: There are thousands of creatives in Charlotte at any given time working hard to create experiences for their community. Fun experiences, weird experiences, amazing experiences. These artists are your neighbors. They create because they love doing it. They can leave you breathless with excitement, renewed with inspiration, and positively full of pride for the city you live in. I want you to know about it all.
Just imagine for a moment how theater comes alive. Teams of 10-50 Charlotteans gather for a few months and agree to build a temporary world. They construct the interiors of homes. They memorize several hours’ worth of words they would never say themselves, then say them in exact order many nights in a row. They do this for weeks, only to never say them again. Many of these folks never met before and will not see each other after the show closes. Then the set is struck, the group disbands, and its members go find new folks and do it all over again.
Creative performances like plays or concerts are the product of baffling levels of cooperation, usually with scant compensation. These teams are made up almost exclusively of creative (read: delightful, difficult, mercurial) individuals who work hard together and put forth their best efforts. They’re an example to any variety of workplace or office. They deserve your support.
I mentioned that ATC was one of Charlotte’s two professional theaters; Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is the only one left now. “Professional” is an important distinction. In this context, the label means that everyone is paid for their work. Everyone on stage, backstage, in the office, and behind the bar is compensated. Most theaters can’t afford this. In the ideal city, all artists and technicians are rewarded generously for their years of practice, but many of our neighbors are breathing life into these experiences without even getting paid for mileage.
That means that the local theaters left rely upon teams who are so dedicated to their craft that they do it for pure joy. Unfortunately, most artists, bands, and dance companies must work with similar models, because all the money has to go back into the business. All the money goes towards that day, often a decade down the road, when they can begin to pay their people. You can help them get there sooner.
These are the shows you really want to see. Charlotte’s dedicated artists are already creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I have seen with my own eyes that they will do it no matter what.
But here’s the secret. For those in the audience, increasing returns are inevitable. The more folks who spend money to attend these experiences, the better they will become. We all benefit from an enriched, successful arts sector. Everyone has heard that Charlotte “doesn’t have culture,” but it has already been there, nurturing itself for decades. As neighbors, we can see to it that our culture thrives.
You can count on me to act as a critic, but there’s a caveat: I want butts in seats. That means whether a piece is world-class or a work-in-progress, I will always conclude with the reason you should go.
Now y’all know. Every Sunday, Y’all Weekly will review local entertainment folks might have not known was happening.
If the city is lucky, y’all will check it out.
Thanks for reading Y’all Weekly! Subscribe for free to support arts & culture in Charlotte.