Carolina Ballet led the way: With service fees, top tickets to The Nutcracker skirted past the century mark in 2004 before 2005’s “golden circle” seats face-valued at a Benjamin apiece. Now North Carolina Theatre is cashing in–or trying to–when its February production of Cabaret inducts patrons into the swankiest part of the Kit Kat Club–at a measly $150 a throw. That money buys a seat at special nightclub tables in a presumably elevated orchestra pit, a take-home, “commemorative etched” champagne flute glass filled with the bubbly, and private (cash) bar privileges pre-show and during intermission. But it’s all for a good cause–proceeds benefit the Kids on Broadway program.

David Hammond retires as Artistic Director of Playmakers Repertory Company
True. David Hammond, who has been with the company for 21 seasons, the last 14 as its artistic director, officially adds “Emeritus” to his present job title in June. His last Playmakers production was Caesar and Cleopatra in April 2005; Hammond received his company’s award for lifetime achievement in October. His departure touches off a national search for the company’s next director; no interim director has been named at this point. Hammond will teach this spring at Harvard and continue teaching at UNC and NYU. He is also contemplating directing projects in Italy and South America and writing a book on Shakespeare.

And the (ivy-covered) walls come tumbling down
For decades, “artistic differences” kept UNC’s departments of Dramatic Art and Music from collaborating on a show. But that was before management changes in both programs–and a noteworthy co-production of The Cradle Will Rock this past November. As we’ve now seen, Glasnost works. It continues in March, when the DDA ventures out again with the UNC and Duke music departments to produce Kurt Weill’s opera The Seven Deadly Sins at UNC’s Kenan Theater.

Why we can’t ignore Elon University in 2006

“Hmm … Vagina Monologues–check … The Trojan Women–OK … The Heidi Chronicles–sure … What’s this–Urinetown??”

Greensboro was the first North Carolina city to stage this funny, heart-filled, Tony Award-winning 2002 musical. Now Burlington gets it–before Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill. In the Valentine’s Day slot at Elon: Feb. 9-12 at McCrary Theatre. We’ll be there.

Augusto Boal comes to Chapel Hill

The name may not exactly be a household word among the golden circle set, but as a founder of the Theater of the Oppressed movement, Augusto Boal has demonstrated–repeatedly and graphically–that theater indeed can change the world. Boal’s work has helped poor and disenfranchised communities around the globe find social justice by publicly staging the challenges they face. He comes to UNC for an international conference on his movement May 18-21, and gives pre-conference workshops May 15-18. Visiting companies will perform throughout.

The death penalty project

While we’re on the subject, the Justice Theater Project may have been quiet since their February 2005 production of Witness, but they’ve been anything but dormant. More than a year in the making, the group has been studying the death penalty in North Carolina, up close: Personally interviewing family members of murder victims, police officers, clergy and politicians, along with the condemned–and the exonerated. We’ll see the results of their research in the coming year.

And that’s not all…
Jay O’Berski, the new associate artistic director at Manbites Dog Theater, reports that the theater is in direct negotiation with playwright Will Eno for the rights to his Off-Broadway smash Thom Pain (Based on Nothing). If they get the nod, look for it in June. O’Berski’s other modest goals for 2006? (1) Rescue Chekhov from the dusty Brits in a “blown apart” version of Three Sisters (On Ice), featuring Katja Hill, Dana Marks and Gigi Delizza–and a live d.j. –April 27-May 14; (2) Raise funds to raise the roof–or at least the low, artificial ceiling–in Manbites’ Foster Street theater space; and (3) Help Debra Winstead’s brand-new Glass House Theatre in its inaugural production of David Ives’ Ancient History, Feb. 2-12 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham.

Literally dozens of productions promise something out of the ordinary in the coming months. Over the past year, Duke Theater Studies and Slavic Languages professor Jody McAuliffe has translated and adapted Gogol’s The Inspector General; she directs her version, The Special Prosecutor, at Sheafer Theater April 7-15. And both hands theater company has announced it will stage “the finished version” of Brooms: a play about saying yes, with Leigh Holmes, Dana Marks, Kendall Rileigh and Jane Allen Wilson, July 13-23 at Manbites Dog. The “staged reading” of the play the company gave in June 2004 made the critics’ best-of lists that year.