Arts & Culture

Curtain opener

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  • The ARTworks black box theater just doubled in size. Now, it's leaders are making sure its crowds can match that growth, as well.

    "Steel Magnolias" is the first production to make use of the new-and-improved theater space at ARTworks, which is the gallery, classroom and performance space of the Arts Council of Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands.

    The theater's capacity more than doubled from 60 to 150 seats. The seating is raked, meaning risers put each row slightly higher than the one in front of it. The stage expands to 40 feet across, giving productions more space while still keeping the intimacy of a black box theater.

    "It's quite the transformation," said executive director J.W. Rone, who's also directing "Steel Magnolias." "It shows a commitment to produce theater in the community."

    Arts organizations in general have been hurting during the economic downturn. (The Beaufort Performing Arts organization closed in March, only for some of its schedule to be taken over by the University of South Carolina Beaufort.) But the council board sensed a desire for community theater north of the Broad River, given the success of previous performances in the two years the theater has been open. Relying on volunteer labor, donations and discounts from local hardware stores, the cost for renovations should come to about $5,000, Rone said.

    Just expanding the theater is the first step to making it more successful, Rone said. Other maneuvers needed to be made to encourage audiences to actually come. The council upped its advertising for performances. And, it set low ticket prices -- $15 for general admission, $10 for students -- and established "pay what you can" nights to encourage potential customers in a down economy.

    The council set a yearlong theater schedule with three more productions, each with the involvement of local companies Misspent Youth Productions or Palmetto Theater Xperiment. Also, ARTworks has a "2nd Season" running through the year with concerts and short-run performances ranging from a jazz Christmas concert to a one-woman show with Natalie Daise.

    "We're trying to give people the opportunity to have space to view quality art," Rone said.