Fall Culture and Style Preview
Rising stars from Charlotte's culture scene display the season's hottest looks
Here you’ll find some of the city’s most innovative artists and performers presenting the season’s top styles. From ballet dancers clad in supple leather to a painter showcasing fashion’s homage to the seventies, these up-and-comers effortlessly display the looks of the season—and their creative skills
Photographs by Chris Edwards
Hair and makeup by Elizabeth Tolley
Text by Page Leggett and Courtney Devores
Shot on location at Providence Day School
Potter; executive director, Clayworks of Charlotte
Why she’s in Charlotte: She’s a native – and then some! Her family settled in the area in the 1760s.
Her history with Clayworks: She’s been involved with the group for seventeen years. “I started out as a volunteer and have worked my way up in the organization.”
History of Clayworks: “We have doubled our student base in the last five years. We offer a large variety of classes and instructors. We have recently purchased a building and have doubled our space. We now have a wonderful facility to grow and increase our programming offered to the community."
Vision for Clayworks: “To see it become the best clay facility in the Southeast.”
Beyond clay: Besides native clay, her glazes are made out of wood ash from her fireplace and recycled glass.
Quote: “You should come to the studio and try out the potter’s wheel. It is a relaxing activity, and it is cheaper than therapy.”
Sarah Watson: Dancer, North Carolina Dance Theatre
Charlotte’s cultural scene, in one sentence: “The arts in Charlotte are already prominent but I would love to see them even more in the spotlight, for more people to know about the amazing talented artists that live here.”
Project she’s most excited about: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (Oct. 13-15). “It’s so powerful and technical—the kind of dancing where you can’t help but feel fierce.”
Perfect night out in Charlotte: Sushi at RuSan’s, movie at Manor Theatre, beer at the Common Market.
Opinion of Black Swan: “I thought it was a joke.”Charlotte’s cultural scene, in one sentence: “The arts in Charlotte are already prominent but I would love to see them even more in the spotlight, for more people to know about the amazing talented artists that live here.”Project she’s most excited about: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (Oct. 13-15). “It’s so powerful and technical—the kind of dancing where you can’t help but feel fierce.”
Perfect night out in Charlotte: Sushi at RuSan’s, movie at Manor Theatre, beer at the Common Market.
Opinion of Black Swan: “I thought it was a joke.”
David Morse: Dancer, North Carolina Dance Theatre
Charlotte’s cultural scene, in one sentence: “Rich and ever-expanding.”
Cultural wish for Charlotte: “For the people of Charlotte to be made aware of all the art that’s available and take every opportunity to enjoy and support it.”
Homegrown talent: He’s been a dancer since age four, and most of his training was from the NCDT School of Dance.
Role he’s most excited about in the new season: “I’m a huge fan of Dwight Rhoden’s Artifice. I can’t wait for that!”
Melissa Anduiza: Dancer, North Carolina Dance Theatre
Cultural wish for Charlotte: “To [become] a city where different cultures can come together socially. Let’s become a melting pot!”
Project she’s most excited about: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. “I already foresee the experience being an unforgettable one.”
Opinion of Black Swan: “When people make movies … that depict ballerinas to be crazy psychotics who take their job way too seriously, it really doesn’t help our reputation. We are not all like that.”
Sharon Dowell: Printer and former resident at McColl Center for Visual Art
Perfect night out in Charlotte: “Going to an art opening, dinner at Soul, and dancing with my sweetie at Snug Harbor—if it’s a Thursday.”
Cultural wish for Charlotte: “That more of the general public and local businesses would buy local, hand-made art.”
Where you can see her next: Plaza Muse gallery, Genome gallery, and a public art commission for CATS’s Lynx blue line expansion.
Why she’s in Charlotte: A former love.
Fun fact: She was a roller-derby girl until breaking her tailbone.
On her McColl Center residency: “I am inspired by my fellow residents and affiliates! Lately, I have been thinking about the universe’s hand coupled with the choices we make that bring us to where we are at this moment in time.”
Where you’ve seen her before: She worked at NoDa’s Center of the Earth gallery for six years. “The opportunity to see how a gallery runs was invaluable to me. Ruth [Lyons] and Paul [Sires] both have great strength, determination, and talent, and that is inspiring. I’ve always had an eye for curating, but they definitely sharpened my skills.”
Where you’ve seen her work: BLT Steakhouse in the Ritz-Carlton, UNCC, Charlotte Skin & Laser, various gallery shows around town.
Places outside Charlotte where you can see her work: Davidson Galleries in Seattle, Gallery Minerva in Asheville, Rodger-LaPelle in Philly.
Guilty pleasure: “Too many high heels!”
Quote: “A lot of my work depicts urban scenes, but also things we tend to think of as eyesores like power lines, dirty alleyways, and chain-link fences. I like making the overlooked beautiful.”
Grown Up Avenger Stuff: Four-piece rock band whose members include a dad, John Thomsen; sons Tyler, twenty, and Hunter, seventeen; and vocalist Dierdre Kroener, a single mom from Washington.
The Name: Culled from an online band name generator.
The Sound: Angular rhythms and a punk edge mixed with dark, bluesy grooves, unpredictable arrangements, and a singer who goes from kittenish to commanding. Call it accessible art rock.
Where you can see them next: GUAS can often be found sharing the stage at Snug Harbor, Amos’, or The Milestone.
Comic book heroes are usually not what they seem on the surface. There’s always some meaty backstory about what drove them to fight evil and champion good. The same could be said of Charlotte rock band Grown Up Avenger Stuff. In its battle against musical mediocrity it’s donned super-hero costumes, staged a kung fu fight on-stage, and is fashioned as a team of crime fighters on the cover of its debut album. But there’s more behind the masks than kitsch.
GUAS—John, Tyler, and Hunter Thomsen and Deirdre Kroener—is actually a family band, a fact that was in part cloaked in secrecy until last winter. Tyler, twenty, mans the drum kit but was credited as Mister Black on the band’s CD and online. His mother didn’t even know he was moonlighting as a rock drummer. “I lived with my mom. So I’d go spend the night with my dad and play shows and be scrubbing X’s off my hands the next day,” he says while sipping a coffee at the Cotswold Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon after jamming in his dad’s basement with John and brother Hunter until 4 a.m. the night before. Tyler’s church forbade secular music. He’s still a member, but by revealing his participation in GUAS he lost his spot in the church band where he and Hunter honed their live playing skills for five years. Hunter, seventeen, joined GUAS on bass a few months ago. Both boys now live with Thomsen and his wife, Erica.
Kroener isn’t related to the Thomsens, but the singer has found a new family in them. The elder Thomsen, a self-admitted geek who owns a computer-based business, found Kroener’s stripped-down acoustic songs on MySpace. “I was blown away,” he says. She was new to Charlotte and became fast friends with the Thomsens. They bonded over a shared love of the Beatles, Foo Fighters, and Incubus—the three artists that come up most often in conversation. Kroener says after meeting with bands who couldn’t get over the stereotype of a female front woman or thought that she was only capable of the acoustic material that she’d recorded solo, Thomsen was the first to give her a chance to branch out.
“I just really wanted to do something different. I had a hard time getting anybody to listen to me. John said, ‘Well what do you mean different? Do you think you can scream like Dave Grohl?’” she says, her eyes lighting up like they must have the first time she heard the idea. “I said, ‘Well I don’t know.’ Maybe I can. We tried it and we found our place.”
Kroener grew up in Washington state at the height of grunge. One of her first performances was freaking out jazz cafe patrons with her black hair, black makeup, and head-to-toe fishnets while singing a duet with a guy who looked like Kenny G. “I had fangs made by a warlock when I was fifteen,” she laughs, her Seattle-goth past only evident in the snow-white skin and long-sleeved plaid shirt she wears in the middle of summer. She sang with bands as a teenager, but after giving birth to son Eli at eighteen she found it impossible to pursue music and support herself and her child, who was sick for the first three years of his life, on a single parent’s income. “By the time I got around to music again I found that as an adult woman and a mother, my family and society in general was completely unsupportive of me going out and following any kind of dream when I couldn’t provide a good upbringing for my son,” she says. Her father and stepmother had moved to Charlotte and convinced her that the cost of living here would make things easier. That was five years ago. Single motherhood wasn’t easier, but in moving she found musical peers and the surrogate family she didn’t know she was looking for. The band gives her drive and an outlet.
“This is what I’ve worked so hard for,” says Kroener, a self-described “merchandising executioner” who tears down and erects displays in Home Depots around Charlotte. “This is why I get up and go to work.”
The multigenerational rock band drew accolades quickly for its angular rhythms, edgy front woman, and arty yet accessible approach to modern rock. Thomsen says one of the most accurate comparisons is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs meet Queens of the Stone Age, but he finds not everyone knows who those acts are. Kroener, with her interesting vocal melodies and fun stage clothes, seems Charlotte’s closest heir to storied local rock veteran Hope Nicholls (Fetchin’ Bones, Snagglepuss). The music straddles art rock and hard rock with arrangements that take unexpected swerves. Those elements help separate GUAS from the average pop-rock band and attracted a fan in Spectra Records, an independent label that signed the group last year. Its roster includes industry veterans like Lou Gramm and John Cafferty as well as up-and-comers like fellow Charlotteans Transmission Fields.
As the band gathers its things after a marathon four-hour interview, its label mate’s name comes up as Thomsen and his wife discuss catching Transmission Fields’ show that night. Unlike some super heroes, GUAS is no loner. It’s tied to a small community of local bands. Thomsen wishes Charlotte’s indie-rock scene and following were larger. GUAS is often billed with ill-fitting punk and metal bands, but finds some of those fans dig its off-kilter approach, too.
The band’s biggest secret may be that its name isn’t the stuff of comic book lore. In fact its members aren’t comic readers at all. The name was the work of an online band name generator. Thomsen thought the name would be temporary, but the idea of being a team of grownups crossed with a playfulness and sense of adventure made it a fit. Who says there’s no magic in technology?
Meredith Sutton: Co-founder of PlayPlay!
Why she’s in Charlotte: “Love, but it’s Charlotte’s creative blossoming that keeps me here.”
Charlotte’s culture scene in one sentence: “A hotbed for talent with the potential to explode!”
Fun fact: “Some people call me a modern-day Carol Brady. We have eight kids in our blended family ranging in age from two to fourteen.”
Perfect night out in Charlotte: “Dinner at Woodlands, then a performance of Hedda Gabler, and then dancing uptown.”
Cultural wish for Charlotte: “For Charlotte to be a sustainable home for the arts and artists.”
Why she started PlayPlay!: “The cultural needs of the smallest are currently being met almost exclusively by television and electronics, and PlayPlay! is here to change that.”
On theater for newborns: “We use our bodies and household props in new and creative ways to tell a story or convey a feeling nonverbally. We also wish to honor [children’s] innate knowledge with authentic artistic work.”
What’s next for PlayPlay!: “Nonprofit status! And, 2011-12 is our first full season, including a new, original production in November.”
What’s next for her: “Work. Work. Work. Sustaining a small arts organization—and a big family—means that is my life.”
Quote: “I am an artist in a business suit.”
Marla Brown: Executive Director, the Warehouse Performing Arts Center.
Why she’s in Charlotte: She grew up here. After stints in Chapel Hill and Texas, she returned to the Lake Norman area, where she’s lived for fifteen years.
Charlotte’s culture scene, in one sentence: “Like a seventeen-year-old: charged with energy, excitement, possibility, and hopefully on her way to a productive maturity.”
Perfect night out in Charlotte: “Seeing some thought-provoking, home-grown theater at a venue like CAST or Theatre Charlotte, going dancing with friends, and then driving through downtown with car windows rolled down, listening …”
Cultural wish for Charlotte: “That we continue to grow an audience base of people who crave the arts … an audience [that’s] as quick to go out and see a local musician or performance as we are to rent Netflix. Life is too short for flat screens.”
On the Warehouse PAC: “There were many factors that led to the decision to launch the Warehouse; the biggest two, however, were the opportunity of the space itself and the enthusiasm of artists to use the space creatively for theatrical performances, writing workshops, poetry readings, concerts, drama camps.”
Goal for the Warehouse: “Whether it’s a writing workshop that facilitates individual creativity or a theatrical production, our goal is to make an experience that lingers and resonates with people beyond our walls.”
What the Warehouse offers area theatergoers that other theaters don’t: “Close walls. We’re very small, and our performance area is not much removed from the audience. The beauty and the strength are in the intimacy of the events. As an audience member, you are always close to the action. We will never be able to have elaborate spectacles, so we try to capitalize on the strength of the space. Also, because I am a writer, I have a bias toward providing opportunities for writers to showcase their works.”
What the Warehouse is doing next: A new work by area playwright Don Cook, Stigmata, in September. It’s a one-woman show starring Cook’s wife, Divina Cook.
What you should know about the Warehouse: “Huntersville/Cornelius (exit 25 off I-77) is not that far from Charlotte, so come see us sometime.”
Quote: “I believe art and the creative process are crucial to authentic, honest living.”
Lauren Dortch Crozier: Actress.
Why she’s in Charlotte: She grew up here. “I planned on moving out of North Carolina after graduating from college, because I was certain I already knew what Charlotte had to offer. I was wrong. I sorely underestimated the arts community here.”
Fun fact: “I love Law & Order: SVU. Given the first minute or so of an episode, I can tell you what happens in that episode, the ones surrounding it, and which season it’s from. It’s almost a superpower.”
Charlotte’s culture scene, in one sentence: "A force to be reckoned with.”
Where you can see her next: As Sabrina Daldry in In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play at Actor’s Theatre.
Favorite role ever played: Agnes in Agnes of God at CAST.
Dream role: “I’m patiently waiting to age into the role of Anna in David Mamet’s Boston Marriage.”
Day job: Freelance makeup artist and casting assistant at Corrigan & Johnson Casting in NoDa.
Guilty pleasure: “I love karaoke. I know, I know.”
Quote: “I somehow knew I would end up in theater. The first show that solidified that for me was in the ninth grade, doing Godspell. After curtain call, we ran through the audience to exit. I looked at a friend of mine and said, ‘I want to do this the rest of my life.’”
Jacomo Rafael Bairos: Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s associate conductor
Why he’s here: After playing the tuba in orchestras all over the world, Bairos joined the CSO in 2010, not too far from where he’d spend summers as a child at his grandmother’s home in the mountains.
His mission: Making classical cool for kids. His most daring trick so far was pairing Beethoven’s Fifth with hip-hop, rock, and Latin styles.
Where you can see him: Leading the CSO’s Lollipops series on September 24 and October 29, conducting KnightSounds’ “Bearden 100—Celebrating the Man through Music” on October 21 and CSO Pops’ “Cirque de la Symphonie” in November.
Jacomo Rafael Bairos has lived and worked all over the world as a tuba player in symphony orchestras and more recently as a conductor. Portugal (where he was born), Miami (where he was raised), Michigan (school), New York (Juilliard), Chicago, Spain, Cincinnati, Shanghai, Singapore, the Czech Republic, and Baltimore—all until about nine months ago when the most recent stop on his world tour became Charlotte. A job as associate conductor with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, a condo uptown, and the rare Carolina dog he adopted from a local shelter haven’t slowed him down. He’s conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra during his summer break and next year will record a follow-up to his 2009 album with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.
Bairos’s role at CSO includes directing the Lollipops family concerts series. It’s a natural fit, because Bairos is passionate about music education.
“Music in public school was really good where I grew up,” he explains, rattling off the surprising number of school bands at his middle school over a blueberry cream cheese muffin on the patio at Amelie’s on Tryon. He has to raise his voice to speak over the trucks rumbling by. “Jazz, pep, two orchestras … now they have half a band.” He recalls choosing the tuba in middle school after seeing the monstrous instrument slung over an older student’s shoulders. “I saw this six-foot seventh-grader walking out of the band room with a shiny tuba. It was about the same size as I was.” Shortly thereafter his band director took young Bairos to see the Canadian Brass. He was hooked. “The tuba player would dance around and emcee for the show. I knew I wanted to play the tuba.”
He chose music over baseball and left Florida for Interlochen, the prestigious performing arts high school in Michigan, at age fifteen. Twenty years later his own experience spurs him to create new ways to engage kids in classical music when arts are no longer a priority in many schools. He and some of the young conductors he studied with are incorporating contemporary music into symphonic performances such as presenting Beethoven’s Fifth in hip-hop, rock, and Latin styles to help connect the traditional with the hip, modern mainstream.
“The stability of classical music isn’t what it once was. Around the country orchestras are falling off. Things here are tough, so the reaction is innovation. I don’t know if I’d put Brahms with a DJ, but the orchestra is versatile. It can morph,” he says. “The sound that the orchestra can create in the right setting can change someone’s life. It happened to me.”
It’s my hunch that both science and spirituality point to the same thing, just in different ways.”
Sean Busher: Fine art and advertising photographer; founder of the Light Factory’s City Block Project
Fun fact: “I had an Afro in my 1996 South Meck yearbook that was so big they had to shrink my head to half size to squeeze in the whole picture.”
On the City Block Project: “It’s twenty-four hours in which photographers of all stripes descend on a Charlotte city block to document it in every way imaginable—the people, the architecture, the moments, and everything in between.”
Why he’s in Charlotte: He was born and raised here.
Charlotte’s culture scene in one sentence: “It’s like a seed of a tall pine being planted in welcoming soil, preparing to root in and shade its neighbors from the harsh, unforgiving rays of corporate obedience.”
Perfect night out in Charlotte: “Sushi, show, snuggles.”
Cultural wish for Charlotte: “A gigantic facility near uptown that provides a fully funded space for artists to gather, create, and share … a huge endowment that provides near-limitless grants for creative projects. I wish for this facility and endowment to transform Charlotte into an artistic mecca for top-notch creatives from all over the world.”
How he became a photographer: “I’ve been a photographer since early high school at South Meck. Though I studied photojournalism at Chapel Hill, I now am fully immersed in the advertising and fine-art worlds.”
On navigating the intersection of fine art and commerce without selling out: “A few years into my career, a consultant taught me that sticking with my intuition and allowing my unique vision to show in my work would not only be more fulfilling personally, but would separate our business from the pack. That advice is one of the greatest gifts I ever received. I’ve yet to meet a client that doesn’t want to push creative boundaries. Of course, we all have people to answer to (and they usually are in control of the budget), so sometimes things naturally get watered down. It doesn’t bother me; it’s part of the process.”
What’s next for the City Block Project: “We’re currently working out the details of the 2012 project. The Light Factory Paparazzi [the young affiliates group of the Light Factory] will have a launch party next spring in which we’ll announce the new block.”
Quote: “I feel called to explore my spiritual understanding of our world. It’s my hunch that both science and spirituality point to the same thing, just in different ways.”
April Denee: Writer, documentary filmmaker, college instructor, founder of Buskapolooza
Charlotte’s cultural scene, in one sentence: “Since I can remember, Charlotte’s been trying to break out of its façade of commercialism and into a more authentic … and rich culture, so it’s been exciting to see community partnerships and efforts to that goal start to gain real momentum.”
Next project: Her documentary on street performers, BUSK!—filmed here—should be released this winter.
Fun fact: “When I was in preschool, my grandmother used to let me stay in the car while she went in the grocery store, so I’d study all the people I saw in the parking lot and put on after-dinner shows to impersonate them.”
Side project: Documentary filmmaking. “As someone who thinks very visually and also performs, I felt too limited by my writing [she’s a professional writer and college instructor] and started exploring photography and film five years ago.”
Side, side project: Founder of Buskapolooza, a street-performance festival.
Quote: “I’d much rather be too busy to breathe than too bored to care."