Each year Spoleto Festival USA comes to Charleston for 17 days to showcase international performing arts. Founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the festival has become a world-renowned event, attracting artists, performers, and attendees from across the globe.
From Jazz at the Playhouse to Pulitzer Prize winning Opera to Physical and Musical Theater to Chamber Music and so much more; anyone can have an outstanding time at Spoleto Festival shows. With a wide range of performances and events taking place over the 17 days, the festival can be overwhelming for first-time festival goers. To help you make the most of your Spoleto experience, we’ve put together a list of 17 things to know before you go.
17 Things to Know Before the 17 Days:
1. Get your tickets at the Charleston Visitor Center Ticket Kiosk!
Come find us at the Charleston Visitor Center at 375 Meeting Street
Kiosk Hours 🔽🔽🔽
Open daily, from 9:00pm to 5:00pm
2. Already purchased your tickets?
Digital tickets were sent our starting May 1st. Any digital ticket orders since are emailed directly after your purchase!
Opted for printed tickets? The deadline has pasted for mailed printed tickets. Any tickets purchased before the deadline were mailed out and should be making their way to you now! You can still opt for printed tickets however, they will be at the box office at the respective venue for will call. Arrive 20 minutes before the performance start time to get checked in and find your seats!
3. ! New ! Clear bag policy
This year Spoleto Festival USA has adopted a clear bag policy for all of our venues (with the exception of Firefly Distillery). Clear bags will be sold at each venue while supplies last.
- Clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC bags that do not exceed 12″ x 6″ x 12.” Logos may only appear on one side. – A logo no larger than 4.5″ x 3.4″ can be displayed on one side of a permissible clear bag.
- Clear plastic freezer bags. (Ziploc bag or similar)
- Small clutch bags must be smaller no larger than 4.5″ x 6.5.” (with or without a handle or strap).
- Exceptions will be made for medically necessary items, or diaper bags for families with infants or toddlers in tow. These items will be subject to search at designated entrance points.
Prohibited items include, but are not limited to: Larger purses, camera bags, backpacks, fanny packs, luggage, computer bags, briefcases, and binocular cases are prohibited.
Due to the picnic tradition of Festival Finale, security protocols for Firefly Distillery are slightly modified. Attendees may bring in coolers, blankets, folding chairs, and aerosol cans of bug spray. The clear bag policy does not apply at Firefly Distillery, but all persons and their items are subject to search. Alcohol is available for purchase for attendees age 21+. No outside alcohol is permitted.
4. Reading List
Whether you’re a seasoned Spoleto supporter or new to the Festival, delve deeper into the richness and diversity of the musicians, composers, actors, dancers, artists, and more coming to Charleston this month! Check out our 2023 Spoleto Festival Reading List to deepen yourself with this years themes and performances.
Spoleto Festival USA welcomes artists and performers from around the world to Charleston, SC each year. Check out all of our events and performances here.
From long time Spoleto Festival Artists like Anthony Roth Costanzo in Only an Octave Apart, to Charleston natives like Jonathan Heyward and Micah McLaurin in Symphonie Fantastique, to completely new performers to Spoleto like Tank and the Bangas at the Festival Finale, this year is filled with diverse talent for all audiences.
At high noon opening day, the Charleston community gathers at the steps of City Hall at Broad and Meeting Streets to welcome the 47th season of Spoleto Festival USA. This event is free and open to the public and tickets are not required.
This beloved tradition opens with the National Anthem, performed in 2023 by Nicole Heaston, who appears in the title role of Vanessa. Following remarks from the Chair of the Board Alicia Gregory, Spoleto General Director & CEO Mena Mark Hanna, and Mayor John Tecklenburg.
The ceremony concludes with special performances from the Charleston Jazz Academy Advanced Student Combo performing Abdullah Ibrahim‘s Jabula, and Ingoma Nshya, the Women Drummers of Rwanda, featured in The Book of Life.
Read more here.
7. Tickets are STILL available
Tickets are still available to almost all shows for the 2023 Festival. So far, Nickel Creek is the only show sold out. Tickets are going fast, secure the best seats now!
8. New performances added!
Leyla McCalla: The New Orleans-based singer and multi-instrumentalist, joins the Spoleto Festival USA lineup for a rousing opening night performance in the Cistern Yard! For a sound at once earthy, elegant, and soulful—vibrating with Creole, Cajun, and American jazz and folk influences—singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla mines her Haitian American heritage. Formerly a cellist with the Grammy-winning string band Carolina Chocolate Drops and part of the ensemble Our Native Daughters, the “liquid-voiced” McCalla topped NPR’s “Best Roots Music of 2022” with her latest solo project, Breaking the Thermometer.
Brandee Younger: In a five show residency, part of our new Jazz at the Playhouse series, the Grammy-nominated Brandee Younger presents her signature “dreamy, harp-forward, R&B-inflected jazz” (NPR). She’s revolutionizing the instrument for the 21st century, stretching its boundaries and musical limitations. Along the way, she’s worked with cultural icons including Common, Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, and Stevie Wonder—not to mention some of jazz’s current greats, from Ravi Coltrane to Reggie Workman.
Dinner & A Show: Charleston Magazine’s Guide To Great Eats Within A Few Minutes Walk Of Spoleto Venues Downtown
Dining out is sacred, especially for Spoleto Festival USA fans. Trying to find a quick meal before or after performances is tricky, to help you plan your dining experience, Charleston Magazine put together a guide featuring great restaurants located around the downtown venues. Remember to book your reservations in advance and allow plenty of time to enjoy your meal and make it to the show without having to think twice.
Read more here.
10. The Venues
Dock Street Theatre: As perhaps the most beloved venue at Spoleto, the Dock Street Theatre will continue to charm this year with an exciting lineup for the 2023 Festival. Situated in the heart of historic downtown Charleston, this stunning theater accommodates a range of programming, with a performance space suited for everything from larger-than-life cabaret reminiscent of a big city production, to intimate pieces like the compelling one-person performance of An Iliad.
Queen Street Playhouse: Queen Street Playhouse will be added to festival goers routes about town this season as Spoleto adds a new venue to its stable of performance spaces. Located in the heart of Charleston’s historic district, this cozy brick venue boasts the rustic charm and warm acoustics perfect for a jazz quartet or a brand-new production featuring an operatic tenor or a jazz harpist returning to Spoleto Festival for the second time.
The Charleston Gaillard Center: Home to many Spoleto Festival USA performances, the Gaillard Center is close to our hearts—figuratively and literally. Found just a few steps from the Festival’s home at 14 George. This Festival season, the Gaillard Center is featuring an amazing set of performances: a tribute to Spoleto’s late Director of Chamber music Geoff Nuttall, opera Vanessa with a Pulitzer Prize winning score, the Scottish Ballet‘s adaptation of The Crucible by Arthur Miller, The Rite of Spring conducted by John Kennedy, Mei-Ann Chen leading the New World Symphony, and Symphonie Fantastique lead by Jonathon Heyward featuring soloist Micah McLaurin.
Festival Hall: Festival Hall on Beaufain Street plays home to a variety of productions at Spoleto Festival USA, a tribute to its versatility as a venue. Essentially a 10,000+ sq. ft. black box theater, it’s the only Festival venue operated by Spoleto Festival USA and it offers a dynamic performance space that will play host to acrobats, theater productions, and music.
The College of Charleston Cistern Yard: No doubt one of Spoleto Festival USA’s most cherished venues, the College of Charleston Cistern Yard hosts a range of evening performances in 2023, from a night of Haitian inspired folk music to a serene night of jazz piano, progressive bluegrass to powerful folk and electronic classical-pop. And with its towering live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, it’s easily one of the most picturesque venues.
The College of Charleston Sottile Theatre: Behind a shimmering King Street marquee is the historic Sottile Theatre, a now College of Charleston theater that has become a staple venue for the Festival.
The Sottile plays host to two dance performances, the first from South African choreographer Dada Masilo: The Sacrifice, and from Spoleto alum and Funny Girl tap choreographer Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic. Later in the Festival, the Spoleto Festival USA Chorus and Orchestra will unite at the Sottile for an evening anchored by Handel’s Dixit Dominus, and the legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning Henry Threadgill and his ensemble Zooid take the Sottile stage on the Wells Fargo Jazz series.
Firefly Distillery: Found in North Charleston, Firefly Distillery was home to last years finale featuring Shakey Graves. Pack your coolers, blankets, chairs and snacks for an outdoor show ending the night and 2023 Festival Season with Bangas (and fireworks)!
We are selling tickets for select shows for the first time at Spoleto Festival USA for our Pay What You Will program. An anonymous donation of $50,000 allowed for 1,300 tickets to become available to a new audience. Shows include jazz star Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and a theatrical performance featuring an all-women Rwandan drum group, “The Book of Life.”
“As Charleston continues to grow rapidly, we want to ensure that the arts serve as a connective tissue across our community. By lowering one barrier to entry, we hope to create a culture of belonging that welcomes curious new audience members. Our doors are open.”–Mena Mark Hanna, CEO and General Director of Spoleto Festival USA.
12. Spoleto Sips
Your favorite bars and restaurants are creating 2023 Spoleto Festival USA inspired cocktails to celebrate this years artists and performances. Check back for more information closer to the Festival.
Sign up for our newsletter here to get all the updates!
13. The Finale
The anticipated Spoleto Festival Finale is happening on June 11 with performances starting at 6:00PM. Pack a picnic and head to Firefly Distillery to celebrate the end of the 2023 Festival Season!
Featuring Tank and the Bangas, the Wells Fargo Festival Finale is one for the books. Tank and the Bangas consists of lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball, drummer Joshua Johnson, multi-instrumentalist Norman Spence, and saxophonist Albert Allenback. Closing out the show will be a fireworks display that you cannot miss! As the sun sets and the finale wraps up, celebrate together to send off the 2023 Spoleto Festival USA season with an illuminated sky, great music, some Spoleto Sips, and friends & family.
14. Piccolo Spoleto
The Piccolo Spoleto Festival annually presents a varied program that includes visual arts exhibitions, performances of classical music, jazz, dance, theater, and choral music, cultural events and community celebrations, poetry readings, children’s activities, craft shows, and film screenings. Read more on events for Piccolo Spoleto on their website.
As a donor of Spoleto Festival USA, you are eligible to receive an array of benefits designed to enhance your Festival experience. Donors enjoy advance program information, access to pre-sale tickets, exclusive behind-the-scenes opportunities, special interactions with Festival artists, and more. For more information on Festival Circle and Spoleto Society, read more here.
Support. Connect. Experience. Network. Enjoy.
This dynamic group of patrons ages 21 to 35 supports the Festival’s artistic programming with a charitable gift, connects with Festival artists and staff, experiences the Festival in a new and richer way, networks with peers during performances and events, and enjoys exclusive benefits such as discounts on performances, behind-the-scenes opportunities, and invitations to SCENE-only parties and happy hours.
For questions or to join, please contact Individual Giving and Stewardship Manager Chloe McIntosh at 843.720.1179 or [email protected].
Spoleto Bridge is a membership group for loyal Festival supporters ages 36-50 who are somewhere between SCENE and Spoleto Society. We invite you to join and possibly reconnect with former SCENE members while spending a few evenings with like-minded performing arts lovers and enjoying Charleston leading up to and during the Festival. Enjoy discounts on various performances, access to select reserved seats, and of course, exclusive private events designed for Bridge.
For questions or to join, please contact Associate Director of Individual Giving Caroline Poe at 843.720.1176 or [email protected].
Inspired by Geoff’s insatiable curiosity and enthusiasm for chamber music, the Geoff Nuttall Legacy Fund propels Geoff’s vision for the future of Spoleto. Your support will directly impact chamber music programming; education programs, including bringing chamber music artists into local classrooms as well as students to the Dock Street Theatre to experience concerts; and interdisciplinary artistic innovation and creation.
Get tickets to the Celebrating Geoff Nuttall Legacy Concert here.
Apprentices were welcomed this week for 2023 Spoleto Festival USA! Apprentices are in many of our departments like:
- Artist Services
- Box Office
- Special Events
- Chorus/Orchestra Library
- Orchestra Personnel
- Chorus Personnel
- Music Operations
The Apprenticeship Program is a unique, short-term employment opportunity to develop skills under the guidance of professional arts administrators and technicians while assisting in producing an international arts festival. Apprentices work a minimum of 40 hours per week in a specific department. Many colleges and universities recognize the Apprenticeship Program as a paid internship for required credits. Past employees in this program have gone on to work for major arts organizations and production companies around the world.
Please check back in Fall 2023 to apply for our 2024 Apprenticeship Program.
17. Spoleto history
Spoleto Festival USA was founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who sought to create an American counterpart to the annual Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, that he founded in 1958. Looking for a city that would provide the charm of Spoleto as well as its wealth of theaters, churches and other performances spaces, Menotti selected Charleston as the ideal location. The historic city provided a perfect fit: it was intimate enough that the Festival would captivate the entire city, yet cosmopolitan enough to provide an enthusiastic audience and robust infrastructure. Championed by a young Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. and College of Charleston’s then-president Theodore Stern, Spoleto Festival USA held its inaugural season in 1977.
“Spoleto Festival USA put Charleston on the map” — The Post and Courier
Spoleto has also served as a catalyst for cultural change in Charleston, aiding in the city’s flourishing as a top destination. Together with the city and community leaders, Spoleto has spearheaded the renovations of numerous performance spaces: Festival Hall, Dock Street Theatre, College of Charleston Sottile Theatre, and the Charleston Gaillard Center.
Since its inaugural season, Spoleto Festival USA has established itself as America’s premier performing arts festival. For 17 days and nights beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, Spoleto fills Charleston with renowned artists and emerging performers in disciplines including opera, theater, dance, and a wide range of music—from symphonic and chamber to choral, jazz, and folk.
“Spoleto’s lineup is always tantalizingly diverse and talent-packed” — Departures
In a typical season, Spoleto mounts 150 performances in more than 10 venues. The Festival also produces its own operas, specializing in rarely performed masterpieces by well-known composers, American premieres, and traditional works presented in new ways. In its 45 year history, the Festival has produced and/or presented more than 20 opera, dance, and theater world premieres including Tennessee Williams’s Creve Coeur (1978); Arthur Miller’s The American Clock (1980); Laurie Anderson’s Empty Places (1989); Urban Bush Women’s Praise House (1990); Philip Glass’s Hydrogen Jukebox (1990); Lee Breuer’s Lulu Noire (1997); Huang Ruo’s Paradise Interrupted (2015); Carrie Mae Weems’s Grace Notes: Reflections for Now (2016); Ayodele Casel’s While I Have the Floor (2017).