Put “craft” in front of most words and it sounds hip, local and something you want to be a part of. Nicia Carla, the producing artistic director of PaperHouse Theatre, is hoping to capitalize on the word and the positive vibe that it elicits from most people. She started using the term “craft theater” to describe what her company does when she opened the play “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Frock Shop in June 2016.
“I don’t know if anyone else uses it, but I really like it,” Carla said of the term. “With the whole local craft beer movement that people are really excited about, and eating local foods, shopping local, I was hoping to generate some buzz about local art as well.”
For Carla, craft theater describes the theater production companies that are raising their money through events and crowdfunding sites, using low-cost creative spaces for shows and paying their actors. They raise awareness about what they offer to the city using a grassroots approach.
Brian LaFontaine is a professional actor who is producing his first play, “Three Days of Rain,” in November with Anne Lambert, an actor, director, producer and a founding member of Chickspeare, Charlotte’s all-female Shakespeare company. They use the term “homegrown professional theater” in addition to “craft theater” to describe their production. Their struggles with finding space, funding for costumes, lighting equipment and design and actors’ compensation are comparable to Carla’s.
“It’s a very collaborative process, craft theater,” Lambert said. “There’s a whimsy and a magic to it that is analogous to the craft brewing. The specialness is in that sense that there’s something that we created for you and it’s like a great tasting menu. We want you to really sample it and enjoy it.”
Finding creative venues is not new to Lambert. Chickspeare performed at Johnson Beer Company in Plaza Midwood from 1998 to the early 2000s before the brewery closed. Since 2012, Chickspeare has been performing at NoDa Brewing Company’s taproom on North Davidson Street.
Several local businesses such as Triple C Brewing Co., Birdsong Brewing Company, NoDa Brewing Company, Frock Shop, Petra’s and Snug Harbor have provided space recently for local theater productions.
“There’s a real connection, a real tether that ties those two ideas together,” Lambert said of craft beer and craft theater. “We don’t necessarily think about chefs, bakers and brew masters in the traditional sense of artistry, but ‘craft‘ is a great word to describe what we do when you’re working as a small, independent producer.”
Caroline Bower is a professional actor cast in PaperHouse Theatre’s upcoming show, “The Revolutionists,” and Charlotte’s Off-Broadway show “Three Days of Rain.” Bower sees value in calling what she and other actors in these shows do “craft theater.”
“It’s hard to convince young people to come out and spend money to see a play,” she said. “Theater has this stigma – theater is for old people or for wealthy people. I think branding it this way, saying it’s craft theater – it sounds more like an event.”
Two craft theater productions to catch soon:
Goodyear Arts at Camp North End, 1776 Statesville Ave.
Tickets are $20 and may be purchased here.
“Three Days of Rain”
Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.
Tickets are $25 in advance and may be purchased here.
Photos: Mitchell Kearney for Charlotte’s Off-Broadway, Courtesy of PaperHouse Theatre