This past weekend, without any real knowledge of the event I was about to attend, I went to the annual Jail Break art event in downtown Charleston. Held in the Old City Jail, and rumored to be hiding a decommissioned electric chair, walking in I was a bit apprehensive. However, it only took a few moments before I forgot the dark history of the place, and focused entirely on all the different forms of artistic expression filling the different, crumbling rooms. From comedians to theatre to puppets to oil paintings and collages, and even blacksmithing; you name it, it was there. Overlaying all of this was incredible live music performances in the back, where you could buy good food or shop at a small market of local artisans.
What really struck me about the event was the diversity of the audience. There were people ranging in ages six to seventy milling around, at least for the first few hours of the event. Jail Break seems to reach to out to all members of the community, not just artistic-types, and this obviously puts them at a great advantage in advertising, revenue, and general knowledge about the event. I would definitely recommend other people to attend. I know I’m going next year; I can not wait to see what the artists have planned.
This past Monday night I bought tickets to see the production of Arlene Hutton’s As it is in Heaven, presented by the College of Charleston Department of Theatre and Dance. Located only a short distance from my house at the Emmet Robinson Theatre on campus, it was easy to convince myself to go. I’ve been to some great school productions here before, such as Spring Awakening and Love of the Nightingale, and was looking forward to seeing what the department had planned. I was not let down. Initially I had a difficult time relating to the struggles and lifestyle choices of the Shakers; they were completely foreign to me and their conservative customs were starkly incompatible with my own. This mindset quickly vanished as the acting, staging, and directorial choices quickly made what was once cloudy and confusing into a human, relatable experience. The old jargon of the 1800’s could not mask the unmistakable emotion and crisis of faith these women were going through.
The valuable sources of information for this production were of particular interest: more specifically the feedback from the audience. The demographic of the theatre the night I attended was a high contrast between those probably older than sixty years of age, and the rest being students. It made me wonder what percentage of the students were there for their own enjoyment, or to fulfill a requirement for one of their classes. Would this mandatory attendance affect their willingness to appreciate and respond to the play and its messages? In doing so would the company have a hard time gauging the needs of its audience if part of the audience did not come of their own volition? Despite this one questionable resource of information, surely the department must have a great grasp of their successes and failures from other sources due to their long-standing presence in the arts world of Charleston. Anyone would be guaranteed a great evening if they chose to see this show; I would highly recommend it. Whether or not you can understand the lifestyle choices of the Shakers themselves, you can easy relate to the day-to-day emotional struggles the characters go through.
A few weekends previous I attended an improv show at Theatre 99 down on Meeting Street. The comedy group that was performing was called The Have Nots!, and being a relative newbie to the improv scene in general I was excited to see what the evening had in store. Initially I was nervous; not for me, but for the performers. Regrettably I have a large amount of performance empathy for anyone on stage, especially for the judgement or co-operation of an audience. It often gets in the way of my own enjoyment, but these performers hit it off so quickly with the theatre that I was not given time for my own worry. Practically the entire show was based off of audience participation, eliminating any chance of a disinterested viewer. It was a rare moment for any joke to land badly and I was laughing along within minutes, with everyone around me seeming just as enthusiastic as I was to be there.
What interested me most about the evening was the demographic appeal of the performance. There were people in the rows ranging from age eighteen to what must have been their late sixties. Everyone was enjoying themselves equally. This form of comedic, improvisational theatre creates a huge amount of general appeal; there is a much larger demographic base for them to draw upon for shows than other arts mediums. It appears it is easier to sell easy laughter than an enlightening gallery opening. It’s not just educated, middle-class, middle-aged Americans showing up for shows, but a wide range of people from different backgrounds coming from Europe on the cruise ships or simply Charleston natives.
Overall, I would highly recommend this evening for others. It’s a great event to go to with friends or family, regardless of age. Anyone looking for a comedic release should definitely head down, especially as ticket prices were low enough to enjoy the show and still get dinner afterwards.