Like many touring bands before it, Asheville pop-noir trio stephaniesĭd has generally played nightclubs and music venues where shows begin late in the evening. “After years of doing that, and loving it, we found ourselves also loving sleep,” says frontwoman Stephanie Morgan. “We were also developing wonderful morning rituals — walking, journaling, meditating — and these things are much easier to do when your day starts in the actual morning. So, between loving our days and loving the focused environment of theater stages, we have been aiming for doing more performances at performing arts centers.”
In November, stephaniesĭd was chosen to showcase at the North Carolina Presenters Consortium’s ArtsMarket conference in Durham, which allowed Morgan, Chuck Lichtenberger (piano) and Tim Haney (drums) to play for presenters from across the state and beyond. By that point, however, the band had already secured a Saturday, March 19, date at its hometown performing arts center, the Diana Wortham Theatre. The band last played the venue in 2006, re-creating its entire debut album for the dancers from the Asheville Ballet in Anna! A Rock Ballet. Ten years later, stephaniesĭd has the 500-seat space to itself for DWT’s Mainstage Series, for which Morgan is grateful her “quirky independent band” was selected.
“I’d like to think it’s because [the DWT staff] understands the universality of the core message we’re always trying to communicate — that, internally, humans are all more alike than different, that there is great value in exploring emotion and that there is a lot to be learned from a brave exchange of authentic communication,” she says.
Morgan considers the performing arts center circuit and its audience’s diverse ages and backgrounds “a place where you have to bring your most universal self” and “really want to be able to relate your art to everyone there.” Due to those factors, she doesn’t think she was ready for a show at Diana Wortham Theatre until now.
“It has been important that I spend a lot of years exploring who I am as a performer, being very subjective and specific, even quite self-indulgent at times,” Morgan says. “It allowed me to find my audience organically and practice relating to people from that safe ‘me’ place, without the pressure of being accountable to people who might not readily take to what I’m doing.”
She continues, “At this point in my development, I’m feeling ready to ‘talk’ to people of all persuasions. I have just come to believe so strongly in the connectedness of all people that I rarely feel threatened by those who are different from me, older or younger than me, don’t like the style of music I sing, or whatever. And I don’t feel like I have to be perfect or know everything. So, onstage, I’m just me, in a room of other me’s, if that makes sense.”
Among Diana Wortham Theatre’s many benefits is the opportunity for Lichtenberger to play the venue’s baby grand piano instead of his usual keyboard and for the band to decorate and set the stage visually. Noting her tendency to move around and take up a good deal of space during performances, Morgan is excited to use a larger floor and fill it with plenty of guest performers, including Zack Page (upright bass) and Caleb McMahon (trombone).
Also joining stephaniesĭd are Asheville High seniors Luke Haaksma (piano) and Michelle Padron (spoken-word poetry and theater), both recipients of Diana Wortham Theatre’s inaugural Emerging Artist Fund scholarship for graduating high school students pursuing a career in the performing arts. Through their work as voice and piano teachers, Morgan and Lichtenberger respectively have long incorporated students into their band’s performances when they’ve felt a particular student was a match for their sound. They and other representatives from the arts community were on the committee that reviewed the 14 applications to the Emerging Artist Fund. Proceeds from the stephaniesĭd performance benefit area children through Diana Wortham Theatre’s Youth Education Scholarship Fund.
“We believe in giving kids access to the arts. Our creative work has been the vehicle for our development as people — I can’t imagine being deprived of the opportunity to engage with it on a regular basis,” Morgan says. “The YES fund is helping to assure that students are exposed to some of the best stuff around, and the [Emerging Artist] program is helping to give a leg up to those kids who show a real dedication to making the arts central in their lives. [They’re] speaking my language.”
Morgan hopes the Diana Wortham Theatre experience will lead to more theater performances, but she doesn’t plan to abandon smaller shows. She finds the latter immensely valuable to her ongoing growth as an artist, namely the forgiving environment they offer for trying out new ideas.
“We just did a little pop-up show at 5 Walnut, which feels crowded with 25 people in the room, and we did all improvisation,” Morgan says. “When you do small shows, sometimes you get to stretch out, experiment. We always record those, because new ideas come out for the first time, and often become the songs that we polish and put on albums and perform in full glory at venues like Diana Wortham. But those seeds have to be germinated somewhere we know we can just get in the zone and make mistakes.”
WHERE: Diana Wortham Theatre, dwtheatre.com
WHEN: Saturday, March 19. $35 adults/$30 students/$20 children