There are a myriad of characteristics that make Spoleto Festival USA a truly unique festival. One of those special attributes is the close proximity of our venues which makes show hopping during the Festival a breeze. Get to know the nooks and crannies of Charleston a little more intimately by biking around the city and touring our venues with this Tour de Festival Venues guide.
Start your tour at the meticulously manicured gardens of the Charleston Gaillard Center. This grand hall underwent an enormous four year renovation—completed last year—to turn the old facility into a world-class performance space modeled after great neo-classical halls of Europe, and it shows. The elegant space echoes European tradition, creating a dazzling experience for Festival goers and performers alike. Craving a grand opera in a truly grand space? Indulge with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
2 | Once you’ve explored the Gaillard, head to the Woolfe Street Playhouse, a hip, cabaret-style venue that boasts two theaters, and two bars. Built in 1914, this cultural anchor between Meeting and King Street was previously the home of The Meddin Bros Meat Packing Company plant—a successful meat storage operation. The business closed in the 1980’s and the building stood vacant from 2000-2012 until Mrs. Meddin suggested the empty warehouse to Mount Pleasant’s theater company—The Village Repertory Co.—who were shopping for a new facility to call home. This season, the Festival will demonstrate how versatile this venue is with performances ranging from a Ayodele Casel’s tap dance piece While I Have The Floor; to silent films scored with a live soundtrack in Cinema and Sound.
3 | Next, you’ll find yourself at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul. Originally constructed as St. Paul’s Radcliffeborough in 1816, the church eventually merged with St. Luke’s Wraggsborough to form the Church of St. Luke and St. Paul. During the Civil War, the church remained open to welcome congregations from other churches in unsafe areas. Since 1977, Westminster Choir has been a festival favorite; making full use of the cathedral’s renowned acoustics with their powerful, sonic capabilities.
4 | The vintage marquee on the corner of King and George Streets belong to the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre. Originally named the Gloria, this theater—built by Albert Sottile—began construction in 1922. In 1927, the doors opened with a screening of Norma Shearer’s dramatic silent film, After Midnight. The Gloria was a dual purpose venue that featured evenings of vaudeville performances and films on alternate nights. In 1975, the Sottile family generously donated the theater to the College of Charleston. Since then not a lot has had to be done to preserve the venue, but one renovation in 2011 led to a fortuitous discovery: 2 large-scale 1920’s Italian murals that were concealed by acoustic tiles. See the murals for yourself while watching L-E-V dance company’s breathtaking OCD Love, or an exploration of life’s most essential themes in Gallim Dance’s W H A L E.
5 | Give your legs a break and rest on the grass under the enchanting live oaks at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard. Spoleto Festival USA’s relationship with the Cistern Yard dates back to May 25, 1977—the day the very first Opening Ceremonies took place. The oak canopied space and historic 1828 Randolph Hall backdrop has since become the perfect setting for the Wells Fargo Jazz series.
6 | Memminger Auditorium is the Festival’s most versatile venue that enjoys a historic Romanesque exterior and modern interior. This 10,000 square foot “black box” is a welcoming blank space that allows directors and set designers to turn their set dreams into reality. Watch Compagnie XY test their physical limits in Il n’est pas encore minuit.
7 | A large set of stairs covered in the shade of Spanish moss on lower King Street lead up to the Charleston Library Society. In 1748, a group of nineteen Charleston gentlemen had had enough of America’s limited selection of periodicals so they combined resources to purchase books from England. Originally, the founders elected librarians to keep the materials safe in their homes. Then, in 1914, the Society found its forever home on King Street where it remains the third oldest subscription library in the United States.
Every year you can get a closer look behind the scenes of the Festival’s performances during our free Conversations With series at the Charleston Library Society, featuring intimate conversations between CBS correspondent Martha Teichner and Festival artists.
8 | On February 12, 1736, the first building in America built exclusively for theatrical performances opened its doors for audiences to see The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar. Only four years later, the theater was engulfed by the Great Fire of 1740 that consumed many buildings in Charleston’s French Quarter. From 1809-1935, the Planter’s Hotel stood where the theater originally was until it fell into disrepair after the Civil War. As part of a Depression era relief effort, the hotel was renovated. Using the bones of the hotel and inspiration from eighteenth century London playhouses by Charleston architect and preservationist Albert Simons, The Dock Street Theatre that we enjoy today was built. Between daily double showings of Chamber Music and 18 performances of Druid’s Waiting for Godot there are plenty of chances for you to enjoy all this theater has to offer.
9 | End your tour where the Festival starts—City Hall. Home of the Festival’s Opening Ceremonies celebration for the majority of 40 seasons, Charleston’s City Hall was constructed 1800-1804 at the “Four Corners of the Law.” The site was originally set aside as a public market, where a beef mart stood from 1739-1796 until a fire destroyed it. The Hall was constructed in the elegant Adamesque style as a branch of the First Bank of the United Sates of America. In 1811 the bank was revoked by Congress, returned to the City of Charleston, and transformed into City Hall in 1818.