Since end-of-year wrap-ups inevitably use a lot of figures, let’s start with the most improbable one of all: 338, for the number of theater and dance productions staged in North Carolina’s Triangle region during 2023. For those counting, it was an all-time high in terms of yearly output for the area, a remarkable comeback for the two art forms that had been most threatened during the first three years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No, we couldn’t see them all. The curated lists of superlatives here come from the one-hundred shows we did view from the region’s major companies and selected up-and-comers through the year.

The only way a region produces 338 different shows is with a large pool of artists and an even more extensive community of support. Those whose job it is to fret over even good news wondered at year’s-end how sustainable such a level of output could be. We’ll get an answer to that question in the coming year.

Included in that number was the February bow for North Carolina composer Rhiannon Giddens‘ opera, Omar, which won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music, at Carolina Performing Arts, which co-commissioned the work. EggNYMPH Artist Collective’s notable springtime debut with Annie Baker‘s drama The Aliens was also counted, along with the 21 plays produced at the National Women’s Theatre Festival’s midsummer Fringe.

The total included two new works this fall at Duke: Lunar Rhapsody, Obie award-winning Puerto Rican playwright José Rivera‘s latest drama, which incubated in September in the Drama program’s New Works Lab, and Ballet Ashani‘s regional premiere, a new stage adaptation of James Baldwin’s controversial novel Giovanni’s Room, by choreographer Iyun Ashani Harrison.

It even included both October runs of Stephen King’s Misery at Raleigh Little Theatre and PlayMakers Rep, whose overlapping productions, just 20 miles apart, were the dubious gift of a glitch in the licensing rights.

But even in the midst of such abundance, disturbing developments were never far away. Though artists were clearly itching to get back on stage, audiences were slower in reciprocating, particularly at larger companies with older patron bases.

After returning to production in October 2022 with the premiere of Pittsboro playwright Mike Wiley‘s Rebellious, sluggish sales and a conspicuous drop in individual donations forced Greensboro’s Triad Stage to cancel a spring production and sell off its scene shop and warehouse in April, before it permanently closed in June.

North Carolina Theatre weathered similar setbacks as well. After announcing in February that the company would decamp from their long-time venue in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and produce their entire season in the smaller Fletcher Opera Theater at Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts, NCT posted a $950,000 deficit on their 2022 tax forms in August. Three months later, the group announced they needed to raise $500,000 in order to stay in production, and would need more support going forward.

Not all difficulties regional companies faced were financial. Following a company-best production of Or, a deft dramatic comedy based on the life of Aphra Behn, the promising young Switchyard Theatre imploded in July. The end came when a number of women in the group resigned en masse after concluding that a production had disregarded sections of the Chicago Theatre Standards, a series of protocols designed to protect theater artists.

Shortages in space, support and other snags led to missing shows in the last half of the year from prominent companies Honest Pint, Sweet Tea Shakespeare, and RedBird Theater, which cancelled a November production of Dominic Morrisseau‘s Pipeline. And theater and dance companies lost a long-time platform for reviews when budget cuts forced Durham’s INDY Week to move to a fortnightly publication schedule in June.

So much for the bad news.

There was also much to celebrate throughout the year. In January, Nice White Parents 2016, Tamara Kissane‘s sharp-toothed meditation on liberal Southern culture, politics and race premiered in Greensboro, recipient of the city’s New Play Project award. The month also ushered in the year of actor Tia James at PlayMakers Rep, where she delivered a striking performance in the title role of Hamlet, before leading roles in the Lynn Nottage drama Clyde’s in September and Much Ado About Nothing in November.

Paradox Opera, a newly emerging company, would have challenged the artistic courage and conscience of our time by merely commissioning a series of new songs on the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. But to make sure they got the point, maverick artistic director Alissa Roca then staged the work in March on Raleigh’s Bicentennial Plaza – across the street from the North Carolina State Legislature. The production also generated the contemporary opera company’s delightful first music video, for the Rachel Dean/Erin Reifler song “Calling for Jane,” viewable on YouTube. (The group will stage Amahl and the Night Visitors Jan. 12-13 in Hillsborough.)

March was also when we gladly went to church for quadruple-threat Tristan André‘s soulful, stirring solo show, They Do Not Know Harlem at PlayMakers Rep. Under Kathryn Hunter-William‘s direction, André’s sharp-eyed, autobiographical exploration of Black queerness, over his own lifetime as well as the life of mid-century novelist and playwright James Baldwin, fused music and dynamic, African-influenced choreography in an arresting rite of muscular, spiritual and ultimately exuberant communion. Dotty DL Zene‘s serene vocals, over Alan Thompson‘s tasteful blues, jazz and soul-based arrangements, Joseph Amodei‘s thoughtful projections, and Kathy Perkins‘ dramatic, atmospheric lights on Jan Chambers‘ ambient, minimal stage, gave this energetic but confessional multimedia, multi-genre work a perfect setting.

In May, new company Scrap Paper Shakespeare took a big step forward in their outdoor production of As You Like It in Duke Gardens, and a further leap with their July take on George Bernard Shaw’s absurdist anti-war comedy Arms and the Man, before the reach-exceeding-grasp endeavor in their one-night Henriad, Prince Hal.

Also notable in May: veteran Mary Rowland’s solid Prosper and emerging actor Xenon Winslow’s remarkable physicalized performance as the mischievous Ariel under Max Kaufman’s direction in Switchyard Theatre’s The Tempest.

In September, Center Theater Company, an emerging children’s theater group that offers professional-level drama classes for kids, took over the old ArtsCenter space and its Earl Wynn Theater. The group immediately began hosting regional companies including Stone Soup‘s Cabaret and Company Carolina‘s Alice By Heart, before veteran Derrick Ivey helmed a strong holiday production of A Christmas Carol.

October put McGregor Hall in Henderson firmly on the regional theater map with their singularly robust production of the daunting historical musical, Ragtime. It also saw, a year after identifiable trans characters began appearing in dance and theater productions on regional stages, one of the first gray-asexual characters as well. That’s how I interpreted actor Emily Rieder‘s discerning work as Hannah Jarvis at Burning Coal Theatre, in the most accomplished production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia that this region has ever seen.

These all occurred before a 50-year torch was passed on December 17. That night, Ira David Wood III, who wrote Theatre in the Park‘s big-stage musical version of A Christmas Carol and has played the lead since 1974, gave his final performance as Ebenezer Scrooge at Durham Performing Arts Center

What innovations, triumphs and moments of unalloyed wonder await in 2024?

Let’s find out.

See you there.



1. Theatre Raleigh, Barbecue

Robert O’Hara’s (poorly-named) comedy ruthlessly grills cultural expectations by setting up what seems to be a comic intervention among the grown children of a very dysfunctional lower-class white family – and then restaging, in the following scene, the same scenario with a black family instead. Director Aurelia Belfield got top-grade performances from an all-star cast, as the plot flipped (and flipped again), in a work that keeps asking us the pointed question, “Is it funny now?“  


2. Burning Coal Theatre, Arcadia

Tom Stoppard’s fiendishly difficult play is a two-hour game of intellectual detective work for thirteen actors. Fortunately, director Jerome Davis’s cast was more than up for the gig. The puzzle involved in sussing out of the fate of an Ada Lovelace-like character across scenes one century apart ultimately reveals the sobering truth: how much has to go right – and keep going right – for a woman’s genius to be recognized, in the 1800s and today.


3. Brian Brooks, Wave Theory, American Dance Festival

In this atmospheric, stand-out work, pre-professional students at the ADF school formed a series of waves that pass through various scientific permutations and levels of standard deviation, in a thought-provoking marriage of music, science and investigative choreography. A lovely and sometimes chilly dance for a world in global warming. 


4. PlayMakers Repertory Company, They Do Not Know Harlem

See the description in the essay above.


5. Burning Coal Theatre, Mlima’s Tale

Under Ana Radulescu’s direction and Willie Hinton’s striking choreography, Preston Campbell gave physical integrity to the title character, the ghost of a bull elephant, who haunted his hunters – and us – as playwright Lynn Nottage traced a line of culpability and privileged corruption from the African bush to a penthouse in Hong Kong.


6. Burning Coal Theatre, The Cherry Orchard

In Randolph Curtis Rand’s incisive, ironic adaptation, Chekhov’s orchard is on a plantation in the deep South. As descendants of the enslaved watch its inheritors (including Lynda Clark’s comic Love), slowly run it into the ground, Juan Isler’s sometimes bemused, sometimes aghast Yermolai comes up with a plan that saves everyone – and no one. 


7. RedBird Theater, Red

Director and Manbites Dog Theater co-founder Jeff Storer returned in triumph to the regional stage with longtime design collaborators and mainstay actor Derrick Ivey, in this moody biography of painter Mark Rothko.


8. McGregor Hall, Ragtime

Henderson, North Carolina’s McGregor Hall took on one of the hardest musicals to stage, and pulled it off with élan – even if lighting was troublesome on occasion.


9. Honest Pint Theatre, A Steady Rain

This tense revival of Honest Pint’s inaugural production was a police procedural gone sideways, as Ryan Brock and David Henderson’s gritty characters interrogated each other and themselves about a particularly dangerous, interpersonal felony: a betrayal of trust in their long-term partnership.


10. Switchyard Theatre, Or,

Credit the dressers and folks backstage too in this nimble intellectual and feminist door-slamming farce. Aphra Behn (superb Laurel Ullman) juggles a dalliance with King Charles II (Ryan McDaniel), an interview at gunpoint with double agent William Scot (Ryan), and an interlude with increasingly amorous actress Nell Gwynne (Kelly McDaniel) with a deadline imposed by a London theater-owner (Kelly) – which determines if she’s actually going to become England’s first woman playwright or not. At least Switchyard went out on top in their final production.


11. eggNYMPH Artist Collective, The Aliens

A fine first production of Annie Baker’s slice-of-life shoegaze drama about two youngish neuroatypicals, stuck in life, whose hanging out in back of a coffeehouse is one of the few things keeping them alive.


12. Manic Pixie Nightmare, National Women’s Theatre Festival

Impact, National Women’s Theatre Festival

Adults, National Women’s Theatre Festival

In Kimi Handa Brown’s Manic Pixie Nightmare, the central character’s charm slowly erodes as the dysfunctions behind a long-term cultural meme finally get a good forensic examination. In her pensive, sometimes funny solo autobiographical musical, Impact, Amy Englehardt threads through the life coincidences that connect her through a former college roommate to the Lockerbie air disaster. And actors Angela Kabasan-González and Natalie Payán flashbacked across time and languages to process the grief at the death of their characters’ mother in Maizy Broderick Scarpa’s rewarding Adults.


13. Theatre Raleigh, The Weight of Everything We Know

The carbonated world premiere of this science geek romance proved the North Carolina Playwrights Lab knew what it was doing when it gave local playwright Allan Maule the nod for it last year.


14. Scrap Paper Shakespeare, Arms and the Man

Bryson David Hoff, Emma Szuba and Bryce Shipman anchored George Bernard Shaw’s rarely-produced anti-war farce, deftly puncturing social proprieties (and the conflicting etiquettes in warfare and romance) on a postage stamp-sized set.



Ada Chang, Sean “Ickye” Delgado-Cruz, Khalil LeSaldo, Mlima’s Tale

Gerald Campbell, Lakeisha Coffey, Hazel Edmond, Ali Evarts, David Henderson, Kyma Lassiter, Jenny Latimer, Kelly Mizell, Julie Oliver, Eden Sharp, Barbecue, Theatre Raleigh



Ryan Brock, David Henderson, A Steady Rain

Tia James, Hamlet

Preston Campbell, Mlima’s Tale

Tristan Andre, They Do Not Know Harlem

Derrick Ivey, Trevon Carr, Red

Ashlyn Parsons, Aaron C. Alderman, The Aliens

Lynda Clark, Juan Isler, The Cherry Orchard

Ra’Chel Fowler, Brian Yandle, The Best of Enemies, Justice Theater Project

Shubhangi Kuchibhotla, Jeff Ronan, The Weight of Everything We Know

Laurel Ullman, Or,

Emma Szuba, Bryson David Hoff, Arms and the Man

Susanna Skaggs, Daniel Ryder, Arcadia

Simon Kaplan, Tamara Farias, Moonlight, Burning Coal Theatre

Kristopher Hanks, Marcus Zollicoffer, The Case for the Existence of God, Bulldog Ensemble Theater



DJ Brinson, Amanda Lee Scherle, The Best of Enemies

Xenon Winslow, The Tempest, Switchyard Theatre

Kelly McDaniel, Ryan McDaniel, Or, 

Jim O’Brien, Benji Taylor Jones, Arms and the Man

Miles “Wyn” Purvis, Ride The Cyclone, Stone Soup Theatre

Byron Jennings, Maggie Lea, Ian Finley, Arcadia

Rasool Jahan, Hamlet



A Steady Rain, Honest Pint

Mlima’s Tale, Burning Coal

They Do Not Know Harlem, PlayMakers Rep

Omar, Carolina Performing Arts

Arcadia, Burning Coal



They Do Not Know Harlem, PlayMakers Rep

AUTONOMY, Paradox Opera

Giovanni’s Room, Ballet Ashani

The Night Walker, Odyssey Stage

Arcadia, Burning Coal

Barbecue, Theatre Raleigh