It was a long summer for Village Repertory Company directorial team Keely Enright and Dave Reinwald, but the lights are finally coming back up. When the husband-and-wife duo decided to move Mt. Pleasant's popular theater company from its beloved Coleman Boulevard strip mall home last July, it wasn't without hesitation.
But as most Charleston arts enthusiasts know, the stars were aligned for the throwback cabaret ensemble. The Village Repertory Company found a home in the heart of old industrial Charleston on Woolfe Street in the former Meddin Brothers Meat Packing warehouse. And so, with Enright and Reinwald at the helm, the Woolfe Street Playhouse was born.
With all of the good fortune, Enright and Reinwald continue to deal with programming and funding issues. Woolfe Street was scheduled to open in October, but they were forced to push back their official opening to December. "It boils down to red tape — approvals, licenses, and logistics," Enright says. "We're very fortunate that our patrons have been patient."
But with the advent of Woolfe Street's Late Night in the Shop series, which hopes to target a younger, more adventurous audience, the delay hasn't drawn the curtain on all performances. The Scene Shop is a 60-seat space to the side of the main theater where Enright and Reinwald build sets and props. The Shop also provides an area where Village Players can perform additional shows.
Village Repertory Co. put on a Frankenstein fundraiser in October and will open Neil Bartlett's A Christmas Carol there on Dec. 4.
"The Scene Shop allows us to make every show different," Enright says. "For example, with Frankenstein, we had cobwebs and more of a haunted house feel. For A Christmas Carol, we're going to re-create an 18th century street. The Scene Shop gives us access to darker, quirkier pieces that we just couldn't do before."
Newly appointed associate art director Robbie Thomas, a Charleston theater veteran, will handle stage direction for all of Woolfe Street's Scene Shop shows, which frees up Enright for the main stage.
"Right now, we're rehearsing two shows at the same time," Enright laughs. "It's interesting."
The Woolfe Street Playhouse will officially open its main stage on Dec. 13 with The Man Who Came to Dinner, a 1930s American stage comedy and traditional fan favorite. For a sneak peek, the company is hosting a VIP night and fundraiser on Dec. 12.
The company's move from Mt. Pleasant to downtown hasn't changed the trajectory of its season, according to Enright. "We really let our audience dictate what we put on," she says. "Our audience has the opportunity to influence the season. If the season changes, it's because of a more diverse audience base."
In addition to The Man Who Came to Dinner, Woolfe Street's season includes family favorites Robin Hood and Cinderella, musical comedy The Divine Sister, and the Southeastern premiere of Wild West musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, among others.
While December's official opening is certainly cause for celebration, the work is far from over. In addition to building their own sets and the stage, Enright, Reinwald, and volunteers will finish up the interior with design details and paint.
Phase two of the Woolfe Street Playhouse includes mezzanine seating on the second floor and a multi-use space for classrooms and private events in the back of the building. "There's so much more we can do here than we were able to do in Mt. Pleasant," Enright says.
With the Gaillard out of commission, Woolfe Street's 17,000 square-feet of space makes it the largest new dedicated performance space in Charleston. And while many members have supported the construction of Woolfe Street, the theater has seen little-to-no foundational or city backing, according to Enright. Phase one of Woolfe Street's renovation will cost $500,000, and they're only halfway there. The company needs to raise $100,000 by Jan. 1.
"I don't know how many lunches I've been to and how many discussions I've had about leadership in the arts and how our community needs something like the Woolfe Street Playhouse," Enright says. "I guess people didn't believe we'd follow through, but we have. We did it, and now is a great time for folks to come through on those promises."
The Village Playhouse Grand Opening Party and Premiere Performance of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Wed. Dec. 12. 6:30 p.m. $125/person, $200/couple. Woolfe Street Playhouse.