Fall Arts: Charlotte’s Ballet and Opera Return Amid COVID-19
Fall Art Stories 2021
The Observer’s annual Fall Arts Guide examines how members of various arts and culture groups have resisted COVID and what they are looking forward to.
“The intermission is over.”
This is what the Opera Carolina website reads announcing its fall and spring performances. This is also the message from the executives of two of Charlotte’s oldest performing arts companies as they turn on the stage lights and dust their dancing shoes before their first full season since the coronavirus outbreak in March. 2020.
The financial challenges of the pandemic have affected many businesses in Charlotte, from big banks to local restaurants. Among the hardest hit are performing arts companies, which rely on in-person shows and crowded theaters for profit.
But Opera Carolina and Charlotte Ballet, two troupes that have performed for Charlotte audiences for decades, have managed to stay afloat during the closures.
The Observer met with leaders from each company to discuss the challenges of the past year and their plans to perform this fall and beyond.
A late ballet birthday
Charlotte Ballet closed in March 2020 on what was supposed to be her opening performance of “Sleeping Beauty: A Custom Classic,” Tchaikovsky’s modified classic that will serve as the finale of its 49th season.
The following Monday, Executive Director Doug Singleton gathered the company in the lobby of the two-story ballet building on N. Tryon Street. He instructed members of the administrative team to pack their computers and prepare for the closure of the studios and offices.
The following week, he held an emergency meeting with the ballet board to develop a contingency plan.
“It was no longer about performance versus budget,” Singleton said. “It was about: how much money do you have in the bank? “
The board of directors began to develop a plan that would help the company prepare for the winter of 2020, when the annual performance of “The Nutcracker” would give a boost.
But by the end of April 2020, Singleton knew that goal was unrealistic. Now the dance troupe and attached academy should find a way to get to The Nutcracker 2021.
The ballet launched its first fundraising campaign, raising $ 650,000 in one month to help support the organization. This “resilience fund” totaled $ 1 million as of October 2020, Singleton said.
The organization has also been aided by government stimulus funds, he said, including federal PPP loans and a grant for closed site operators, funds distributed by the Small Business Administration to businesses that have closed during the pandemic.
“That’s what keeps us afloat now,” Singleton said of the grant.
Without a stable source of income, the company has laid off or laid off about 60% of its 95 full-time and part-time employees during the pandemic, Singleton said. But this month, he said, most of the employees on leave were back at work.
Young ballet academy students had to take dance lessons on Zoom over the past year so the company could meet capacity limits and social distancing requirements for its pre-professional dancers.
Dancers are still required to wear face coverings in the Charlotte Ballet studios, sometimes practicing or rehearsing for hours without removing their masks. The ballet also made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all staff.
The company is expected to kick off its 2021-22 season in October, starting with a late celebration of its 50th anniversary. “Yes that’s right, we lie about our age,” Singleton joked.
Ticket sales so far have been strong, including for the annual production of “The Nutcracker,” which the ballet relies on to boost revenue later in the year. And while the increase in COVID-19 cases is concerning, Singleton said he hopes the dancers will return to the stage next month.
“I can’t wait to feel this energy. As the doors open, the audience comes in, you walk across the stage just before the curtain (rises), ”he said. “You can smell it, and we haven’t had it for a long time.”
Fortissimo, in a face cover
Opera Carolina has been able to weather pandemic shutdowns more regularly thanks to corporate sponsorships, said artistic director James Meena.
The company ended its 2020 season a week before the initial COVID-19 outbreak triggered widespread shutdowns and did not return to the scene last season. But sponsor contributions have remained stable throughout the pandemic, with some companies even increasing their support.
Additional help came from the Carolinas Foundation, which worked with Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte to fund local arts organizations during the pandemic.
“It was a huge lifeline,” Meena said.
Thanks to this support, the company weathered the pandemic without laying off a single artist or staff member, he said, and was able to increase artists’ salaries.
Unable to perform on stage last year, Opera Carolina tried other means of reaching audiences, including building a “virtual opera” that drew around 35,000 viewers and hosting free performances in front yards. around Charlotte. “We had a lot of fun with it,” Meena said.
The company is now gearing up for its 2021-22 season, with new security policies in place: performers take COVID-19 tests weekly and during rehearsals each cast member sings through their mask.
“It’s weird,” Meena said. The company will continue to wear face coverings until the start of dress rehearsals.
In such a difficult time for the arts, Meena said he was grateful that his organization came out relatively unscathed.
“If you had asked me in June of last year if the opera was going to be successful, my honest answer would have been ‘I don’t know’. “he said. Now the company is entering its new season” in very good shape “.
Opera Carolina returns to the stage on September 16 with “I Dream,” a musical drama that chronicles the early days of the civil rights movement.
It will certainly be different from the previous performances. Tickets will be digital, there will be social distancing seats in the mezzanine, and members of the public, in accordance with Blumenthal Performing Arts Center policy, will be required to wear masks with their black tie sets.
But it beats another year out of the spotlight. Even in rehearsal, Meena feels the company is recovering some of the magic it has lost.
“Everyone was thrilled… It’s one of the most rewarding things for me. It’s exhilarating and fulfilling, ”he said. “I hope the audience feels the same, masks and all”
How to see the shows
The Charlotte Ballet will kick off its late 50th anniversary celebration October 7-9 at the Belk Theater. The pieces include “The Rite of Spring”, “The House of Ibsens” and a new work set to music by Phillip Glass. You can also get tickets for the company’s Nutcracker, which opens on December 3. For more details, visit charlotteballet.org.
The opening night of Opera Carolina’s “I Dream” is scheduled for September 16 at the Belk Theater. You can buy tickets at operacarolina.org.
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