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Arts & Culture

NC State LIVE Enjoying Strong Run of Sold-Out Shows

Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in Stewart Theatre was one of several recent sold-out. shows for NC State LIVE!
Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in Stewart Theatre was one of several recent sold-out shows for NC State LIVE.

Across the country, arts institutions are still feeling the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic as they struggle to regain their audience numbers. At NC State, however, that’s far from the case. 

NC State LIVE has seen extraordinary success with its performing arts programming throughout the 2023-24 school year, with five recent public performances plus three student matinees for local elementary schools all selling out. 

“I feel very grateful,” said Liza Green, NC State LIVE’s interim director. “ In general, 2023 was a really hard year for theater and music venues across the country. In Raleigh, in the Triangle and on this campus in particular, it feels like there’s a certain energy and enthusiasm for the arts. Folks here want to come back and be in community with each other. I’ve felt that since our 50th anniversary season in 2022-23. And this year has been even bigger.”

For example, one of NC State LIVE’s recent shows featured a performance from French dance troupe Compagnie Hervé KOUBI, “What the Day Owes to the Night.” The Jan. 27 show in Stewart Theatre sold out quickly, and Green explained that NC State LIVE wanted to present the company, which features North African dancers, since before the pandemic when she had the opportunity to see them perform in New York. 

Green called the performers’ movements inspiring and thought the beauty of their images and marketing materials had much to do with the performance selling out.

“If you had asked me if a dance performance in late January would sell out, I would say no way,” Green said. “It’s not a typical occurrence. But I think because of where we are, this enthusiasm of our audiences and our students to come back, combined with the ingenuity of this dance company, it was just kind of a perfect mix.”

Folks here want to come back and be in community with each other.

NC State LIVE has also reaped the benefits of connections and support it has offered to local artists, particularly during difficult times in recent years. 

In early-mid February, NC State LIVE sold out all four performances of “When We Were Queens…” at the North Carolina Museum of Art, a world-premiere created by Durham-based cellist Shana Tucker and Saxapahaw-based French choreographer Murielle Elizéon. NC State offered residency to both artists during the COVID-19 pandemic and commissioned this new work.

When We Were Queens
When We Were Queens.

“One thing we did during COVID was try to support the local arts infrastructure here, including artists who were working for social justice and really just trying to survive and make sense of that time,” Green said.

For NC State LIVE, the return to large crowds is a welcome bounce back from the years immediately following the height of the pandemic, when Green said the program was grateful for any sort of audience. 

Those included parking lot and pop-up concerts throughout campus before slowly building back to full audiences in theater spaces before the crowds returned with a vengeance. 

“There does just seem to be some sort of electricity in the air that people want to be out and are really appreciative of this moment and how the arts can bring us together,” Green said. “There’s a lot of research on how the arts are healing and can help improve our mental health and overall wellbeing. I see this as I watch our audiences connect to each other and our artists. They have such a strong desire to engage in the world and in the arts, and I’m just grateful they’re choosing us.”

There does just seem to be some sort of electricity in the air.

Green said that, after having live shows with big audiences taken away during the pandemic, she feels there’s a greater appreciation for them now. 

“I feel grateful for the support that we get here that allows us to bring in innovative programming and artists who people have maybe never heard of but are willing to take a chance on because they trust us and are curious,” she said. “Our audiences ask thought-provoking questions, they want to learn something, they want to be a part of something bigger.”

NC State LIVE’s leadership is optimistic about the sellouts continuing but is also determined to keep providing high-quality, engaging programs to keep audiences coming back for more. 

 “I don’t ever want to count on a sold-out experience,” Green said. “There are so many events going on all the time, not only over campus but all over the Triangle. We’re just a part of it. Being part of such a vibrant arts community is a real joy. And it gives me hope for the future that students want to see something unique; they want to experience cultures they’ve never experienced, music they’ve never heard, and dance they’ve never seen. These sold-out shows are a testament to that.”