Based Indoors, Magnetic Pivots Into Outdoor Theater Company During Pandemic

Feb 22, 2021

Kirby Gibson (left) and Scott Fisher rehearsing a scene from "Something I Cared About," along the Reed Creek Greenway.
Credit Matt Peiken | BPR News

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon along the Reed Creek Greenway in north Asheville. As joggers and people walking dogs pass by, actors are running through a new play, performed in vignettes over a mile-long stretch of the trail.

“Something I Cared About” is the first in what the Magnetic Theatre’s leaders are hoping will become a “Walking with Magnetic” series of outdoor shows. “Something I Cared About” runs Saturday and Sunday afternoons through March 14.

It’s just the latest in a string of inventive pivots for a company built on original shows inside its home theater in the River Arts District.

“We realized that we want to produce a season in 2021 and, so, how are we going to do that?” said Katie Jones is the company’s artistic director. “We realized that we’re going to have to do everything outside. We wanted to find not just the kind of shows you’d see inside only them outside, but shows that are fitted to outdoor spaces.”

Early in the pandemic, the company video-streamed theater, but then committed to live, outdoor shows in front of in-person audiences. It started with sketch comedy in the parking lot of an Asheville realtor. Magnetic then produced weekly shows in the summer and fall on the small stage at Smoky Park Summer Club. The “Walking With Magnetic” series, barring weather, makes Magnetic the only theater company in this region with a full spring calendar.

All the while, Jones is committed to retaining a currently dark theater space in the River Arts District. Rent is $2,400, and the company covers it through ticket sales, enrollment in courses ranging from improv and storytelling to voice acting, along with a play-reading service for local playwrights. Magnetic has also received about 350 submissions for a one-act play festival it’s planning for June.

Jones and the company’s executive director haven’t taken salaries since last April.

“We both just want the company to be ok and cutting our salaries made a substantial amount of difference, because if we hadn’t, we’d be sitting on zero dollars right now,” Jones said. “We’ve had to just dramatically reduce our expenses in order to be able to still pay people and make quality work.”