As a high school saxophone player, Charles Phaneuf took on the role of booking gigs for his band. Now 37, he’s the executive director of the Raleigh Little Theatre, where he has grown the nonprofit’s annual budget from $800,000 to $1.2 million since 2012. Here, he talks about the success of the theater program, which dates back to 1936, and what's next.
Q: A few weeks ago, RLT completed renovations to the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, built in 1989. What's it like?
A: Over 100,000 people have come through those doors since it was built, but a lot of the tech had failed or was very out of date so there were upgrades focused to that.
The other goal was to create a better connection to the outdoors. We have this beautiful campus, and we’re so fortunate to have the rose garden here and the amphitheater, so our architect came up with this great idea of a folding glass wall that opens up onto the balcony overlooking the rose garden. The feedback has been great.
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Q: RLT isn't just a performance group — it also hosts educational programs. What kind of demand are you seeing in the Triangle?
A: We’re raising more money. We’re selling more tickets. The biggest thing we’ve found is there’s more of a demand for a lot of the things we do. When we’ve offered more summer camps, they fill up. We’ve added more off-site locations for our education programs. When I got here we were just in Raleigh and Apex; now we’re programming in Wendell, Knightdale, Wake Forest and North Raleigh in addition to Raleigh and Apex.
Q: How many young people are participating?
A: We’re at around 1,000 a year when it comes to education and programming and over 40,000 (total), including attendees at performances and volunteers.
Young people need theater, I think, and the number of things they get out of it from being part of a collaborative process —communication, self-esteem, confidence. There are not a lot of other things that provide that the same way theater does.
Q: What did you do before you came on as executive director six years ago?
A: After college, my first career stop was at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. I worked there for six years, and then I worked at a nonprofit multi-disciplinary performing arts center outside of D.C. for Prince George’s County.
Q: What else is on the agenda for RLT?
A: This will be the fourth year of our free outdoor summer movie series which people really love. For the first time, we’ll have the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra perform a couple of concerts in the amphitheater, one in September, one in May.
We’re doing a lot of things now we weren’t doing before. One of the big things we’re talking about is a campus improvement plan. The last time there was a campus plan for RLT was 1938. Obviously, the community has changed a lot since then. The way people use parks has changed, so we’re working with city staff to figure out how to embark on creating a new vision.
Q: What’s surprised you about Raleigh’s theater scene?
A: I appreciate how Raleigh is in a lot of ways a big city. It feels like a bigger city than when I was growing up, but I still feel like, in terms of the art community, it’s very collaborative and congenial and not overly competitive. I think people want to see other theaters succeed. It’s been really exciting to be a part of that.
Charles Phaneuf — Tar Heel of the Week
Born: Dec. 31, 1980, in Royal Oaks, Michigan
Raised and lives: Raleigh
Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration with a minor in music from UNC-Chapel Hill
Family: Getting married in July
Organization: Raleigh Little Theatre (raleighlittletheatre.org)