For centuries, the theater has been a place where it pays to shirk the ordinary. Jim Yost, co-founder/artistic director for BareBones Theatre Group, knows all about how stripping away the pretense makes for more room to stand out -- i.e. go weird.
Yost, a Pennsylvanian lured to Charlotte to attend Queens University, decided that the city needed more flavor in its community theater. The idea behind BBTG? "We wanted to produce small scale production [that wasn't] about great lighting design, but the story," he says. "We wanted to produce work challenging for the audience [as well as] for actors. Community theater can be very two-dimensional. There's a Christian playhouse using the Blumenthal Theatre to talk about producing less gay and lesbian culture. People are so afraid to offend. They don't go out of the box."
Fortunately for some of the area's more liberal residents, BareBones has no qualms about going outside the realm of Charlotte's strict traditions. "It's a hard city to live in if you're an artist. Just because the city is conservative doesn't mean everything that happens should be," says Yost. "The material that we choose can be off-the-wall. We're one of the only companies that does 'waffle house' Broadway; weird kind of non-mainstream scripts. [But, that's] not weird; it sets us apart. Unfortunately, we have to do more mainstream things because we need to make money.
"When you look at a company like BareBones, 10 years is long time to sustain life without private funding [they receive little from the Arts and Science Council]. To ignore that is ridiculous." But has the ASC, the second largest local arts agency in the United States behind New York, turned its back on the consistently excellent BBTG? Does the organization's canon of "building appreciation, participation and support for arts and culture in Charlotte-Mecklenburg" rings false? "They don't believe in what we do," says Yost. "But, we'll keep on doing what we do until we realize it's not worth doing anymore."
If the reviews for their last show are any indication, that time has yet to come. Mr. Marmalade, BareBones' most recent offering, closed on Feb. 24. Little Lucy's constant bombardment with the media and all its drivel has led to the creation of an imaginary friend, the title character. CL performing arts columnist Perry Tannenbaum describes him as "[o]utfitted with a smart phone, lines of cocaine and an attaché case filled with assorted sex toys, Mr. Marmalade is a nightmare come true."
What else would you expect from the company that brought us Psycho Beach Party? Novel idea offered by Yost: "We offered money back on the first night, but no one wanted their money back."
So, what's next for this dynamic little theater-that-could? April 19-May 5, check out Carter W. Lewis' Women Who Steal at the Duke Power Theatre in Spirit Square; Friday, April 20, is Pay What You Can Night. Tickets are $12-$20. Go online at www.carolinatix.org or call 704-372-1000.
Urban Explorer's Handbook