Our list of fall picks is drawn from roughly 85 touring and local theater and dance productions slated between now and the end of the season. Yes, that’s a lot of shows: an average of six per week between now and December 31.

It also is well below half the number of productions our region has routinely mounted pre-pandemic. Even before the rise of the Delta variant, performing arts companies and presenters were warning us that business as usual wasn’t in the cards for local live arts this fall.

If most companies survived closure for more than a year, the majority are only offering a fraction of their usual output. Others, including notables like Honest Pint, Bulldog Ensemble Theater, and Bare Theatre, are waiting until next season (or year) to return.

Among the season’s outliers of all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas, a brave new Durham theater company, Stone Soup, launches the manic musical Shakespeare send-up, Something Rotten!, for a weekend at the NC Museum of Art before a two-weekend run at Chapel Hill’s Forest Theatre, and DPAC hosts the touring production of The Band’s Visit, the winsome Broadway musical about a ceremonial Egyptian band stuck for the night in an Israeli backwater town.

For the rest, over half of the shows on our list have at most a cast of three, like Burning Coal’s revival of South African playwright Athol Fugard’s drama The Road to Mecca. (Technically, A Thousand Ways (Part Two)—the ultimately minimalist follow-up to 600 Highwaymen’s intriguing springtime telephone drama about intimacy—has a cast of zero: two unrehearsed audience members, following cues from a deck of index cards, are the only ones in the theater during four daily afternoon and evening shows.)

A larger ensemble propels PlayMakers Repertory through its November season opener The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder’s one-family assessment of civilization and its discontents.

Sometimes, though, the smaller the cast, the bigger the impact. And sometimes just one person can speak incisively to the myriad disconnects between the worlds of Black and white culture, art, and dance, as Thomas DeFrantz does for his company, SLIPPAGE, in I Am Black [you have to be willing to not know] and White Privilege.

A single actor can enlist us as a community of compassion. Brainy actor Thaddaeus Edwards enters into thoughtful dialogue with audiences in Every Brilliant Thing for Justice Theater Project. His middle-aged character gets us to help read entries from a list he began at age seven: things worth living for that might keep his mother from hurting herself again. As the list grows, this life-affirming work considers and reconsiders those things that isolate and unite us.

One actor can also let us know how alone their character is and how far from safety we all can be, as when actor Angela Robinson evokes the specter of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at North Carolina Theatre.

It’s a busy season for landmark local playwrights Mike Wiley and Howard L. Craft. The premiere production of their collaborative drama, Peace of Clay, at Theatre Raleigh through October 3, depicts a young Black artist through trajectories similar to those both playwrights followed, out of racial and economic disadvantages in small North Carolina towns, to bear witness to the times, places, and people they have known—and become. Wiley tours his solo show, Blood Done Sign My Name, live at Temple Theatre on October 1, with recorded versions online afterward. N.C. Central University, meanwhile, revives Craft’s early drama, The House of George, October 21–24.

In the dance world, choreographer Anna Barker was busy during the pandemic editing Level Up, her funny and revealing film in which a promising young dancemaker navigates off-stage hassles and interpersonal struggles as she attempts to emerge into her own as an artist. This slice of a dancer’s life premieres Friday and Saturday at PS37.

Later in October, the American Dance Festival presents the newest work by Philadelphia-based choreographer Raphael Xavier, The Xcope, a collaborative work combining live music and electronic technology with hip-hop aesthetics, at the Nasher Museum of Art. In December, Duke Performances presents the world premiere of ABHIPSAA – A Seeking, Bijayini Satpathy’s foray into making her first individual artistic statements through extending the precepts of Odissi, a classical Indian form she  mastered as a principal dancer with Nrityagram Dance Ensemble.

David Berberian did what more actors arguably should do when they tire of waiting for the perfect theatrical vehicle: he’s producing it himself. Berberian sought out top-shelf help for The Woolgatherer at Shadowbox Studio: Derrick Ivey directs and stage veteran Jeri Lynn Schulke co-stars in the psychologically dense two-hander in which two lonely characters in the big city may save (or betray) one another over one long night.

Finally, in the genre-defying, immersive experiences of Atmospheric Memory, Carolina Performing Arts will transform Memorial Hall in December into 18 separate arts-meets-science environments that explore scientist Charles Babbage’s idea that every word spoken lives on in the atmosphere.

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