Why This Matters: Theatre Charlotte, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this season, is Charlotte’s oldest cultural organization and has provided to experience and participate in theater for nine decades.
By Robert Bush
Theatre Charlotte is the oldest among Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s arts, science and history organizations – predating The Mint Museum, Charlotte Symphony, Children’s Theatre, Nature Museum or any other.
It started just before the Great Depression when, in 1927, the Charlotte branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) decided to study the Little Theatre movement. This grassroots effort to mount amateur theatricals goes back to the late 1800s (musical theatre fans will recall that “The Music Man” features some of those early attempts to bring the arts to America in the efforts of the Mayor’s wife and the ladies of River City) swept the country during and after the First World War.
The AAUW performed its first production in 1928, a reading of “Outward Bound,” in the Carnegie Library uptown and the Charlotte Drama League was born. This organization soon became The Little Theatre of Charlotte and throughout the 1930s presented productions in venues across the Queen City.
Since 1941, the theater has been in the heart of the historic Myers Park district of Charlotte at 501 Queens Road. The first production there was “George Washington Slept Here”, which opened on Dec. 1, 1941 and concluded a highly successful run on Saturday, Dec. 6. The next day came the attack on Pearl Harbor and many of the theater’s volunteers went off to war. But through it all the theater continued to present plays, as it had every season during the depression and as it has done every season since.
Over these last 90 years, thousands of folks in our region have rehearsed for weeks on a play or musical at Theatre Charlotte to get it just right for audiences. I became one of those people when, a year after moving to Charlotte in 1984, I auditioned and was cast in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” That rehearsal and performance process is what connected me to this community and made me call Charlotte home. The friendships I made at the theater are as strong today as they were 30-plus years ago.
Theatre Charlotte has entertained us, challenged us, made us cry and turned us out singing a memorably tune. But perhaps more importantly, they have shared that sense of comradery and community that a theater experience is all about – an opportunity to build connections through the arts and tackle something new with friends and neighbors old and new.
So, happy 90th birthday Theatre Charlotte. Thank you for providing the memories that so many of us share.
Celebrate Theatre Charlotte’s 90th season
For its 90th season, Theatre Charlotte will produce five shows that are firsts for the theater. For tickets or more information, visit TheatreCharlotte.org.
Theatre Charlotte’s 2017-18 season includes:
This long-running Disney-produced musical is based on the 19th-century opera of the same name, featuring an award-winning pop/rock score by Elton John and Tim Rice. Aida is an epic tale of love, loyalty and betrayal, chronicling the love triangle between an enslaved Nubian princess, Pharoah’s daughter and the soldier they both love.
The Grapes of Wrath
Oct. 27 – Nov. 12
This adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel takes audience through the narrative of dispossessed Oklahoma sharecroppers heading west in search of the promised land of California — a winding trail on Route 66 blighted by poverty, deaths, desertions, labor violence, and natural disasters.
A Christmas Carol
Theatre Charlotte’s holiday tradition is back for its 11th season. It is the classic tale of hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
Jan. 19 – Feb. 4
Thirty-four year old Willum Cubbert is at a crossroads. He is not exactly failing at life, more like going through the motions. But things get exciting when Rick Steadman, an old army buddy, arrives uninvited at Willum’s doorstep just as he is hosting a dinner party for an important business client.
A Time to Kill
March 23 – April 8
Adapted from John Grisham’s bestselling novel, this intense play tells the story of a young, idealistic lawyer, Jack Brigance, defending a black man, Carl Lee Hailey, for taking the law into his own hands.
May 25 – June 10
This rock adaptation of the classic German play is an exhilarating journey of teenage self-discovery as well as a celebration of youth and rebellion. Taking place in the late 19th century, it follows a group of teenagers and lingers on those passages in youth when the discovery of sex temporarily disorders everything: relationships to family, friends and teachers and the world seems alive with danger and promise.