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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

November 23, 2015

Zounds! The Bumpus Hounds Are On the Loose!

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:34 pm



One of the funniest moments in A Christmas Story is when the hound dogs, owned by the Bumpus family next door, break in and devour the Christmas turkey at Ralphie Parker’s house. These dogs are notorious for hounding Ralphie’s father by eating the Parker’s mail and one of his shoes. “We knew it was essential to find a way to portray this iconic scene. Since we didn’t have any hound dogs audition,” explained A Christmas Story director, Julian Wiles, “we had to be creative. We learned from our friends at Pet Helpers that they had a beautiful hound dog name Vincent at their shelter. So Victor Clark, who plays Ralphie’s father, and I headed over to the shelter to do a photoshoot with Vincent, a massive but incredibly friendly blood hound. Since we already planned to use a number of projections in the show, adding photos of Vic and Vincent seemed like the perfect solution. Despite his humongous size, Vincent is a sweet and obedient dog and our two actors (man and man’s best friend) got along great. I photographed some fun shots, as you can see featured in this blog. To make the pictures look like old family photos that you might see from the 1940s, we converted them to black and white. Sound Designer DJ Edwards added some barking sound effects and the Bumpus hounds came to life!”



“A Christmas Story”
December 2 – 20, 2015, at the Historic Dock Street Theatre
For Tickets, Call (843) 577-7183 or Purchase Online by Clicking Here.

Meet Miles Kendrick: Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:00 pm


Ralphie in this year’s live production of A Christmas Story is played by Miles Kendrick, a sixth grade theatre major at Charleston County’s School of the Arts. Some folks might remember Miles because three years ago he played Ralphie’s little brother Randy. “It’s kind of weird playing the big brother now. I enjoyed playing Randy, especially getting to put oatmeal all over my face and hands” says Miles. When asked how he got started in the theatre, Miles says it was his big sister, Sophie, who got him interested. Sophie had performed with Charleston Stage in A Christmas Carol and Peter Pan and was a member of Charleston Stage’s TheatreWings High School Apprentice Program. She is currently a freshman at DePaul University in Chicago studying Communications. Miles’s first role was as an Oompa Loompa in Charleston Stage’s SummerStage production of Raold Dahl’s classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  “I love Raold Dahl,” says Miles. “I just finished his autobiography and my goal is to read all of his books. Right now I’m reading The BFG.” When asked what his favorite part of acting is, Miles says “What I really like about acting is becoming characters who are nothing like me and doing things I would never do in real life.”

Miles, a member of Charleston Stage’s Performance Troupe, has also appeared in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

“A Christmas Story”
December 2 – 20, 2015, at the Historic Dock Street Theatre
For Tickets, Call (843) 577-7183 or Purchase Online by Clicking Here.




March 26, 2015

Exclusive Interview With the Real Frank Abagnale, Jr.

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 10:47 am


Featured: The real Frank Abagnale, Jr., now a resident of Charleston, SC.


Q:  Tell us how Catch Me If You Can became a book and later a movie.
A:  Actually it was Johnny Carson who suggested I turn my story into a book.  I had appeared on the Carson show several times, and he put me in touch with an agent and at 27, my story became a book.  It is still in print and there are editions in more than 39 languages.

Featured:  (Left to Right)  Frank Abagnale, Jr. and TV host Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, 1978.  The segment, scheduled for six minutes, lasted 20.


Q:  What about the movie?
A:  It is absolutely an amazing story—one that perhaps should be its own book!  Again, after an appearance on Johnny Carson, Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin bought the rights and the rights were sold and resold over the years moving from studio to studio until finally years later they found their way to Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg slated to direct.  It was worth the wait.


Q:  Did you get to meet the stars?
A:  Yes, I spent a lot of time with Leonardo, visiting him at his home where we went over in great detail my past, my habits and mannerisms.  He was fun to be with and a great host.  Tom Hanks was also very kind to me and my family, always in a good mood and a lot of fun to work with.  By the way, I made a cameo in the film.  I’m the French police officer that arrests Leonardo.


Featured:  (Left to Right)  Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and
Frank Abagnale, Jr. in a publicity shot for Catch Me If You Can (the movie) in 2002.


Q:  Were you involved with the musical?
A:  I wasn’t directly involved although I was invited to an earlier showcase when the show was being put together and later of course, I attended the opening as well as many productions around the country.  I’m very excited we will now have one right here in my back yard.


Q:  How accurate is the film and musical to your real life.
A:  I’d say it’s about 80% accurate.  Spielberg told me as this was getting started that you can’t squeeze five years of someone’s like into a two hour film without taking out some details.  The film changed my family structure, some of my impersonations, omitted prison time I served in Sweden and my escape from Federal custody.


Q:  Have you remained friends with the FBI Agent who caught you?  He’s called Hanratty in the film and musical?
A:  Oh, yes, his real name is Joseph Shea, and we’ve remained in touch over the years, and he’s gotten to see me turn my life around and watch my children grow up.


Q:  While you’re famous for your exploits from age 16-21, you’ve had a great “second act.”  Can you tell us a little bit about that?
A:  I and my wife of 38 years now make our home in Charleston.  I am also the proud father of three sons and grandfather of four.

After serving 5 years for my youthful exploits, I was paroled and for the past 39 years, I have been a consultant to the FBI helping train thousands of agents at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and in the 56 Bureau field offices across the country.

My work has evolved over time.  Initially I worked with high security printers around the world on secure items such as passports, checks, car titles and birth certificates.  For the past ten years, I’ve worked with The 41st Parameter ( on technology that combats cybercrime.  Today this technology is used by eight of the ten largest U. S. Banks, all the major airlines and many retailers from Amazon to Neiman Marcus.  The 41st Parameter was recently sold to Experian to take this technology worldwide.   I currently work on retainer to companies like Intuit, LexisNexis and Experian.  I have also written five books on crime.


The photo above features Frank Abagnale, Jr. speaking to all 50 state Attorneys General at the winter meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington, DC on Tuesday, February 24, 2015.  Mr. Abagnale also was the keynote speaker at the summer meeting of NAAG held in Fort Lauderdale.  Mr. Abagnale talked about cybercrime, fraud and other white collar crimes.


Charleston Stage’s production of “Catch Me If You Can: The Musical” runs April 3 – 26, 2015, at the Historic Dock Street Theatre.  For tickets, call (843) 577-7183 or purchase online by clicking here.  See you at the Dock!





December 15, 2014

Young Actors Shine In Holiday Productions

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 12:39 pm


This season, 30 young actors are currently taking the stage in key roles in A Christmas Carol and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  “All of the young performers in these two productions come from Charleston Stage’s Education Programs,” says Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director and Director of Education.  “Most have had several years of classes in acting, singing and dancing and all audition and were accepted into Charleston Stage’s Performance Troupe.”  Performance Troupe meets in weekly workshops to further develop youth actor’s talents.  Each August members of Performance Troupe are asked to audition for Charleston Stage’s MainStage and Family Series productions.  Two of this year’s performers are indicative of the dedication, hard work and talent of our Troupe members.  Fourth grader Boris Pekar who is playing Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol is in his first year of Performance Troupe.  Last season, Boris starred as Prince Eric in SummerStage’s The Little Mermaid Jr.  “The hardest part of playing Tiny Tim is learning to use a crutch and the accent,” says Boris.  “I’m most excited about having a big part and being in a MainStage production.”

10-year-old Sophia McCoy is currently playing the role of Gladys Herdman in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and is already a seasoned pro having performed as Molly in last season’s holiday production of Annie.  “I love playing a naughty orphan kid so I can be mean,” says Sophia.  “I hope I’m a nice person offstage, and being mean onstage is different for me.  Sometimes it’s hard to act mean because I don’t want to hurt anybody.”  Sophia has been a member of Charleston Stage’s Performance Troupe for 2 years.

To learn more about Charleston Stage’s Education classes, please visit Registration for 2015 Spring classes is now available online!


Featured (left to right): Charleston Stage TheatreWings Master Class Actor Harrison Reed as Peter Cratchit, Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor John Michael Chappell as Bob Cratchit and Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Boris Pekar as Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol."

Featured center: Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Boris Pekar as Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol."

Featured center (standing on stool): Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Sophia McCoy as Gladys Herdman in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Featured left (as angel): Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Sophia McCoy as Gladys Herdman in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

December 8, 2014

Resident Actor Makes Directorial Debut With “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 10:07 am

Featured: Charleston Stage 2014-15 Professional Resident Actor Jesse Siak.


Q:  Tell us about yourself.  Where are you from and how did you get involved in theatre?

JESSE: I am from Hendersonville, NC.  I always enjoyed doing voices and performing plays in our back yard.  When I was ten, my mom decided to do something about this and enrolled me in classes at Flat Rock Playhouse in Flat Rock, NC, so that I could find a creative outlet for all my craziness.


Q:  Where did you attend school?

JESSE: I went to Catawba College in Salisbury, NC.  There, I received by BA in Theatre Education.  I have been training in theatre since I was ten at Flat Rock Playhouse in Flat Rock, NC, as well as South Carolina Children’s Theatre in Greenville, SC, under the instruction of Betsy Bisson.


Q:  You’re a second year Resident Actor.  How has your experience been as a Resident Actor and what are your thoughts on this program?

JESSE: My experience has always been pretty incredible.  I think the Charleston Stage program offers so many opportunities for artistic growth.  From performing in 6 plays each season to teaching classes for Charleston Stage’s TheatreSchool as well as in-school workshops, you are continually growing and learning.  My favorite roles have included Henry in Next to Normal, Watson in Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, and most recently, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein.


Q:  You are also the Coordinator for the TheatreWings Apprentice Program.  What is TheatreWings?

JESSE: The TheatreWings program offers many different ways for high school students to expand their knowledge and love of the theatre arts.  The students are broken into “Concentrations” where they attend weekly classes and learn about specific areas of theatre.  The concentrations are:  Acting, Sound Production/Design, Costume Production/Design and Stage Management.  Each TheatreWings student must also be a member of at least one backstage crew during the Charleston Stage season.  Their backstage roles include, sound technician, stage management, wardrobe, and deck crew. As the TheatreWings Coordinator, I am trying to build a program where our students become multi-faceted in all the theatre arts.  We want to show them that theatre isn’t just about acting, and that many parts working together makes the theatre world go round.   I want them to be more professional students, and my goal is to fully prepare them for continuing theatre in higher education.   TheatreWings is a college prep course, and I want to send our apprentices into the world as prepared, respectable, and knowledgeable people as they can be.


Q:  Tell us about your directorial debut for Charleston Stage in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

JESSE: This has been a great experience.  It is wonderful working with such professional and talented students.  Many of these students have been in Charleston Stage’s Performance Troupe for several years.  Performance Troupe is our upper elementary and middle school acting training class that teaches about acting, dance, singing and general theatrical practices.  At this stage in the process, I have found that my cast has tremendous work ethic, technique and talent.  Some people say that directing is mainly about getting a great cast together… I don’t agree entirely, though having such an incredible group really helps!


Q:  What roles are coming up next for you with Charleston Stage?

JESSE: I am currently playing Jacob Marley/Butcher/Fezziwig/Topper in A Christmas Carol and will be playing Benjamin Cohen in The Underpants.


Featured: (left to right) Curtis Worthington as Ebenezer Scrooge and Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Jesse Siak as the Ghost of Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol."


Featured: The cast of Charleston Stage's "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Featured: (left to right) Veteran Actor Kyle Barnette as The Monster and Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Jesse Siak as Dr. Frankenstein in "The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein."

Featured: (left to right) Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actors Jesse Siak as Watson and Jacob Dickey as Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure."


December 3, 2014

The Hallatts Reprise Their Roles In “A Christmas Carol”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:19 pm

Featured: David Hallatt as Mr. Wiggins and Susie Hallatt as Mrs. Tabor.


Recently we interviewed David and Susie Hallatt who are no strangers to the Dock Street Theatre stage. Here’s what they had to say about performing with Charleston Stage in this season’s “A Christmas Carol.”


Q1. You’re reprising your roles as The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. What makes each of these roles so magical for you both?

SUSIE: “A Christmas Carol” is probably my most favorite story, because it is a story of redemption, love and how even the meanest human being can find grace. The role of Ghost of Christmas Past is special because very few people are really forced to revisit their past; if we did, we might find ourselves making better choices in the present! I am studying history at the College of Charleston, so showing people the value of history is very close to my heart.

DAVID: My English heritage makes this particular story very significant for me, and the fact that when you add longer hair and a white beard I look (and feel) very much like Father Christmas. It is very special indeed!! In previous productions I’ve played Marley’s Ghost and Mr. Fezziwig, but I feel that I was born to play this Ghost. When little children come up to me in Target or Bi-Lo and ask me if I’m Santa Claus, I realize how special this is not just for me but for every child (young and old)!


Q2. What have you learned from performing these roles and how have they developed over time?

SUSIE: I think the Ghost herself sums it up best for me on this one: everyone should pause to take a look at the shadows they have cast – its the same message you get from Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sometimes what you have done has not only affected your life’s path, but others as well.

DAVID: I’ve learned that each person celebrates Christmas in a different way, and that having a great deal of money doesn’t mean that you will necessarily be happy. It’s tricky playing a role like this – as an actor, you want to continue to develop the personality, but you also have to be aware that the audience has definite expectations that you have to meet.


Q3. What is your involvement in the Charleston Theater scene?

SUSIE: David and I moved to Charleston in 2003, and have performed as often as possible with many of the local theaters here. I’ve worked with Footlight Players and the Village Playhouse. I started at Charleston Stage as Dottie in “Noises Off”; David and I also did “Ragtime”, “The Producers”, and of course “A Christmas Carol” together – we’ve been privileged to perform in this show four times together.

DAVID: Susie and I were both in a production of “The Elephant Man” at Footlight Players when we first arrived in Charleston in 2003. Since then I have acted and directed with Footlight Players, Village Playhouse and Charleston Stage. Besides being in “A Christmas Carol” for Charleston Stage, I have enjoyed playing Lazar Wolf in “Fiddler on the Roof” as well as the Judge in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and several roles in “The Producers.”


Q4. Why is theater so important to you?

SUSIE: I’ve been a part of the theater community in every place I’ve lived since 1983. After my family, theater is the most important thing in my life. Arts and culture are the essence of Charleston, and the variety of theater programs in the area, especially for young people, is truly staggering. I am so happy to live where others appreciate the arts, especially theater!

DAVID: It is important to continue to produce live theater; so many people are exposed to drama and comedy as recorded events, and wouldn’t realize the joy of live production without theater. It’s important in Charleston as it is anywhere to encourage our community to participate in theater, both onstage and in the audience. The hard part is figuring out how to get them in!


Q5. What do you do in your spare time?

SUSIE: Theater!!! And my day job is with the Graduate School of the University of Charleston, South Carolina, at the College of Charleston, where I help people become graduate students and work toward a master’s level degree.

DAVID: I enjoy watching sports and reading, but I also love to participate in theater with my wife Susie in my spare time. I work for the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles in their Leeds Avenue office.


Featured: Curtis Worthington as Ebenezer Scrooge and Susie Hallatt as The Ghost of Christmas Past.


Featured from left to right: Curtis Worthington as Ebenezer Scrooge and David Hallatt as The Ghost of Christmas Present.





September 16, 2014

A Tribute to Laura Hewitt

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:53 am

(Photo courtesy of Wade Spees/The Post and Courier)


Charleston Stage lost one of its dearest friends on Monday.

Laura Hewitt gave so very much to our community over the years. She served on many of Charleston’s leading non-profit boards, chairing fundraiser after fundraiser and cheering on those in the non-profit and arts worlds of the Lowcountry. She inspired a generation of artistic and social service organizations and made us all want to do our best. Because of her efforts, Laura made a difference in literally thousands of lives, both young and old, throughout our community.

Laura served as one of Charleston Stage’s first gala and auction chairs, growing this annual event into one of Charleston’s premiere fundraisers and providing the funding to enrich and expand Charleston Stage’s education programs. Laura served as vice-president and president of the Board of Trustees for multiple terms. As president, she oversaw the creation of Charleston Stage’s Resident Professional Acting Company, which has brought over 60 full-time professional actors to the Dock Street stage to perform—actors who have also provided numerous enriching and imaginative workshops in area schools.

Laura and her husband, Bill, have sponsored a Charleston Stage MainStage production each season for almost 20 years, including last season’s Gershwin at Folly. Laura was especially supportive of original works and always encouraged us to produce “something new”.

Laura was the epitome of one who gave her time, talent and treasure to her community. I remember at her very first board meeting she raised her hand and offered to sponsor an upcoming production of My Fair Lady. But her real gift was sharing her no-nonsense, straightforward and wise counsel with us. Without her leadership and guidance over so many years, Charleston Stage would be a shadow of what it is today.

More than anything, it was Laura’s never failing enthusiasm—not just for what we were producing but more importantly what we might produce next—that continued to inspire us. Her enthusiasm, time and time again, challenged us and made us a better organization. In many ways, it was her contagious energy that helped to set the stage for Charleston Stage’s remarkable growth during her many years of support and patronage.

Charleston and Charleston Stage have lost a treasured friend. I have no doubt, however, that for Charleston Stage and for the many other organizations with whom Laura worked, her enthusiasm lives on and will continue to inspire us for many years to come.

Thank you, Laura. We will miss you.

Julian Wiles
Charleston Stage
Founder and Producing Artistic Director





September 11, 2014

Adopt a Star

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 10:52 am


Our adorable furry stars of “You Can’t Take It With You” are looking for a quieter life off the stage.

Feline Freedom Coalition focuses on the adoption of socialized feral cats and kittens through PetSmart’s Adoption Outreach Program and you can help.

Charleston Stage audience members have adopted other furry stars from past productions such as Bruiser, the “Legally Blonde” Chihuahua, Gwyneth, the rabbit from “The Secret Garden” and even the rat from “Dracula”.

Help us continue these great partnerships and give these sweeties a new home or help us find one.  If you are interested or know someone who is, please contact Marybeth Clark at

Adoption fee is $75/kitten

Adoption ‘package’ includes: spay/neuter, rabies, distemper, microchip, de-worming, flea treatment and combo test. Feline Freedom Coalition tries to get kittens fixed at 12 weeks (if healthy) so that they can get the rabies shot at the same time. In certain situations, the Coalition may approve a ‘pre-adoption’ and let the adopting family essentially foster kittens until they’re old enough to get fixed. These kittens have already received their first round of de-worming and initial flea treatment and the Coalitions’ estimate is that the kittens are around 8 weeks.

For more information about Feline Freedom Coalition visit their website at

Feline Freedom Coalition
P.O. Box 874, Ravenel, SC 29470
(843) 737-6170




April 4, 2014

Rhapsody at Folly: George Gershwin’s 1934 Folly Beach Vacation

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 3:17 pm


Gershwin at Folly Beach, 1934. Photo courtesy of The George Gershwin Family, The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts, and the DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund.

Charleston author DuBose Heyward’s Porgy was published in 1925, and its simple tale of a handicapped black peddler and the woman he loved became a bestseller. Given a copy by lyricist Emily Paley, Gershwin returned late to his apartment from a party and stayed up all night reading it. Immediately he thought it would be the perfect vehicle to create the first truly American opera. He began correspondence with Heyward, but because Gershwin was not ready to begin work on the opera immediately, the project was put aside. Heyward’s wife Dorothy, however, who had studied playwrighting, secretly began a non-musical adaptation. Later, she shared her progress with DuBose and the two of them finished adapting the novel as a stage play. This version of Porgy’s story was produced to great acclaim on Broadway by the Theatre Guild in 1927. Heyward himself coached the actors on Gullah accents, traditional Lowcountry spirituals were incorporated into the play, and the renowned Jenkins Orphanage Band was brought from Charleston to take part in the production.


Featured: Dorothy and DuBose Heyward. Photo courtesy of The George Gershwin Family, The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts, and the DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund.


The success of the play enhanced Gershwin’s interest, and in 1933 he and Heyward agreed to begin work on a full-scale opera version of Porgy. Before they could get to work, however, Gershwin, much to Heyward’s dismay, signed on to produce an NBC Radio Show entitled, Music by Gershwin which was sponsored by Fin-a-mint Laxative. Gershwin asked Heyward to be patient, explaining he needed the funds generated by the radio show to pay for the time he needed to write the opera. Though much of Gershwin and Heyward’s collaboration was done via mail with Heyward in Charleston and Gershwin in New York, Heyward insisted that Gershwin visit Charleston to absorb first hand the rich Gullah culture of the Lowcountry. Gershwin and Heyward met in Charleston to begin work on the opera during Christmas 1933, but this was only a brief visit. At Heyward’s urging, Gershwin agreed to return the following summer for a working vacation on Folly Island, where he intended to soak up the atmosphere he would need to compose Porgy and Bess.


A photo of George Gershwin and his cousin, artist Henry Botkin on Folly Beach, 1934. Photo courtesy of The George Gershwin Family, The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts, and the DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund.


In mid-June 1934, Gershwin arrived by train in Charleston with his cousin, the painter, Henry Botkin. Though not a character in the play, we have artist Henry Botkin to thank for the watercolor sketch of the front beach cottage that was rented for his time on Folly. Gershwin and his cousin were met at the station by Paul Mueller, Gershwin’s black valet who had driven Gershwin’s Buick down from New York to Charleston. (For the first time, Mueller is a character in the newest version of Gershwin at Folly.)


A sketch of Gershwin’s front beach cottage at Folly Beach as sketched by his cousin Henry Botkin. Photo courtesy of The George Gershwin Family, The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts, and the DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund.


With Paul at the wheel, Gershwin traveled by car and ferry (there was no bridge) to primitive Folly Island. They even had to bring their own drinking water for there was no fresh water on Folly at the time. DuBose and Dorothy Heyward arrived home from Hollywood the next day. Heyward had been out west working on the screenplay for Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. The Heywards stayed across the street in their beach house which they had dubbed “Follywood” since it had been purchased with Heyward’s tinsel-town royalties. This cottage, now restored, still stands on Folly. Sadly, Gershwin’s cottage washed away in the hurricane of 1938.

Getting wind of the legendary George Gershwin’s arrival on Folly Beach, enterprising young Post and Courier reporter Frank Gilbreth, Jr. (whom many Charlestonians will remember as long-time columnist Ashley Cooper and who 14 years later would co-write the bestseller, Cheaper by the Dozen) showed up to interview Gershwin at his Folly Beach cottage. On June 19, 1934, under the News and Courier, the headline “Gershwin Prince of Jazz Pounds Out Rhythm at Folly-composer here to write opera of Porgy-Finds Beach ‘Back to Nature Place’.” Gilbreth reported:

Ragtime rang out loud and clear along the deserted shore at the west end of Folly Beach and mingled with the half hearted swish of small breakers . . . seated at the piano Mr. Gershwin was playing jazz as it had never been played at Folly before . . . in the kitchen two servants tapped the floor and swayed side to side. This reporter was punching the top of the piano with his fist. It was impossible to stand still.

Two weeks later, on June 29th, 1934, Gilbreth returned to find that Gershwin had “gone native.” This time Gilbreth’s headline read: “Gershwin Gone Native, Finds It ‘Shame to Work at Folly’-Wears Only Torn Pants While Writing the Opera Porgy” and his report read:

Bare . . . above the waist, an inch of hair bristling from his face and a pair of tattered kickers furnishing a sole connecting link with civilization, George Gershwin, composer of jazz, has gone native. . . . ‘You know, [Gershwin remarked], it’s so pleasant here it’s really a shame to work.’

Gershwin himself wrote his friend Emily Paley that:

This place is different from any place I’ve seen or lived in before . . . it’s been hard for me to work here as the wild waves, playing the role of the siren, beckon me every time I get stuck which is often and I, like a weak sailor, turn to them causing many hours to be knocked into a thousand useless bits.

To his mother Gershwin wrote:

The place down here looks like a battered old South Sea Island.  Yesterday was the first hot day (95 degrees) and it brought out the flies and gnats and mosquitoes . . . there is nothing to do but scratch.

But neither the mosquitos nor the heat prevented Gershwin from exploring the rich Gullah culture about him. Heyward made arrangements for Gershwin to visit Macedonia Church, a Black church on nearby James Island. There for the first time, Gershwin would hear first hand the moving traditional spirituals of the South Carolina Lowcounty. At one of these meetings Gershwin was introduced to Lowcountry “shouting”, the traditional handclapping, foot-stomping and swaying movements that were an integral part of African-American worship. Of this visit Heyward reported that:

James Island with its large population of primitive Gullah Negroes . . . furnished us with an inexhaustible source of folk material. [For George] it was more like a homecoming than an exploration. I shall never forget the night when at a Negro meeting on a remote sea island, George started “shouting” with the [congregation]. Eventually to their huge delight he stole the show. . . . I think he is probably the old only white man in America that could do that.


Watercolor sketch by George Gershwin, himself, of his studio on Folly Beach. Note the piano on the right on which he and DuBose Heyward began work on Porgy and Bess. The piano is now at the Charleston Museum. Image courtesy of Marc George Gershwin.


Back at his cottage, Gershwin and Heyward continued their work on the opera but Gershwin’s visit was soon the talk of the town and before he knew it, he had agreed to become a judge for the 1934 Miss Folly Beach Contest. Gershwin also managed to find time to attend parties in Charleston where his piano playing was often the life of the party. Somehow amidst the beauty pageant, the late night parties and the lazy lure of the surf, Gershwin and Heyward did manage to make significant progress on Porgy and Bess. Gershwin, who usually created the music first, with his brother Ira adding the words later, worked the other way around with Heyward. A poet, Heyward proved to be a natural lyricist creating “Summertime” and many other splendid songs. Back in New York, Ira added his hand to the final versions of many of the lyrics and the lyrics to some songs himself including “I Got Plenty of Nothin’,” “Oh I Can’t Sit Down”.

Despite the fact that George and DuBose spent their summer on a sea island where the “livin’ is easy”, by the end of that lazy summer on Folly Beach, the immortal Porgy and Bess was well underway. The next year, in the fall of 1935, Porgy and Bess, An American Folk Opera, an American masterpiece, premiered in New York City.






March 27, 2014

The Magical Art of Jonathan Green Transforms Sets and Costumes for New “Gershwin at Folly”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:18 pm

Jonathan Green

“When Director Marybeth Clark and I began working on this newest version of Gershwin at Folly, we wanted a way to graphically illustrate that Gershwin’s coming to Folly Beach was like coming to another world-a truly magical and exotic world,” explains playwright, Julian Wiles.  “Gershwin himself, in a letter to his mother said arriving on Folly was as if he had ‘landed on a battered South Sea Island.’  Folly was indeed fairly primitive in those days, there was no bridge and you had to bring your own fresh water with you.  What better way to illustrate Gershwin’s discovery of the exotic and still wild South Carolina Lowcountry than through the art of renowned Gullah artist Jonathan Green.  Jonathan had painted the stunning Grand Show Curtain for our return to the Dock Street in 2010 so it seemed a natural fit to ask him to become involved in this project.  Jonathan quickly and enthusiastically agreed.”

“What drew me to this project was the cultural inclusion of Julian’s script as it tells the amazing story of Gershwin discovering and embracing the rich Gullah Culture of the South Carolina Lowcountry,” notes Jonathan Green.  “I was impressed at how the play shows how the lives of the people of the Lowcountry have been intertwined for generations-their music, their culture, their way of life.  I was excited to be able to use my talents to add a visual reflection of the life and times of the people of the Lowcountry during Gershwin’s historic visit.  Just as Gershwin used his musical talents to celebrate and immortalize the rich and vibrant culture of the South Carolina Lowcountry, I set out to capture the color and light and vibrancy of the Gullah world of 1934.  Through my paintings and sketches I put that world up on stage-joining Julian and his cast in celebrating this special moment in Lowcountry cultural history.”  Jonathan began by reading the script, but he didn’t just read it-he made elaborate pencil sketches in the margins, soon filling the pages with delightful drawings from cover to cover-more than 50 of them.  Next, Jonathan painted five small paintings to illustrate key scenes in the play.  He made colorful and fanciful renditions of Gershwin’s cottage on Folly, dancers at the Indigo Club, a juke joint, a gospel filled church, a beautiful beach, a marsh landscape and more.


Featured above left: Sketches drawn by Jonathan Green on the pages of the "Gershwin at Folly" script. Featured above right: Jonathan Green’s imaginative take on George Gershwin’s Folly Beach Cottage.


Next, it fell to Charleston Stage’s Resident Scenic Designer Ken Barnett to translate Jonathan’s work into actual scenery.  “The first thing we did,” explained Barnett, “was to make things three-dimensional.  Our main set, which we call ‘Jonathan Green-Land’ features clouds (drawn from Jonathan’s paintings) floating in the air, and cut out palmetto trees that appear from left and right.  Upstage there are sand dunes and a beautiful multicolored ocean-cape that finishes out this 3-D rendering of Jonathan’s work.  Some scenic elements such as Gershwin’s beach cottage came directly from his painting, others we adapted from the pencil drawings Jonathan did in the margins of the script.  Like the Gershwin family, who allowed Julian to draw on any and all of Gershwin’s music, Jonathan generously allowed us to use elements from his other paintings as well.  For instance, there’s a wonderful oak tree that we are using from Jonathan’s painting called ‘Tales’ (1998).”


Jonathan Green's painting called ‘Tales’ (1998).


Charleston Stage Resident Costumer Barbara Young was charged with adapting characters from Jonathan’s artwork into costumes that actors could actually wear.  “With such a wealth of color and patterns in Jonathan’s art,” said Young, “Jonathan gave us many possibilities to work with.  We sought out fabrics that reflected the bold patterns of his characters, copied those wonderful hats he creates and more.  Like Ken, we drew both from Jonathan’s paintings and from the delightful character sketches he created in the margins of the script.  It’s been fun.”

Combining art and music and Folly Beach is nothing new.  When Gershwin himself arrived on Folly Beach he arrived with his artist cousin, Henry Botkin, who painted a number of canvases during his stay.  Botkin had studied in Paris and had helped Gershwin build an impressive personal art collection which included works by Gauguin, Kandinsky and Chagall.  Thanks to Botkin, we have a watercolor sketch of the cottage Gershwin stayed in that summer.  Gershwin, himself, was an accomplished painter and while on Folly created a watercolor sketch of his Folly Beach studio.  This watercolor shows his iron bed, a single light bulb hanging overhead and the piano Gershwin rented to begin his work on Porgy and Bess.


(Photo Courtesy of Marc George Gershwin)


Across the street from Gershwin’s cottage was the cottage owned by his hosts, Dorothy and DuBose Heyward.  The Heywards had purchased their beach house with funds DuBose had earned writing screenplays in Hollywood, so they dubbed their beach house “Follywood”.  This house still stands and has been lovingly restored by Myles and Kathy Glick.

“I think Gershwin would be pleased that we’ve combined the art of the Lowcountry in telling the story of his Folly Beach sojourn,” says playwright Wiles.  “Gershwin himself embraced a wide range of artistic and musical styles and his compositions certainly reflect this, ranging from classical to jazz to the indigenous spirituals and music of the Gullah culture he discovered on nearby James Island.  Gershwin at Folly, using the vibrant colors and whimsy of Jonathan Green’s art, celebrates Gershwin’s merging of art and cultures-the creative whirlwind that gave us, and the world, Porgy and Bess.”






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