Go to one chamber music concert at the Dock Street Theatre on a June morning, and you’re hooked. I don’t recall Charleston before Spoleto Festival USA—the event debuted in 1976—but to me, it’s impossible to imagine the city without its lively arts scene. Charleston is built for performance. Downtown you’ll see ample places to sing, dance, recite, or perform a play. We’ve got side porches and front porches, parks, patios, amphitheaters, temporary stages, and enough traditional theaters and auditoriums that it can sometimes feel like all of Charleston is a stage. In recent years, Memminger and the darling of the city, the Dock Street, have been renovated. Not to mention the massive re-build of the Gaillard Auditorium that’s currently underway. This is great news for all of the terrific performing arts organizations, including Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto, Charleston Stage Company, Pure Theatre, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Concert Association, Charleston City Ballet, and more.
Since the completion of Memminger’s multi-million dollar renovation, I often pass by the massive columns on my way to a concert or charity ball, but I’ll never forget peeking inside to see the damage done to this 1930s public school auditorium when Hurricane Hugo tore off the roof in 1989.
Dock Street Theatre
Everything about Dock Street is special. It traces its beginnings to a 16th century theater and 17th century hotel, the cypress interior is gorgeous, and a recent renovation upgraded stage areas, seats (cushions!), and restrooms. At intermission, step outside to a brick patio or onto beautiful Church Street in the French Quarter.
Charleston Music Hall
Nothing stuffy happening here… a recent College of Charleston grad took over bookings at the Music Hall a few years ago, and now the 900-seat auditorium known for its fine acoustics frequently hosts sold-out comedy shows, slam poetry and storytelling events, and music concerts, including several performances by local favorites Shovels & Rope.
All is cool and dim except for floor lights and the soft glow of the blue-lit domed ceiling above the audience. Then the show starts. For Charlestonians, the comfy Sottile is a familiar venue. At under 800 seats, it’s neither too big nor too small, and it shows a wide-ranging program from plays and ballets to jazz concerts.
Circular Congregational Church
Musicians rave about the beautiful acoustics at this unusual venue, a 17th-century church on Meeting Street with a fitting name—it really is circular in shape! Recent performers at the space include Johnny Irion, Sarah Lee Guthrie, and Art Garfunkel. The church is also home to a Charleston musical revue, the Sound of Charleston.