Broadway is Back! Hometown Celebs Share What It’s Like Returning to the Stage Right Now
The lights are shining bright on Broadway once more after 20 long months of pandemic living. Here in Charlotte, audiences have been celebrating the return of touring Broadway too, beginning with Wicked, Blumenthal Performing Arts’ first major theatrical production since the COVID-19 shut down.
The show drew more than 70,000 attendees over its four-week run and even smashed a box office record in its final days, marking the highest grossing week ever for a Blumenthal presented show at Ovens Auditorium.
As productions ramp up in New York City and all over the country, many things have changed, but one thing remains the same: Charlotte’s talent continues to thrill audiences on some of the country’s biggest stages, both as performers and in key behind-the-scenes roles. Here’s a look at what just a handful of our homegrown talent is up to now and a deep dive into what it’s like to be making theater again.
Man behind Gantt Center design featured in museum exhibit
November 24, 2021
You’ve probably heard of Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright, but if you don’t yet know the name Phil Freelon, you should.
A new exhibition created by students and faculty at UNC Charlotte’s School of Architecture examines the design contributions of Freelon, a North Carolina-based architect who died in 2019.
“Container/Contained: Phil Freelon — Design Strategies for Telling African American Stories” is now on view at one of Freelon’s award-winning buildings — the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture
in Charlotte — through Jan. 17. Then, it will continue on to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, beginning Feb. 26.
Freelon, who was Black, imbued his architecture with meaning to express each structure’s content while reflecting the communities it would serve. The exhibition shows how Freelon turned ideas into subtle architectural elements.
Some examples include using the interlocking arms of civil rights-era marches as inspiration for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, incorporating the colors of hit vinyl records as architectural fins for a new expansion at the Motown Museum in Detroit and utilizing unfolded DNA strands on the facade of the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise at North Carolina Central University in Durham.
This growing gallery helps artists of color collaborate and advance
June 27, 2021
On a quiet street in east Charlotte, a two-story house sits at the end of a cul-de-sac. Outside, it looks like any other home. But inside, it’s bursting with creativity and inspiration.
This is 9-18-9 Studio Gallery, a place to nourish local artists — especially emerging artists of color. Here, they showcase their work, meet other artists and collectors, and learn skills to advance their careers.
Its mission: build the largest and most diverse collection of work by local fine artists of color. Surrounded by art, only the open plan kitchen remains at 8838 Balsam Bay Road. That’s by design.
Since early last year, 9-18-9 has been frequently used for gallery events and monthly gatherings of The Palette Table, a private group with 82 members that seeks increased opportunities for fine artists of color. A “Sunday dinner,” prepared by owner/curator Joanne Rogers, follows every meeting.
“I feed the artists because I want that family, nurturing feeling,” said Rogers, 53, who loves cooking Caribbean food from her native Trinidad.
That camaraderie seems to be working: 9-18-9 Studio Gallery has had an impressive first year, despite opening right before the pandemic arrived.
Local Musicians come together to create genre-bending work
May 16, 2021
How do you grab the public’s attention and highlight the variety of music being created in Charlotte? Build an orchestra like you’ve never heard or seen before.
Cue Your Neighborhood Orchestra, which matches local composers from styles as diverse as hip-hop and metal with musicians known for classical music and jazz.
Reconceived for the COVID era, the orchestra is collaborating with local choreographers too — everything from aerial fire dancers to Latin ballroom — to create visually stunning music videos.
YNO’s genre-bending work, which debuted at the 2019 Boom Festival, has reemerged this spring with five free streaming concerts.
Meet Bank of America VP who moonlights as filmmaker, actor, advocate
April 11, 2021
Jinna Kim isn’t afraid to fail. That may be why she’s so successful.
An interdisciplinary artist, her work is popping up everywhere from TV shows and commercials to museums, magazines and film festivals. She’s an actor, a model, a photographer, a writer and a filmmaker.
Then there’s her day job at Bank of America, where she was recently promoted to senior vice president. She works with the Enterprise Payments team, which is responsible for implementing payment initiatives across the organization.
Outside her regular duties, Kim is among the most prolific new inventors at the bank.
To date, she has co-filed 17 patent applications for things like frictionless banking and cognitive automation, focused on making customers’ interactions more pleasant.
Mint Museum focuses on ‘who we have here’ with over 40 Charlotte artists of color
March 21, 2021
In everything she does, Carla Aaron-Lopez has one goal: to create a new, inclusive reality.
As a CMS art teacher, she works to open students’ eyes to different perspectives. As a mother, she fights for a better, more equitable future for her son. As an artist, “King Carla” (as she’s known), bites back at mainstream ideas that limit Black cultural identity.
“I don’t know who these people are that walk through life thinking that life is one thing,” said Aaron-Lopez, who grew up in Charlotte. “But when I walk out of my house, I see so many different things. And so many different people, places and things that I’ve never experienced even in my own town.
Now, the multidisciplinary artist is using this vision to curate a pop-up art show at the Mint Museum that puts Black artists, other artists of color and white allies in the spotlight.
SILENT STREETS: ART IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC
When the world came to a halt in early spring 2020, so did museums everywhere. Doors closed, shipments stopped, planned exhibitions were put on hold. Then cities across the nation erupted in protest, as communities faced a reckoning with long-term injustices and systemic racism. The concurrent events posed a challenge: How could the Mint best serve the community through the crisis and uprising, while also facing financial uncertainty and logistical challenges caused by the pandemic?
“This gave us [an] opportunity,” says Jen Sudul Edwards, PhD, the Mint’s Chief Curator & Curator of Contemporary Art. “Instead of showing an exhibition that seemed incongruous with the times, we were able to construct something that reflected the times.”
Collaboration puts real COVID-19 cases in graphic novel form
January 31, 2021
In the early months of the pandemic last year, information and unanswered questions about the new coronavirus were coming from everywhere.
“COVID seemed like this big, scary monster,” said Chris Rudisill, director of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative. The collaborative, or CJC, is a consortium of six area media outlets and other institutions working to strengthen local journalism.
“We were hearing from a lot of people in the community that they almost didn’t know what to listen to,” he said.
CJC wanted a creative way to get relevant, reliable information to people who might not be reading or tuning into traditional news sources. They sought something that combined the visual punch of a 1950s-style monster movie poster with the integrity of solid news reporting.
Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places: Charlotte artist Keith Bryant makes art from almost anything
November 15, 2020
For artist Keith Bryant, inspiration often comes from unexpected sources: some old fire extinguishers piled in a scrap yard, animal bones spotted on a walk in the woods or even a tiny broom discovered when he moved into his art studio.
“If they trigger something in my mind, I pick them up,” said Bryant, whose colorful sculptures are currently featured in the exhibition, “Reconvene,” at Central Piedmont Community College. “I don’t always know exactly what I’m going to do with them.”
Not knowing is just part of the process for Bryant, who also teaches ceramics and sculpture at UNC Charlotte. He takes his time creating — sometimes years — as abstract ideas “bubble up to the surface” and take form. Although he got his start as an artist working in clay, experimentation with different materials and processes are now essential aspects of his creations.
Meet Our Final Sew for the Show Judge: Wig and Makeup Artist Jason Estrada
July 27, 2020
Jason Estrada loves to create: at home he paints, sculpts, draws and tends to his garden. At work, his canvases become fabric, wigs and even faces. A costumer by trade, Estrada specializes in hair and make up design. But as much as he enjoys the hands on creativity, there’s something even better: the collaborative art of a theatrical production.
“It’s not just about one thing; it’s about everybody’s work together,” says Estrada, who is one of the three expert judges in Blumenthal’s “Sew for the Show: Mask Design Challenge.” This week, we are sharing his fabulous design for “WICKED,” as well as his insights on the costuming field, to help inspire your own creations for this final week of the contest. (“WICKED,” part of the Equitable Broadway Series, will be coming to Ovens Auditorium, Dec. 9, 2020 – Jan. 10, 2021.)
THE SHOW GOES ON | Blumenthal Continues to Serve the Community During Uncertain Times
In the last few months, the world has changed in ways few people could have ever predicted. Every person and every business has been affected by the worldwide pandemic. How does a performing arts organization – a business dedicated to bringing people together – continue to function in the midst of a public health crisis in which social distancing is the new normal?
Here’s a look at how Blumenthal Performing Arts has managed to continue operating, retain its staff, care for its customers, and even successfully launch sales for its biggest Broadway season ever. At the heart of this behind-the-scenes production has been preparation, collaboration and innovation.
Local Couple Will See Their Own Story Brought to Life in Broadway Musical, Come From Away
December 10, 2019
Phyllis and Jim Knubel haven’t yet seen the musical COME FROM AWAY, inspired by the incredible generosity of a small Canadian town during 9/11, but they already know the story by heart.
That’s because they lived it.
The Knubels, who retired a few years ago to York, SC, were aboard one of the 38 planes, carrying more than 6,500 passengers, diverted to Gander, Newfoundland when the terrorist attacks on 9/11 took place. The town’s population nearly doubled overnight and for the better part of a week, residents did all they could to support the physical, social and emotional needs of the “plane people.”
What the Knubels experienced in Gander affected them deeply; the people they met showed profound kindness, empathy and selflessness. Some have also become treasured friends.
“It’s not something that my husband and I would ever forget,” says Knubel. “When we talk about it, we always cry. How from that disaster, people we didn’t know in another country could come together and take care of all those people.”
Here’s how their real-life experience unfolded, as told by Phyllis Knubel:
When Things Go Wrong: Real Life Tales of Backstage & Onstage Drama
November 19, 2019
Picture this: it’s September 2008 and you’re at the press night in Los Angeles for the pre-Broadway run of the new musical 9 to 5. There’s a full house, including celebrities, industry VIPs and 350 members of the media. Suddenly, in the midst of a big scene change, everything on stage stops.
The house lights come up halfway while the crew jumps into action to solve the problem. Tom Gabbard—Blumenthal’s CEO and one of the producers of the show—is there with his wife, Vickie. They are seated a couple rows directly behind the original film’s stars and can see Dolly Parton, taking advantage of the delay, scooting over to chat with actor Dabney Coleman, who played the film’s famously misogynistic boss. Just then a voice rings out over the crowd. It’s Vickie Gabbard with a spontaneous idea: “Dolly, sing something!”
So she does.
Parton, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show, steps out into the aisle and a nearby soundman brings her a handheld mic. She riffs for a few minutes on how much she’s enjoyed working on her first Broadway musical and her respect for her co-creatives. Then she leads the audience in singing the 9 to 5 title song. About 20 minutes go by and Parton is still entertaining. She’s about to sing “I Will Always Love You,” when she gets the signal that the show is back up and ready to go.
Just another night at the theater, where anything and everything can happen!
BACKSTAGE WITH THE BAND’S VISIT | Producer Orin Wolf and Writer Itamar Moses talk about their multiple Tony Award-winning show
When Orin Wolf saw an early screening of the film The Band’s Visit, he had an immediate impulse: to put it on stage. “It was a moment of clarity for me that doesn’t happen very often in my life,” says Wolf. Some eight years later, his initial inspiration would become one of the most celebrated and critically-acclaimed musicals of all time.
Winner of 10 Tony Awards in 2018, this story of an Egyptian military band that gets stranded for one night in a remote Israeli village is now beginning a national tour, and Charlotte audiences will be among the first to see it. The Band’s Visit comes to Knight Theater Aug. 6-25.
A NEW WAY TO ENGAGE | Blumenthal Tests App That Lets Audiences Decide What a Show Is Worth
Kahlil Ashanti, a writer and performer whose award-winning shows have played all over the world, is not your typical computer programmer. But his new web application “weshowup.io,” could revolutionize the way theaters and artists do business.
Forty-something Ashanti learned to code on late nights after picking up his kids from soccer practice, helping his wife take care of things at home, and tucking in their three boys at night.
Local audiences may know Ashanti best from his critically-acclaimed one man show, Basic Training, or the innovative PostSecret: The Show, which he co-wrote. Both productions had successful runs at Booth Playhouse in Charlotte.
Throughout his career, Ashanti has often taken on new risks. “I had to go out as an artist and create opportunities for myself,” he says.