“I knew that I had to act fast. We had to move fast in order to respond to it and get programming out there to keep people engaged.”
That’s Zachary Tarlton. UNC Charlotte employee by day, indoor cycling instructor by night, part-time music director and 24/7 theater enthusiast.
Our world changed as quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We saw people make decisions they never thought they would have to make. We saw people step into roles they never imagined stepping into. That takes courage. Strength. When Zachary’s theater community was suffering, he wanted to help in whatever way he could. Despite limited livestreaming and technological experience, he formed QC: Quarantine Concerts as an outlet and fundraising tool for local theater companies. And it became bigger and more impactful than Zachary pictured.
Some people call the life we’re living a “new normal.” We prefer “brave new world,” with people like Zachary in it who have the bravery to quickly turn a difficult situation into something great. This is Zachary’s story.
The Charlotte theater community has felt like an extension of Zachary’s family from when he was in middle school. Since then, he’s been involved with several other theater companies in and around the Charlotte area.
“It’s always been a place where I felt at home and a place I could go back to,” Zachary says. “It’s been that one, steady center through all of my life changes: college, graduation, getting married. It’s always been a community I’ve been invested in and want to give back to and be a part of.”
He was preparing to go into rehearsals for an upcoming show at Actors Theatre of Charlotte at the beginning of the year. Once COVID-19 hit, the company had to cancel the show. This was the case for theater companies and organizations everywhere beyond Charlotte.
Looking for a creative outlet and a way to give back, Zachary was inspired by Broadway Legend Seth Rudetsky, who was raising money for The Actors Fund through his livestream concert series, “Stars in the House.” One of his friends suggested using a similar platform to raise money for the theater community in Charlotte. After connecting with some local theater companies and talent, QC: Quarantine Concerts was formed in a matter of two weeks.
“I don’t consider myself very good with technology, but this seemed like the biggest way that I could give back, which is what I wanted to do,” Zachary says. “I’m a people person and I have no trouble connecting with the community, so I figured if I could find sort of a low-tech way to do that online, then there’s no reason I can’t put this together and just see what happens.”
The program hosted livestream musical concerts on Facebook and YouTube for 10 weeks at the same times people would ordinarily attend the theater: Friday night, Saturday night and a Sunday matinee.
He featured local talent like Rixey Terry, Lucia Stetson, Jura Davis and Emily Witte, and was able to reunite the casts of Theatre Charlotte’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and Actors Theatre of Charlotte’s production of “Fun Home.”
Soon after starting, theater companies around the Charlotte area began to reach out to Zachary, wanting to get involved. He connected with companies like J Stage at the Jewish Community Center, the Warehouse Performing Arts Center, Mosaic Arts and more.
Shows garnered attention from the audiences and patrons of companies, who were happy to have a community to engage with again. The shows got up to 1,200 streams on Facebook and nearly 640 on YouTube.
Zachary ran the operation himself. He reached out to and communicated with local companies and talent, recorded accompaniment tracks for performers who didn’t have them and made sure the shows ran smoothly. The most inspiring part? He did it out of the love in his heart for the community, receiving very little in return for himself. Donations went directly to theaters.
Beyond the monetary impact of the concerts, it gave local performers and theater goers a chance to feel at home again.
“A lot of people have told me behind the scenes and after the episodes that they hadn’t really sung in a few weeks and how great it felt to be able to sing again and to perform,” he says. “And for people watching it, it’s something that they know is coming and they can tune in to until they can get back to the theater.”
Going back to the theater probably won’t happen until the fall, Zachary says, but keeping an audience engaged as more things in North Carolina start to reopen will be a challenge. He decided to take a pause on livestream shows after May. However, he hopes to turn this into an in-person experience in the future, transitioning from the virtual stage to the real stage.
After shows stopped, Zachary jumped back in to support the community. He published a video June 7 in solidarity with the Black community, featuring local talent and encouraging viewers to donate to organizations and groups that provide opportunities for people of color.
His advice for people hoping to make an impact is to not be afraid of the first “no” and to take chances.
“When a few theater companies gave me the stop sign when I first reached out, it was hard for me to not give up and move on to something else,” Zachary says. “I channeled it into, ‘if not now, then when and how can we make this happen?’”
We’re with you, Zachary. Be brave, and be brave now.
For more information about QC: Quarantine Concerts, visit https://www.qcconcerts.com/