"Oklahoma!" opens this weekend at Town Theatre - a preview by August Krickel

Oklahoma

Oklahoma!  - yes, the exclamation point is part of the title - is one of those those shows that everyone knows by heart - or do they?  It's part of our shared cultural heritage, and most of us can probably sing the first line or two of the title song, since it actually begins with the title.  You know, "O-o-o-o-o...klahoma, where the... something something goes something something..." and that's where our memories start to cloud.  It's actually now  the official state song of Oklahoma. A few of us may also connect the familiar song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," to the musical, and might even know the next line "oh what a beautiful day," and the basic tune. We may even have heard or used the expression about the corn being "as high as an elephant's eye," whether or not we knew its source. Having been a mainstay of high school and community theatre repertoires for decades, Oklahoma! is something we all know backwards and forwards.
Or is it?  I fell into that trap too, realizing only recently that I have never seen the show live, and to my knowledge have only seen the famous film version once, when I was in 5th grade or so.  And in those days I was much more interested in spotting the mom from The Partridge Family  (i.e. Shirley Jones) in the lead, playing opposite the real-life father of one of the girls from Petticoat Junction (i.e. Gordon MacRae, father of Meredith), with Mr. Douglas from Green Acres (Eddie Albert) providing comic relief.  Then I realized that for years, I've been mistakenly thinking one of the big hits from the show, "People Will Say We're in Love," was from South Pacific!  That's not too bad a lapse, though, since the same composers, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote both.  Along with Sound of Music, The King and I, and the tv Cinderella. Wait, the same guys wrote all of those?  Exactly.  Meaning that Oklahoma! may be worth a little more attention than we might naturally be inclined to give something that we think is so familiar already.  Especially since it's opening at Town Theatre in just a few days, featuring some of Columbia's top talent.

(L-R) Zanna Mills, Parker Byun, Sirena Dib, Haley Sprankle, Bryan , Kristy O'Keefe

Would you believe Hugh Jackman - yes, The Wolverine - starred as the lead, heroic Curly the cowboy,  in a London revival in 1998?  Yep, he was doing big musicals long before the film of Les Miserables. When that version transferred to Broadway in 2002, Curly was played by Patrick Wilson.  Yes, the second Nite Owl in Watchmen!  That revival was nominated for many Tony Awards; the Tonys didn't exist yet when the musical first came out in 1943, but it's a frequent nominee and winner whenever it's revived. Harry Groener was even nominated for a Tony as Will (the juvenile love interest in a subplot)  in a 1979 revival, and yes, that's the guy who later played the evil Mayor of Sunnydale on Buffy (well golly!)  so there's that.

Curly sings of the glories of O-K-L...well, you know. — with Joey Florez, Therese Talbot, Helen Hood Porth, Zanna Mills and Bryan R Meyers at Town Theatre

So why is Oklahoma! such a big deal?  The music of Rodgers and Hammerstein is certainly a large part.  This was their first collaboration together, after many hits with other writing partners. How it came into being is fascinating though. The story was originally a non-musical play from 1930 called Green Grow the Lilacs, that wasn't a big hit, even though it was about settlers in Indian Territory only a few decades removed from when that was actually happening, and even though there was serious star power in the cast:  future film star Franchot Tone as Curly,  future country music star Tex Ritter (yes, father of John!) as a cowpoke, and Lee Strasberg (yes, the Method acting teacher, and Hyman Roth in Godfather II !) as a comic peddler.   Producers saw a summer stock production of Lilacs, years later, that incorporated authentic square dancing and folk music from the period/locale, and thought this might make a better musical than straight play.And boy did it.   It ran for more than five years, a  record for Broadway in those days, unbroken for twelve years, and was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize. And this was right in the middle of World War II, when there were plenty of other things on the public's mind, and not a lot of disposable income for entertainment.  The two biggest components that both critics and audiences raved about then, as now, were the way in which the songs and dances became an integral part of the story-telling process - previously musicals often just stopped the action long enough for the leads to break into song, as a chorus entered to back them up - and an unheard-of extended ballet sequence (it's part of a dream that plays out live on stage) choreographed by Agnes DeMille, one of the titans of the dance world in those days.

 People Will Say We're In Love... — with Haley Allison Sprankle and Bryan R Meyers at Town Theatre

So that's the show.  What's special about this production?  I'd say the people - lots of good folks that Jasper loves are in this one.   Frank Thompson directs - he's better known as a prolific comic actor, appearing as everyone from Captain Hook in Peter Pan to Igor in Young Frankenstein,  but he has directed shows like Chicago and A Christmas Story at the Kershaw Fine Arts Center,  Ho Ho Ho at Columbia Children's Theatre, and 9 to 5Stand By Your Man, and South Pacific at Town Theatre.  Plus he brought his Chicago cast to perform at the first even Jasper ever held at the Arcade, back in early 2012.   I had just recently met him, after reviewing him in Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, and making some wisecrack about how ironic hipsters from the Whig would douse themselves in lighter fluid and look for lighters rather than sit through that show's wholesome Christmas music... and he still thought he got a good review!  Well, he did, after a fashion.  Christy Shealy Mills choreographs, and we interviewed her last spring for this blog; you can still read all about her here. Daniel Gainey is music director, and he's done outstanding work as both actor (in In the Next Room at Trustus and Legally Blonde at Workshop) and as music director for shows like Songs for a New World and Camp Rock the Musical at Workshop. Lori Stepp is costumer,  Danny Harrington is scenic designer, and we profiled  him in the July 2012 issue of Jasper - there's an expanded version of that story here.

(L-R) Sirena Dib, Kathy Hartzog, Haley Sprankle, Rob Sprankle

Then there's the cast. Heroine Laurey is played by Haley Sprankle.  Yep, one of Jasper's new interns, whose work has already appeared on this blog twice in the past week.  The first time I ever saw her on stage was in the ensemble Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; as the curtain opened, she and several other dancers were frozen in place, and her extension went up to Mars.  A few months later I wrote of her in Grease:   "She has one of the stronger voices in the cast (you can always tell where she is in group numbers) and is one of the better dancers as well. Add comic timing to that, and Sprankle is a remarkable triple threat."    Two years after that I wrote this about her performance in Biloxi Blues:  "Winsome Haley Sprankle shines as Daisy, the adorable sort of red-headed Catholic school girl that we’d all go fight Hitler for in a heartbeat."  In other words, I was a fan long before she came aboard the Jasper team.  Bryan Meyers, who was in the cast of Les Miserables (winner of the Free Times Best of Columbia award for best production) plays Curly opposite her.  Will Parker, the second lead, is played by Parker Byun, who's done good work in plenty of shows recently, including playing the lead in Tarzan the Musical last year.

 A yip-eye-oh-eee-aaay... — with Kristy O'Keefe, Bryan R Meyers, Haley Allison Sprankle, Parker Byun, Sirena Dib and Zanna Mills at Town Theatre.

 

 

Will Moreau

But wait, there's more!  Haley's father Rob Sprankle, who joins Jasper as a staff photographer in the issue that comes out in about 48 hours, plays the peddler Ali Hakim.  He's had roles ranging from the King in The King and I  to Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Opposite him (in a triangle with the Will character) as Ado Annie  is Sirena Dib, seen as Fiona in Shrek the Musical this past spring, as the lead in Cinderella at Workshop, and as Martie in Grease when Haley Sprankle was playing Frenchy, and Frank Thompson was Vince Fontaine.   She too will be joining the Jasper staff, plus we featured her in the centerfold of the November 2012 Jasper,  along with some other talented young performers.  That same issue also profiled Will Moreau, who plays Annie's father. Other principal roles include Kathy Hartzog as Aunt Eller,  Kevin Loeper as Jud Fry, and Kristy O’Keefe dancing the ballet role of Dream Laurey.

And that, parders, is why I think Oklahoma! is worth checking out. Good people, good material, and the chance to see it done live.   Oklahoma! opens this Friday, September 19 and runs through October 11;  Thursdays through Saturdays are at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.  Tickets are $15-25 and may be purchased by calling the box office at 799- 2510. For more information, visit www.towntheatre.com.

 ~ August Krickel

 

 

 

 

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An interview with Chad Henderson on The Motherf**ker with the Hat

 

Jasper had the chance to sit down with Chad Henderson, director of the next play on the Trustus Main Stage, The Motherfucker with a Hat. We had a few questions for Chad and -- turns out he had a few answers that we're happy to share with you now.

 

1. So who wears what hats in the production of the play MFWAH?

 

Well, I’m happily wearing the directing hat for this project. I’ve got a great cast too! I’m excited that we’ve got some new talents making their Trustus debut with this production. Alexis Casanovas, who got his MFA in Acting from Rutgers, is playing our protagonist Jackie. Playing his girlfriend Veronica is Raia Jane Hirsch, who studied theatre at TISCH in NYC. Shane Silman, who many know from his recent work on his adaptation of “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, is playing Jackie’s AA sponsor Raplh D. We’ve also got two Trustus Company members in the show: Michelle Jacobs playing Victoria (Ralph’s wife) and Joe Morales playing Julio (Jackie’s Cousin).

 

We’ve also got Preach Jacobs compiling the score for this show from his music catalogue and Kimi Maeda has designed an unbelievable set. She’s designed a set comprised of three rotating periactoi (three-sided revolves) which allow us to create a lot of movement with the set and get the story moving at a great pace.

 

 

 

2. What about this play made you want to direct it?

 

Initially, the language was what keyed me into this show – by that I mean the actual words on the page…not the naughty words (of which there are plenty – wink). I’ve been a fan of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ work for a few years now. I’ve seen his scripts produced by NiA, Trustus, and Theatre South Carolina – and every time I’m impressed with how musical the language and word choices can be. He writes in a way that reflects actual conversation. Not to mention, his characters are often quirky and dangerous. Motherf**ker certainly exhibits these qualities, and many critics felt that this show was a prime example of his use of language and his creation of realistic characters that live on the edge – whether they intend to or not.

 

Ultimately, I like plays that explore human relationships. This script explores many points-of-view concerning love, lust, loyalty, and betrayal. Without talking too much about my personal history, I responded to a sense of dark familiarity with the relationships being explored in the story. Some of the things being said, I’ve said. Some of the situations the characters find themselves in are ones I’ve been in before. This show is about a lot of the things we can’t talk about in polite company. We have to wait until we’re around our closest friends – where the truth will sometimes surface (but not always). And that’s really what the show is about: friendships. I think they’re confusing at times – don’t you?

 

 

 

3. What have been your greatest challenges and how have you met them?

 

I anticipated a lot of challenges with this show because the language is so specific, and I also wanted to ask for a lot of bravery from the actors. However, that all seemed to fall into place very early on in the process.

 

So in all reality, the greatest challenge I had with this show was learning to trust myself in a new way. It’s been over a year since I’ve worked on a non-musical – which I had wanted to do for quite some time. While the approaches to directing a musical and a non-musical have similarities, they do diverge from each other at many points. I knew that this show had a title that would be singular in Columbia. Therefore – I wanted the production to be singular as well.

 

I’m the type who’s always thinking about “what’s next?”, “what do people want?”, “what’s exciting right here and right now?” So, with a mind running on various cylinders at one time I kept feeling like I couldn’t wrap my head around what the final product would be like for The Motherf**ker With the Hat. There was light at the end of the tunnel however because I was able to work with scenic designer Kimi Maeda and score composer Preach Jacobs.  Now we’ve got a hip-hop score that’s definitive to the Trustus production, as well as a scenic concept that I haven’t seen explored in other productions throughout the country.

 

 

 

4. The play has a "bad word" in it -- a lot of playwrights would have substituted another word to avoid controversy, this one did not. Why do you think that is?

 

In an interview about the show Stephen Adly Guirgis said that he titled the show “The Motherfucker With the Hat” so it would serve as a disclaimer. In other words, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not family friendly – and that’s because it’s about adult life….or “real” life. It can be expected from the title that we’re going to be examining some of the more difficult human experiences.

 

I don’t want to be misleading though…this show does have a lot of comedy in it. Guirgis is a brilliant writer, and I think those who are unfamiliar with him will have a great time experiencing a script by one our more prominent playwrights of the last decade.

 

5. Can you talk a little about the set design?

 

The scenic design by Kimi Maeda is just as “in transit” as the main character, Jackie. From the moment of the inciting incident of this show, we follow Jackie through a series of circumstances and choices that make him careen forward through his already difficult life. He’s in and out of apartments continuously and Kimi’s set allows us to go there with ease. Three rotating periactoi (three-sided revolves) cover the stage, allowing the audience and the characters to move through space and time in an engaging way. In my opinion, plays should often equate to a theatrical EVENT; turning a show into an experience that the actors and the audiences can travel through together. In other words, once the curtain speech has ended I like to make people feel like the safety bar comes down on a rollercoaster and you’re not admitted off the ride until it’s over. Kimi’s set is one of the more effective sets I’ve worked with in allowing the show to take on this “rollercoaster” quality. And boy, with these characters IT IS a rollercoaster.

 

Kimi and I had a lot of conversations about the role the imagination plays in moments of infidelity. Jealousy can begin to take control and has the potential to make someone view their life through a more aggrandized point of view. Hypothetically, if I were to find out from someone else that my wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever had slept with someone else…I might start to let my jealousy and imagination take over. I might imagine them having wild passionate sex, I might imagine them laughing at me behind my back, I may also imagine KILLING THE MOTHERFUCKAH THAT TOUCHED…see what happens? Haha, the darker side of creation can just take off in moments like that.

 

What Kimi did to respond to that idea was to lace Lichtenstein inspired elements into the set. Making the whole show take on that paneled “comic” style look. Both Lighting Designer Danny Harrington and Costume Designer Brandi Smith have made bold choices to marry the other visual elements into this unique pop-art inspired world.

 

 

6. Of the actors in MFWAH, who, or whose role, do you think the audience will be talking about after the play is over?

 

I think audiences are really going to enjoy watching this cast work together. They couldn’t be a more diverse group with varying ranges in experience, style, approach, and education. However they ALL bring these characters to life beautifully, and more importantly AS AN ENSEMBLE!

 

Trustus audiences will be seeing Alexis Casanovas and Raia Jane Hirsch on the Main Stage for the first time, and I think they’re going to be viewed as very welcome additions to the Trustus family. Alexis brings a lot of swagger and heart to the character of Jackie, and Raia exhibits absolute uninhibited work as Jackie’s fiery girlfriend Veronica.

 

I think audiences are going to be talking a lot about these characters that they’re playing. We pull for both of them, and this show takes them on a journey where their strength is constantly challenged. Jackie is a recovering addict and Veronica is a current addict – so their dynamics are always running on two different cylinders. I tell ya – I know a few couples like that.

 

 

7. What's this I hear about a "hat night" and whose brilliant idea was this anyway?

 

HAT NIGHT?! You mean one of the coolest opening night events this season at Trustus?

 

Yes, we had someone post on the Trustus facebook page that they hoped there’d be a “hat night” for the show. I believe it might have been the editor of Jasper magazine (insert winky emoticon here). So, myself and Larry Hembree thought we could turn it into a fun contest online.

 

So here’s how it works: audiences come on opening night, and they wear a hat. My awesome marketing interns Rachel and Victoria will be going around and taking pictures of those wishing to compete for a Trustus Flex Pass. On Saturday the 9th, we’ll upload a photo album on facebook and tag the shots. Whoever’s photo has the most “likes” by midnight on Saturday the 16th will win a Trustus Flex Pass (8 tickets to Main Stage shows). 2nd place wins 4 tickets, and 3rd place wins 2 tickets. So – there’s more than one chance to win some tickets to Trustus shows! Plus…it’s fun to wear a hat and have everyone call you a “motherf**ker” all night.

MATURE AUDIENCE ONLY: language, sexual content, nudity, violence -

BIO Chad Henderson* (Director) is the current 2012 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Theatre. This year will mark a full decade in Columbia for Chad, four of them at the University of South Carolina and six of them as a Company member here at Trustus. Past Trustus Directing Credits include: Next To Normal, Avenue Q (Winner “Best Local Production”), Passing Strange (Runner-up “Best Local Production”), Spring Awakening, Assassins, The Last 5 Years, reasons to be pretty, Swing ’39 (World premiere), The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Southern Baptist Sissies, Hedwig and The Angry Inch, and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (Winner “Best Local Production). Chad has been in residency twice at The Studios of Key West, and has also directed at The Columbia Children’s Theatre, Workshop Theatre of South Carolina, Theatre South Carolina, Spartanburg Next Stage, and The Spartanburg Youth Theatre.

The Men Behind the Curtain

{The current issue, #6, of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts, features a number of profiles of people who work behind the scenes - costumers, lighting designers, board members, and more. We are pleased to offer you this online extra, an expanded version of the piece focusing on Danny Harrington, Randy Strange and Albert Little, backstage craftsmen extraordinaire.} ___________________________________________________________

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," Oz told Dorothy.  Yet through smoke, mirrors, rigging and a little moxie, that wonderful Wizard managed to rule an entire land, keep wicked witches at bay, and hoodwink an entire population. If acting is believing, stagecraft might well be deception, and a well-designed set with effective lighting makes all the difference in the world.  Jasper talked with three of those men behind the curtain, to find out how it all comes together.

Danny Harrington remembers his mother being involved in theatre on military bases, and after the family settled in Fayetteville, NC, he acted at school, and at the Ft. Bragg Playhouse.  "The two things that interested me in high school were drama, and soccer," Harrington recalls; at Methodist University, he made first string for the soccer team, but a series of away games caused theatre to win out.  “At a small liberal arts school you do it all, acting as well as design,” Harrington says.  His scholarship required him to work on all shows, and he experienced a hectic senior year as tech director for one class, while stage managing the same show for another.  Summer jobs through the Southeastern Theatre Conference pointed to  technical work as viable career option, and he fondly describes the day after junior year when he officially quit Domino's, since when he has always been able to make his living through theatre.

After a year of graduate school in scenography at UNC-Greensboro, he knew he had a talent for design, but experienced some burn-out. By now he had met his future wife Jamie, who was working on a national children’s theatre tour, and the two began looking for projects where they could work together. Summer stock, regional theatres, and other opportunities took them to Ohio, Louisiana, Virginia, and finally Columbia, where Harrington is the Technical Director for the nation’s longest-running community theatre organization, Town Theatre.  He notes that in this field, "you have to be willing to move anywhere; it’s all about supply and demand." Additionally, he has designed sets for Trustus, Columbia Children's Theatre, and the Chapin Theatre Company.

Harrington thinks people would be amazed if they saw "how backstage is way more complicated...or way simpler than they realized," noting that it's all about illusion, and that amazing effects can be accomplished solely by inventive lighting.   Sometimes he will follow a production's original design from Broadway, but the internet makes research on alternate choices easy, and for the upcoming Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Harrington is creating something very different of his own.  He enjoys challenges, mentioning Something's Afoot, where he got to kill off cast members one by one via set pieces - falling chandeliers, exploding staircases, etc.  He also had fun with the special effects for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, working out the logistics of a flying car.

He has been pleasantly surprised at the core group of backstage volunteers, many quite young, that he has developed. Half a dozen or more work on set construction, and as many as a dozen alternate on the running crew for a show (where he often feels like a choreographer himself, coordinating everyone's movements.) Sometimes a father and son may be hanging around the theatre while a mother a daughter are rehearsing ; they see the lumber and tools in the shop, and ask how they can help. Others come from summer theatre camps that he and his wife teach, where they learn the camaraderie that develops among a backstage crew.  One such student, now heading into high school, has been with him a number of summers, and Harrington has been able to train him, entrusting him with more responsibility each year.

Harrington gives the play selection committee crucial input on the feasibility of specific productions and effects, although one imagines that his enthusiasm and gee-whiz attitude might lead him to say "I think we can make that work" to just about anything. He seeks the director's input at least 4-6 weeks in advance, if not earlier, then always fashions  a 1/4 inch model. He tries to make every set as solid as possible, capping platforms with Masonite instead of just raw plywood; he appreciated one actor, an architect by profession, complimenting him on how safe and actor-friendly a particular structure was.  Extra hands are always needed, but what  he could really use right now is some expertise with welding, launching into a complex description of a hydraulic lift for an entrance through a trap door in Joseph.  There's no question that the possibilities of new technology fascinate him, and he adds that he's experimenting more with projection and film effects.  Still a relative newcomer to the Midlands, Harrington remains impressed at the level of support for the performing arts in Columbia, and that even in a tough economy, everyone locally is staying afloat.

 

Workshop Theatre's Technical Director, Randy Strange, grew up in Columbia, attending A.C. Flora, and dabbling a little in theatre - he remembers playing a "man in a white toga" in Julius Caesar.  Intending a career in commercial art, Strange spent two years on an art scholarship at USC. While excelling in his art classes, Strange was distracted from academics by the rest of college life, and within a week of leaving school, "Uncle Sam came calling."  Strange served two years in Viet Nam as a technical maintenance inspector for Chinook helicopters.  He considered a military career, and had qualified for pilot school, but would have had to train "in-country," and opted to return home, working at Southern Bell as a maintenance administrator for field personnel.  When Bell added its own graphic art division, he made the transition.   He is especially proud of a number of telephone directory covers, and portraits that he designed for the African American History calendars and promotional materials.  After 32 years with Bell, his department shut down during a period of downsizing, and Strange opted for early retirement.  By then he was heavily involved as a theatre volunteer, however; a chance meeting at a party in 1975 with Town Theatre's Technical Director Walter O’Rourke led to an offer to put Strange's creative skills to work on set design and construction.  When O’Rourke moved over to Workshop in the '80's, Strange followed, and has been there ever since - 37 years of community theatre in all, and almost 200 sets he has designed.  He and O'Rourke would split up duties, one designing, the other "figuring out how to make it look real on stage." Strange remembers that "Walter always griped that he'd be working until the day he died," and when O’Rourke passed away unexpectedly, in 2007, the Workshop board offered Strange the job,  which he feels "Walter would have wanted, and I think he had been grooming me for that all along."

Like Harrington, Strange advises on play selection, and meets with each director.  His sets often feature intricate detail and subtle touches that silently but clearly define a particular location or moment in time.  He is likewise detailed in person, soft-spoken, already anticipating components that will be needed in six weeks, and fretting over 17 scenes in the first act of next fall's Legally Blonde.  Strange  doesn't mind the challenge, but always worries that scene changes may slow down the pace of a show.  He tries whenever possible to reduce the scope and complexity of a set.  "It has to be actor-proof," he grins.  "If there's a way of breaking it, they will."  He too suspects that viewers may have no idea how tiny the available space may be.  "I think we pull miracles off quite often,"  he says.  "The fun aspect of theatre is that you meet a lot of wonderful people.  This wonderful artistic outlet has kept me out of trouble - for the most part - and is very rewarding,” especially when the hard work of so many people comes together just in time.

He sees theatre, and volunteering, as "something that can hook you, and that you develop a passion for." At first he was the youngster, working with most of Workshop's original founders, but now he's the veteran:  "There's a whole new world of opportunity, to meet a variety of friends that you'd have never met in any other venue, much younger people you wouldn’t meet in a normal job." The biggest thing he needs currently is some strong young bodies to help with actual construction. Students from USC and from youth theatre classes have been traditional sources, but currently Strange doesn't see as much passion among performers who in years past might have come out for auditions, then stayed to help build the set. "There are so many avenues of entertainment in Columbia, that theatre sometimes suffers," and there's great competition with other venues for talent and manpower backstage. Harrington agrees, finding that ironic, given that theatre in fact can combine many art forms: music, dance, performance and visual art simultaneously. Strange can round up 4-6 volunteers in a pinch, but often it's just him and one or two of the "hard core." "Thank God we have the Alberts of the world," he concludes.

Albert is of course longtime Workshop volunteer Albert Little.   When Little joins the conversation, an impromptu cast party of two breaks out, as both men rib each other, reminiscing over old shows, old stories, and old pranks played.  "That was Walter," Strange interjects.  “I would tell them they would burn in hell," Little teases. "We worked hard, and had lots of fun along the way,” even if that meant painting the floor at midnight in advance of opening night. Referring to O’Rourke, but by transference Strange too, Little acknowledges that "he wanted me to grow as a technician, and a carpenter.  Walter would always take suggestions; they would let you try to build something on your own. Whenever I was ready, they'd teach me more,” even if he ended up wearing more paint than made it to the wall.  During Into the Woods, foliage moved rapidly on and off stage, flying in and out, and Little appreciated the free rein he was given to do rigging some 25 feet in the air, a much-needed niche he has continued to fill.

Like Harrington, Little grew up in a military family that eventually settled in Sumter, SC.  Three of his school band directors were involved in the Sumter Little Theatre; soon after graduation, he saw a couple of productions there, and felt compelled to get involved.  "I had seen movies...and knew that it takes numerous shots.  Unlike film, live theatre is right there in your face, and that intrigued the hell out of me: making the best out of you never know what. Someone could trip, or forget an entrance, and I said 'I’ve got to be a part of this.'“

After a year at USC-Sumter, he drove a milk truck for Sumter Dairy, and volunteering onstage and behind the scenes became his passion. A move to Columbia with a partner, who was working on an MFA, led to backstage work, "or occasionally filling in as a spear carrier" at USC. Little drifted among assorted temp assignments and odd jobs (including, like Harrington, a stint delivering for Domino's)  before landing a job as a driver for the city Sanitation Dept.  After his partner moved to California, Little recalls that "I was lost.  The itch was driving me crazy," and he knew "I have GOT to do more theatre."  As soon as his work schedule with the city became stable, he showed up at Workshop.  Connections made there led to a job for 11 years as a runner at Chernoff-Silver, and now Little works for the Richland County Dept. of Public Works as an Engineering Technician for Storm Water Management. "My life is a happy accident," he concedes. “They made it fun - they are my best and longest lasting friends,"  Little says of his theatre colleagues. "When I came to Columbia, it scared the shit out of me," he laughs, discussing with Strange the wealth of talent found locally.  "We are blessed to have so many people, who are willing to give so much time."

Little offers a possible explanation:  in countless little rural towns in the state, there are a few artistic types who have greater aspirations. " Smaller communities may place a stigma on creativity - you know, 'that child just ain't' right,' " he jokes. "So kids move here, to a bigger town, and explore different possibilities with regard to the arts.  Columbia became a really great mecca, where you can see opportunity.  It’s a magnet for people to migrate here, and show off their wares.  They may not want to move to New York or even Atlanta, so they will come to Columbia, to see what works out for them. "   It becomes quite clear that Little isn't talking about just theatre volunteers, or even artists in general, but also about himself, and about finding oneself in ways beyond just a hobby.  It’s an unexpectedly moving and profound moment, as he describes that yearning that so many young people in creative fields experience.

Harrington, Strange and Little all turned to theatre as a fun activity.  For Harrington, stagecraft became a career for a young professional just now hitting his creative stride.  Strange discovered an outlet to develop his artistic skills, and now carries the torch that was handed to him from his mentor. For Little, volunteering backstage has become a calling.  Arthur O'Shaughnessy wrote "we are the dreamers of dreams...we are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems."  These men behind the curtains of local theatre in Columbia make the magic, helping us to dream those dreams.

~ August Krickel

Photography by Jonathan Sharpe

Behind the scenes (and the wardrobe and lighting) of Swing '39

Some of the staff of Jasper had the good fortune last night to attend the closing performance of TRUSTUS Theatre's most recent play, Swing '39. Directed by Chad Henderson, a young man who, full disclosure, is dear to the heart of this writer, Swing '39 was the winner of the TRUSTUS Playwright's Festival.  Written by Alessandro King, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Swing '39 was developed during readings both at Sarah Lawrence and at New Dramatists, "the country's premiere center for the support and development of playwrights," according to their website. While we enjoyed the play and thought the second act made up for some needed editing on the playwright's part in the first, we were also duly impressed by the set design, lighting design, and costuming.

Danny Harrington, who did the scenic design, was able to capture the essence of early 20th century propriety in his pink, center-stage Davenport which appeared to be as appropriately uncomfortable as it was beautiful.

Costume Designer, Alexis Doktor, one of the two most under-recognized and over-achieving members of the Columbia arts community, scored an A+ again with her too snug pencil skirts for the women and too large suits for the men. Her wardrobe decisions well reflected the constraining sex role constructs of the pre-World War II era. (And the shoes chosen for Sylvia, played by Bianca Raso, were to die for!)

Aaron Pelzek, the other of the two most under-recognized and over-achieving members of the Columbia arts community, announced he was serious about his lighting design in the first few seconds of the show when he dramatically lit the stage, one fixture at a time, to the tune of the opening music.

Finally, hats off to Elena Martinez-Vidal who played the off-stage voice of Sylvia's mother with a demanding whine that would put that of Howard Wolowitz's Ma to shame. That said, at least one member of our theatre-going party has not been able to get Dr. Hook's rendition of Sylvia's Mother out of her head since reading the program last night.

Other standouts from the performance include G. Scott Wild in the role of Benny Goodman and Rozlyn Stanley as his love interest, Maggie. Wild, seen most recently as John Wilkes Booth in  the TRUSTUS production of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, also directed by Henderson, was a snarling portrait of professionalism. Stanley embodied the kind of sensual naiveté that would allow a girl of her character's age to become involved in a tryst with such an unlikely partner.

Kudos to the cast and crew of Swing '39. We're looking forward to seeing more of you all on our city's stages in the near future.

-- C. Boiter

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