Jason D. Johnson, managing director of The Warehouse Theatre, is feeling optimistic. With an end to the pandemic on the horizon, it’s easier to plan for the educational programs and thought-provoking performances that drive the theater’s mission.
“We don’t anticipate opening before September at the earliest, but setting that goal gives us something to work toward,” Johnson says. “We basically have three plans; if things go better than expected, we’ll open sooner. We’re a fully professional theater, and our shows are expensive to produce with all costs up front, before we can sell tickets. We have to be sure we can open safely and draw a crowd.”
The Warehouse Theatre is well known for the Upstate Shakespeare Festival, presented free in Falls Park since 1995 in conjunction with the city of Greenville. For safety reasons, it was put on hold last year along with the theater’s main stage productions.
In a normal year, The Warehouse Theatre hires more than 200 artists from all over the country to work on its plays. Local performers, directors, musicians and designers also feature prominently on its main stage and educational touring rosters. The theater typically employs six to 10 teaching artists for its educational programs, including This Wooden O, which brings Shakespeare to middle and high school classrooms, the Shakespeare Educational Tour, and a partnership with Furman University’s Bridges to a Brighter Future.
“Education continues to help us keep going,” Johnson says. “With modifications for COVID, we were still able to do our summer program in partnership with the Head and Spinal Cord Injury Group at Thrive Upstate. Acting on Impulse produced their own play, which we filmed. It’s a chance to focus on their stories, and how they continue to grow and live with traumatic brain injury. It’s a meaningful partnership for us and one our teaching artists look forward to every year.”
Community engagement is key to achieving the theater’s mission, and usually includes live, pre-performance forums discussing a theme of an upcoming play. The Warehouse Theatre is currently staying connected with audiences via Facebook, producing plays and holding discussions on Zoom. Although not the same as meeting in person, these new means of engagement open doors to access by removing the need for transportation.
The Warehouse Theatre relies on community support to continue these efforts while preparing for better days.
“The Community Foundation of Greenville understands the critical role the performing arts play in a vibrant community,” says CFG Board Chair Liz Seman. “In addition to managing the Warehouse Theatre Education Endowment and the Harriet Wyche Endowment for Artistic Excellence, the Community Foundation is proud to support The Warehouse Theatre through both unrestricted and restricted grants, including a $10,000 grant in 2020.”
With most live performances on hold, books, music and television have made life better for many during the pandemic. Johnson says colleagues in the industry believe good art will come out of this memorable time.
“Art is always part of a healthy society. It’s the one thing that can truly give an honest perspective of our lives,” he says. “When you look at a piece of art, listen to music, see a play or ballet, you can ask questions that maybe you haven’t. The lens of art allows you to look at situations in a different light, explore without having to take risks. One of my biggest hopes is that art will help heal divisions in the country and be part of the solution moving forward.”
For more information, visit warehousetheatre.com.