Powered by more than 1,200 volunteers, Live Arts is a national model for engaged community theater. For more than three decades, we’ve dedicated ourselves to the mission of “forging theater and community” in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our engagement in local communities runs deep, and we happily attract participants and audiences from across Central Virginia. We’re known for exceptionally high caliber productions that reflect the remarkable talent of our volunteer actors and productions teams. Learn about our organizational priorities in our Strategic Plan for 2021-2023.
Forging Theater and Community
We are the anchor tenant in a four-story performance space in the heart of downtown Charlottesville. We acknowledge that we occupy the ancestral home of the Monacan and Manahoac Nations and that we live on stolen land. We recognize them as the original stewards of this land and pay our respect to their elders—past, present and emerging.
We are a hub for creativity, theater education, and community connection. Each year, we present a compelling season of plays and musicals. We welcome students of all ages to our year-round classes and workshops, offer teen playwriting programs, and run youth summer camps that introduce young artists to all aspects of the theater.
We support the development of local works and provide resources for volunteer-led groups including a playwriting lab, script reading group, and costume and scenic guilds. And for more than two decades, we have provided tech support to high school and college theater companies performing in Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
As a nonprofit theater, about half of our work is supported by earned income—mostly from ticket sales, tuition, and concessions. The other half is funded by contributed income—sponsorships, grants, individual gifts, and events.
We are so grateful to each and every one of our donors. Each gift, big or small, has the power to change lives. Interested in the impact of your donation? Check out our 2020/21 Year in Review.
Live Arts: A Brief History
Live Arts started in 1989 with a group of dedicated artists and benefactors who sought a home for live performance in the heart of downtown Charlottesville. What began as the dream of a small group of passionate people has grown into a major cultural force in our community. Dreaming is still at the heart of all we do.
The first Live Arts production was Sartre’s NO EXIT in September of 1990, which took place in developer Gabe Silverman’s Old Michie Building on Market Street. This 135-seat theater space also became the venue for "Acid House" dance parties, an early approach to artistically motivated, experience-based events as a fundraising tool. This form of fundraising found fuller expression in the legendary “9 Lives” annual benefit, a combination of cabaret and promenade theater with outrageous visual design excess and broad community support.
A popular series called The Coffeehouse became a regular feature under the direction of founding Artistic Director Fran Smith, providing a stage for local musicians, actors, and writers. The late '90s also brought the addition of a second theater space, educational and outreach endeavors, distinctive musical theater productions, and a novel Pay-What-You-Can ticket program. As the organization grew in scale and ambition, growing professionalism led to the addition of full-time artistic, development, and technical director positions.
After a campaign led by Thane Kerner, Live Arts moved into its custom-built facility on Water Street in 2003 under the direction of Artistic Director John Gibson. The Center for Contemporary Arts building, designed by Bushman/Dreyfus Architects, remains a locus for theater, film, and art in Charlottesville.
Since its inception more than 30 years ago, Live Arts has presented more than 300 fully produced plays and musicals while continuing to grow and evolve as a staple of Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. We have provided a home for countless memorable performances and engaging experiences for volunteers, artists, teachers, students, and audience members alike. We are still a place where passionate people gather to create theater, learn new skills, and foster lasting relationships.