I have long had an interest in arts groups using transitioning commercial and retail spaces to alleviate space crunch. On hearing that Matt Cosper and his Charlotte-based ensemble XOXO are taking part in such a venture I asked him to write a little about the process and after it was over to reflect on the benefits. Here is the first of his two posts – Travis Bedard
Here in Charlotte, NC we are in the midst of a real estate boom. One might more accurately put it this way: land owners and developers in Charlotte are in the midst of a real estate boom. Please don’t read any snark into this. I’m a booster. As far as I’m concerned this means a lot of very cool things for Charlotte. We’re growing into a proper mid-sized city and that means more audience. It also means we finally have good ramen.
What it also means is that real estate is at a premium and generally independent artists can in no way afford space in which to work. XOXO, the ensemble that I lead, has responded to the issue (as well as other concerns more aesthetic than economic) by making work in non-traditional spaces in the area. For the past few years, we’ve moved away from producing in theatres and have been staging original works on street corners, in punk rock clubs, in 14 passenger vans and on a historic farm across the SC border. It has become central to our work that we are interested in experimenting and exploring variations on the site of the theatrical encounter. Producing in non-traditional spaces has had a major effect on where we are spending money in production, but it hasn’t solved the problem of rehearsal space. It was a blessing, then, to be invited to participate in the SkylineCLTarts.
What, pray tell, is SkylineCLTarts? Well, the short version is this: Crescent Communities is a development firm out of Atlanta who have been developing some major projects in Charlotte. One of those includes the site of a former Goodyear tires store in Uptown Charlotte. (don’t get me started on why we call it Uptown. It’s a Charlotte thing. For our purposes here, just understand that I’m talking about the urban core of Charlotte.) Crescent solicited proposals for what use the building could be put to while awaiting demolition later in 2015. Two visionaries by the name of Amy Bagwell and Amy Herman (to be referred to henceforth as The Amys) proposed a three month artist residency project which would look a little something like this: each month, from July through September 2015, three artists or collectives would be invited to have a studio in the building with 24/7 access and a $1000 budget. These artists would do whatever they damn well please in their studios but a) at the end of the month they would show work at a public party and b) they would change the building somehow. Some of the work created would be a permanent addition to the doomed structure. At the end of the residency, when demolition is to occur, the building will have become a collage of sorts, and the demolition will be a glorious Viking funeral, and we will celebrate the ephemeral in art, as Crescent prepares to build a giant commercial tower. Money still wins, but we get to act as pilot fish, feeding off the refuse of late capitalist America in ways that are vital to us as artists: Money, Space and Time.
So we’re about half way in to our residency at Skyline and things are proceeding pretty smoothly. We moved in at the beginning of August and set to work developing a second draft of our new performance work #cake. #cake is conceived of as a suite of looped performances around the topics of class, race and privilege taking place in various locales across Uptown Charlotte. Our first draft, in April of 2015, focused on generating material and developing rough character outlines. For this draft, we are focusing on design elements (after all we have been given a space with the mandate to transform it) as well as dealing with the technical demands of creating and sustaining looped sequences of action.
In the past two weeks we’ve been generating a lot of loops, and also experimenting with the endurance required in performing those loops over an extended period of time. While the actors have been focusing on that work, our design team has been busy transforming our main performance studio. While the work in that space has been limited mainly to paint (there are plans for a sandbox that no one will give me a straight answer about), we’ve been busy in other parts of the building as well: creating a series of five discrete installations: hallways twenty feet long by five feet across which will be complete environments containing performance loops of their own. This has been the ultimate gift of this residency, the space in which to experiment without need for a successful box office at the end of the rainbow. Our mission is strictly to experiment. In that way, this residency is the gift that keeps on giving. We’ll take what we are learning and developing now and inject it into our later work, as we prepare for a premiere of #cake in 2016.