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

April 24, 2018

Costume Designs for “Shakespeare in Love”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 12:54 pm

By Grace Schmitz, Costume Design Coordinator/Senior Costume Technician


Grace Schmitz, Costume Design Coordinator/Senior Costume Technician


Featured: (Left) Costume Rendering of Viola. (Right) Charleston Stage Resident Professional Actor Bonny Baker as Viola.


Serious planning for Shakespeare in Love began in the Costume Department at Charleston Stage as far back as October of this past year. We started by analyzing the script in depth and identifying each character that needed to be represented, that character’s historical background, and their status at the time of the play in Elizabethan England. I even initially created a flow chart of characters to help me visually map how each fit into this world and to mentally familiarize myself with them all. Once we were able to identify groups the color palettes began to come together, the upper class in their metallic gold and silvers and the lower class in their earthy rustic tones. We identified key scenes where we wanted certain characters to pop forward in the audience’s eyes, and where an actor was perhaps playing their third character and we needed them to blend more to support the scene. It was very important that Viola stand out above all as she is really the only character who is stepping out of the expected behavior in her environment. She is brighter than an other lady in the show which supports the scenes where several of the male characters are drawn to pick her out of the crowd.


Featured Front (from left to right): Charleston Stage Acting Ensemble Member Jesse Siak as Will Shakespeare and Charleston Stage Resident Professional Actor Bonny Baker as Viola.


With these story focused designs in hand we then moved to how to make it happen. The shop manager Gillian and I actually created 3 different budgets for the show utilizing 3 different plans of action from renting it all to making every single piece. The existing Charleston stage stock unfortunately didn’t have what was needed to produce Elizabethan characters, and there was a large need for new pieces. The best plan of action revealed itself to be a combination of sources which included help from The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The College of Charleston, independent period costume makers from Etsy, and several costumes we would create from scratch in the costume shop. Overall there are over 200 costume pieces in Shakespeare in Love.


Featured: (Left) Costume Rendering of the Queen. (Right) Acting Ensemble Member Marybeth Clark as Queen Elizabeth.


Many pieces from across the country arrived in Charleston throughout the spring and went through alterations and re-workings in order to create a cohesive world on stage. We also had the challenge of many of the historically accurate costumes needing to be reconstructed as functioning theatrical garments. These alterations included cutting additional openings, joining pieces that were once separate so they could all go on at once, and in many cases the addition of quick closures such as snaps and hidden zippers. We are so grateful for our volunteers Eileen McIntosh, Joanne Marcell, Fran Williams, and Kathy Honan for helping with all parts of these projects, as well as our TheatreWings students who made many of the hats. We could not have done it without you!


Featured: (Left) Costume Rendering of Will Shakespeare. (Right) Acting Ensemble Member Jesse Siak as Will Shakespeare.








April 23, 2018

Props for “Shakespeare in Love”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:37 pm

By Alison Frimmel, Properties Master Tech Intern


As Charleston Stage’s Properties Master Tech Intern, I’ve been responsible for props used onstage all season.  “Shakespeare in Love” has been one of my most complicated shows. We have a number of special items from realistic swords to period lanterns—even these beautiful candelabras (featured in the photo below).



One of the fun elements I got to make was a period jester’s head that Shakespeare mistakenly grabs in the midst of a sword fight thinking he is grabbing a dagger. Both Shakespeare and his opponent are in for quite a surprise. In that same sword fight they also have a trick dagger where the blade disappears into the hilt!



While this show was very complicated, in the end, it has been amazing to hear how much the audiences have been enjoying themselves. I hope that this show inspires a love for theatre, not just for the cast members onstage but for the backstage crew as well.


Thank you all for your support of this show and I hope you join me in saying to the cast and crew of this show “Break a Leg!” in your final weekend of performances.





April 12, 2018

An Inside Look at the Original Music Design for “Shakespeare in Love”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:41 pm


One of the best parts of the “Shakespeare in Love” movie is its sweeping romantic score—a score not available for the stage production. Theatres around the country have created their own scores for their productions and we listened to a number of these. But in the end, our Sound Designer, Luke Walchuk, decided to write an all original score for our production.


Here are some notes from Luke Walchuk about the process:


This project was a daunting but rewarding challenge. Though I have written incidental music (a term for any music written for a play that isn’t specifically a “musical”) for nearly every non-musical since I joined Charleston Stage in Season 39, Shakespeare in Love represents a step above. Normally, the music I write for a play is primarily transition music between scenes and occasional underscoring; it is intended to move the story along and enhance the emotions of a scene but does not usually require close interaction with the cast.


For this production, we had those things plus dances, sword fights, and a chorale sung by the whole cast. This meant that I had to be involved earlier in the process than usual. I attended rehearsals and worked closely with Directors Julian Wiles and Marybeth Clark, as well as Choreographer Cara Dolan and Fight Choreographer Evan Parry, to create music that complemented the action. Whether I was illustrating William Shakespeare’s writer’s block at the beginning of the show, adding intensity (and comedy) to an exciting sword fight, or supporting an emotional love scene, every piece was tailored specifically for this production of this play. I also created recurring themes for some of the major characters (you can check them out below). These themes help to subtly give focus to specific characters or aspects of the story. In the case of the Queen, perhaps not so subtly.


Creating a score for a play is not like creating a score for a film; I did not have each scene on a screen in front of me as I wrote, with perfectly concrete, consistent timing. Live theater is more unpredictable than that. This required the music itself to be written differently than a film score. If you listen closely during scene transitions or long pieces like the sword fights, you may hear sections that repeat on a short loop. This allows the action to catch up to the music. At a certain cue in the action, the loop will end and the music will continue. The challenge is to make the loop sound like a natural part of the piece. I used this strategy for moments that didn’t lend themselves to strict choreography. For other moments, such as the DeLesseps’ ball, I worked with Cara Dolan to map out the sections of a piece in exact musical terms of bars and beats. I then wrote the music and she choreographed to it, with both of us making adjustments over the course of a few weeks of rehearsal. Music Director Sam Henderson taught the “O Mistress Mine” chorale to the cast and checked in periodically to ensure that the piece was in good shape.


The result of all of this extra planning, rehearsing, and choreography is a living, breathing score that is an integral part of the production in a way that pre-made music could never be. Thanks to the close collaboration of every person involved in Shakespeare in Love. I am proud to say that we have created a fine and fitting tribute to Theatre itself. I hope our audiences feel the same way!


Audio Examples

Will Shakespeare’s Theme (Writer’s Block)

Viola’s Theme (O Mistress Mine)

Will and Viola’s Love Theme

Wessex’s Theme (I Need a Dowry)

Burbage’s Theme (Peddlers of Bombast)

The Queen’s Fanfare






April 11, 2018

The Sets for “Shakespeare in Love”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:15 pm

by Julian Wiles, Set Designer for Shakespeare in Love


The sets for Shakespeare in Love presented quite a challenge. The show has 28 scenes. Since the show started as a movie, it flows very much like a film, one scene moving into the next. That’s easier said than done when the scenery for Shakespeare in Love includes two theatres, a tavern, inside the Queen’s palace, a boat on the Thames, and Viola’s bedroom! Cody Rutledge and I actually went through three separate complete designs before we decided on the one you will see onstage.


Since the show is about one of the most famous writers in history, we wanted to literally put his writing front and center. This led us to making the basic set look like giant pieces of parchment paper with Shakespeare’s writing on it. For the writing, we used actual copies of lines from Shakespeare’s first folio.


The play opens with Shakespeare sitting at a simple desk struggling with writers block. Cody and I began to brainstorm on what Shakespeare might be doing at his desk as he struggled to write, and we decided he might be doodling and just scribbling ideas for plays. So when the audience arrives at the theatre, they will indeed see Shakespeare’s desk at center stage but floating magically behind his desk are fragments from his prolific pen in which he is trying out new phrases, plots, as well as, fun elements like his shopping list.  This whimsical look at Shakespeare’s wondrous imagination also says to the audience, this isn’t the stuffy Shakespeare you expect, this is going to be great fun.


And indeed it is. For in addition to the writing, there are sword fights, a grand ball, and of course at center, a wonderful romance. This is a romance that would inspire Shakespeare to create one of the greatest love stories of all time—Romeo and Juliet.


So how does a set design begin? In the case of Shakespeare in Love, it included a series of quick thumbnail sketches.



From these the ideas became more concrete, and designs began to be drafted. From these draftings, Cody built a half inch model. This model shows all the scenes and is painted just as the full set will be painted. The model also allows the directors and the actors to know what the set is going to look like and what elements they have to work with. As you will see in the model photo, you can’t do Romeo and Juliet without a balcony, so that was added as well.



From the model and the drafting (just like those an architect does) our scene shop went to work (starting back in January) to begin constructing the 28 scenes the show requires. Nicole Bianco, Chris Konstantinidis, Cody Rutledge, Dylan Rutemiller, Alison Frimmel, Allison Grady, our TheatreWings High School Apprentices and others have been hard at work constructing these elaborate sets—for everything you will see onstage was built in our scene shops in West Ashley. We’re hopeful all this hard work will give our audiences a show that is worthy of being the grand finale of our 40th Anniversary Season.







April 5, 2018

Staging the Sword Fights for “Shakespeare in Love”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 9:39 am


By Evan Parry, Fight Choreographer, Associate Professor of Theatre at the College of Charleston


Featured Front (left to right): Charleston Stage Acting Ensemble Members Ryan Pixler as Lord Wessex and Jesse Siak as Will Shakespeare.


When Julian Wiles asked me to choreograph the sword fights for Shakespeare in Love, I jumped at the chance. Having acted, directed, or choreographed numerous productions of about half of Shakespeare’s plays, I relished the opportunity to stage fights which included among the combatants the great author himself, as well as some of the famous actors and writers of his time: Marlowe, Burbage, Alleyn, among others. The film Shakespeare in Love had affected me powerfully on its release, and still does when I watch it today. Being involved with this production, and with Charleston Stage, was an easy choice to make.


The issues with staging these sword fights are many. Of particular importance is the issue of safety. While swashbuckling sword fights often look like great fun (and they are) it is critical that they are staged safely. We began with daylong workshops in January and have been working on the swordplay in Shakespeare in Love for the last 3 months.


First off we wanted the fights to seem authentic and that meant having the right weaponry. The late sixteenth century was a period when people of some means wore the rapier for daily use. The rapier is a light, double-edged, pointed weapon, noted for its quickness and versatility. It is a weapon which could effectively both cut and thrust, which you will see in our fights. I had some rapiers available, but Mr. Wiles was interested in beginning to purchase swords (and two daggers) to form an armory of stage weapons. Also, what is called the “Big Fight” in Act 2 required a lot of people fighting, which meant many weapons.


While we knew we wanted some flashy swordplay, we also wanted to use the fights to help tell the story. Each of the three fights has a different story to tell. Shakespeare and Marlowe are chased by guards from Viola’s balcony in a comic encounter. Another fight combines a kind of keepaway chase for the manuscript of Romeo and Juliet, as well as a free-for-all between two acting troupes, using some slapstick as well as serious sword techniques. The last fight, between Shakespeare and his rival in love, Lord Wessex, however, is deadly serious… most of the time. Each of these fights tells a different story about different (and dynamic) characters.


Don’t miss your chance at seeing these sword fights on stage at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. Shakespeare in Love performances run April 6th – April 29th and ticket sales are available online by clicking here.


Featured: Evan Parry, Associate Professor of Theatre at the College of Charleston, teaching fight choreography to a student on campus.  (Photo by Loren Bridges)




March 29, 2018

Theatre in Shakespeare’s London

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 10:25 am



London, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, was a bustling urban center filled with a wide variety of people and cultures.  Although most life centered around making a living or going to church, the main source of diversion for Londoners was the theatre.  It was a form of entertainment accessible to people of all classes.  The rich and the poor, the aristocrats and the beggars, all met at the theatre, and its popularity grew enormously during the Elizabethan period.  Though often appeasing the church or the monarchy, theatre at this time did experience a freedom that was unknown in previous generations.    Evidence of this can be found in the numerous bawdy and pagan references found in the plays of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and others.  It had taken some tenacity for theatre to thrive in London.  In 1572, the city took measures to limit theatre performances in London as a measure to prevent the spread of the plague.  By 1575, all players had been expelled from the walls of the city.  James Burbage (father to the great Richard Burbage) saw this as an opportunity, and he built and opened London’s first playhouse just north of the city limits.  It was called The Theatre.  Two years later, The Curtain opened nearby.  The Rose was the first theatre to open on Bankside across the Thames in 1587.  It was soon joined by The Swan, and later The Globe.   



The competition between rival theatre companies was great.  Not only would they need to pull audiences away from other local entertainments (bear- or bull-baiting, cock-fights), brothels, taverns, and gambling but they also needed to ensure a repertory of popular pieces to keep up with the (often) six performances per week.  Each theatre was looking for the next big hit.  Actors and playwrights would frequently freelance with the handful of theatres, though some actors joined together to form more formal troupes, like The Admiral’s Men or The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, named for their respective patrons.



Performances were typically performed at two o’clock in the afternoon to take advantage of the sunlight, as there was no artificial lighting.  Performances typically lasted about three hours and included a dumb-show in the beginning (a silent depiction of the events about to transpire) and ended with a bergamask dance involving the entire company.  The playhouses were also at the mercy of the weather, since they were open-air.  Flags would be flown above the theatres on Bankside to inform audiences that a play was to be presented that day.  Elizabethan audiences would go to the theatre to “hear a play,” not “see a play” as modern audiences say.  The theatrical experience was all-together different.  There was limited or no scenic elements used in performances.  Rather the audience was expected to use its imagination, guided by the playwright’s words and the actors’ performances.  Only necessary props that helped guide the story were utilized (swords for fights, etc).


All roles in England were performed by men in Shakespeare’s day, as it was considered immoral and indecent for women to appear on stage.  Women’s roles were frequently performed by boys or young men.  The young lovers were often portrayed by teens before their voices changed.  Even the iconic roles of Juliet, Rosalind, and Lady Macbeth, were first performed by men. Costumes in Shakespeare’s day were primarily made up of contemporary clothing that helped to denote the character’s status.  Clothing was frequently donated to theatres by their patrons.  Wigs, dresses, and stage make-up were used for men playing women’s roles.



Despite their popularity, actors maintained a relatively low social status, sometimes no better than a common beggar or rogue.  Most performers were forced to earn a living doing trade work.  The aristocracy’s desire for entertainment, however, did spur the development of numerous new theatre pieces.  Often a nobleman would become a patron to an artist or company of actors, providing for their financial needs and sheltering them to some degree from official sanctions.  In return, the company would adopt the name of the patron.  Shakespeare’s acting company was originally named “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” after their patron Henry Carey, the Lord Chamberlain.  Later, under the patronage of King James I, they were known as “The King’s Men,” an unprecedented honor at the time.


Special thanks to The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey for providing the information listed above. To view their Shakespeare in Love Education Guide, click here


Performances of Charleston Stage’s Shakespeare in Love run April 4 – 29 at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. To purchase tickets online, click here.





February 8, 2018

How a Floating Refrigerator Gave “Helium” Its Lift

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 4:10 pm


Playwright Julian Wiles on the Writing of Helium

I’m often asked how I came to write a play. I wish it were as simple as coming up with an idea, starting at the beginning, and a few days later writing “curtain falls” at the end. For me playwrighting is never a straight line. There are often a lot of false starts, you go off on flights of fancy that lead to dead ends, and you have to begin again. But sometimes a flight of fancy is the spark that makes the whole idea come into sharp focus. Such is the case of the floating refrigerator. I was trying to come up with a way to show the whimsical flights of fancy the mind of my main character, an 80-year-old known affectionately as Gramms, was taking. Being trained first as a set designer, I often look for scenic solutions, especially when the writing eludes me for a bit. Some time ago, I had decided to name the play Helium to give that sense of thoughts taking flight. That led me to making Gramms a former chemistry teacher which then led to having her invent her own elements with whimsical words that sound like they could be elements—“pandemonium —hysterium.” But first, back to that floating fridge. I thought, why don’t we suspend items in Gramm’s random mind above the set—a refrigerator, a grandfather clock, a pizza—much like a Salvador Dali painting. In the play taking shape, Gramm’s mind often wandered to the seashore of her youth, so I placed this floating mental detritus in the sky over Gramm’s lovely beach scene. And then it clicked, why not show the audience the imaginary world that Gramms sees and let the other characters see these items as other things. For instance, Gramms sees that onstage there is a life guard box, beach chairs, and a beach umbrella. But her family sees these items as a sofa, overstuffed living room chairs and the beach umbrellas as a lamp. In a fantastical sort of way Gramms and her family each live in the same place but in different worlds. It is between these two worlds that the fun and the drama will play out. And audiences are part of the process for they have to use their imaginations to really figure this out. To me this became a whimsical scenic solution that served the story well —especially a story that mixes both comedy and drama. I learned a long time ago that while you need a great story for a play to work, the way you tell that story is just as important and Helium’s playful set is a perfect way to let this whimsical story take flight.


From left to right: Samille Basler as Mrs. Kingsley “Gramms” and Liz Duren as Alice in Charleston Stage’s production of “Helium”.


My inspiration for Helium, which I first wrote in 1990, came after I read a memoir by New York Times Humor columnist Russell Baker called Growing Up. When Mr. Baker went to visit his 90-year old mother whose mind had started to wander, she greeted him with a “who the hell are you?” Mr. Baker explained in his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir that his mother’s mind “could wander free through space and time. Some days she went to weddings and funerals that had taken place a half-century earlier . . . she moved across time . . . with a speed and ease beyond the gift of physical science.” While Mr. Baker certainly saw the sadness of his mother’s mind beginning to wander, he also saw that there was a freedom there as well. From that thought, my Helium took flight. I wondered why we delight in a young child’s meandering mind and often funny little comments, yet when we see the same behavior in an adult we see it as a tragedy. Of course a baby has a world ahead and we know the aging are often leaving a world behind. Yet in each moment they are both vibrantly alive.

Over the next few years I was able to see aging and dementia first hand. My delightful grandmother, having reached the age of 100, passed away still with the twinkle in her eye and her good humor mostly intact.


From left to right: Samille Basler as Mrs. Kingsley “Gramms” and Parker Weeks as Josh in Charleston Stage’s production of “Helium”.


And so at Piccolo Spoleto in 1990 at the Footlight Players Workshop down the street, the first production of Helium took flight with noted Charleston comic actor, Kaye Shroka, in the lead. That world premiere production was a great success with festival audiences, becoming the top selling play of Piccolo Spoleto that year.

A few years later, my wonderful mother-in-law, Margaret Hane, became, on many days, lost in the fog of dementia. It was a challenging time for our family, especially my wife Jenny, who became her primary caregiver. Our kids were little and they marveled at Granny’s mind and her flights of fancy, but they often went right along with her on her journeys into the past. Sometimes we wanted to cry, but often we just had to laugh at the funny things she would tell us. She was once horrified I was sleeping with her daughter. She’d forgotten we were married, and when I reminded her we had a big laugh together. Like Russell Baker’s mother, Margaret spent much of her time traveling to places in her past, revisiting in fond memories the world of her youth. Much of her long-term memory remained intact and her visits to those long remembered special places in the past delighted her.

After Margaret passed away, I decided to revisit Helium and the play underwent a major revision in 1997 with a new version, featuring the wonderful actor and Charleston Stage Acting Ensemble member, Samille Basler, as Gramms. Samille returns to play the role in our new production as well. This revised version of Helium struck an even greater chord with audiences. Many people came up to me after the play and say things like, “let me tell you about my aunt, my mother, my uncle, my cousin.” Obviously, the show had struck a chord and often they would share with me the flights of fancy that their own loved ones had taken at times.


Samille Basler as Mrs. Kingsley “Gramms” in Charleston Stage’s production of “Helium”.


The next year, Dramatic Publishing published the play script of Helium and other productions have followed around the country including a performance in Greenville.

The world has become much more aware of dementia and Alzheimer’s since I first wrote Helium in 1990, but much is still unknown. Patients and their caregivers must still struggle to find their own way. And each way is different, as no one has all the answers. In Helium, I simply wanted to share one family’s journey, its joys and its sorrows, and with them to marvel and to celebrate the human spirit of someone they love taking flight.

Of the thirty something plays I’ve written over the years, Helium remains my favorite. I wanted to be sure it was included in the special 40th Anniversary Season and that audiences could enjoy this special story once more.


Performances of Helium run Feb. 9th – Feb. 25th at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. For tickets, call our Box Office at (843) 577-7183 or purchase online by clicking here.






January 31, 2018

Meet Acting Ensemble Member Samille Basler, Starring as Gramms in “Helium”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:10 am

Q: Where did you grow up? Were there any activities you did as a child that led to your passion for the arts?

A: I grew up in a small town called Washington, GA, and have been acting since I was a little girl. My town was very involved in entertainment that involved the entire town. We had parades for every occasion—Veterans Day , May Day, etc , and variety shows that included adults and children. I was always in some kind of revue or doing a skit. I spent my entire Saturdays at the picture show soaking up every word only to go home and perform on Sunday afternoons for my uncles. I got five cents for my expertise. Ha! I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything but act.

Q: Where did you receive training? How did this prepare you for your work in the theatre world?

A: I did not receive any formal training, but I took a few acting classes in college at Georgia Southern University. I was in several plays a year while there, and I am a member of Alpha Psi Omega. What I know about acting I learned from excellent directors I had in the different states where I lived and by watching other actors, reading books on acting, and my own experiences.

Q: This isn’t the first time you’ve performed the role of Gramms. What are you most looking forward to returning to play this role?

A: Helium is special to me in many ways but especially since I have had first hand experience with someone with dementia. Working on this play is always like working on a new play. I see different parts a new way or find a better way to react. I look forward to bringing Gramms to life with a new dimension and a new family to love and annoy.

Q: You are no stranger to the Charleston Theatre scene. How long have you been in Charleston and where have you performed?

A: Charleston has been my home since 1995. I’ve performed with Charleston Stage since the company’s 19th season and my first show was Glass Menagerie. Some of my favorite shows with Charleston Stage are All My Sons, Moon Over Buffalo, Ballyhoo, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Broadway Bound, Gershwin at Folly, Steel Magnolias, To Kill a Mockingbird, Helium, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Foreigner. I have also appeared with Footlight Players (favorites Lion In Winter, Quartet, and Suddenly Last Summer); with Midtown Acting Company (favorites Driving Miss Daisy, 4000 Miles, and Collected Stories); with Village Rep at Woolfe Street Playhouse (favorites August Osage Co., Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Trip to Bountiful, and The Lyons); with What If ? Productions in House of Yes and Kimberly Akimbo and most recently with Threshold Company in Becky Shaw and Uncle Vanya. I am honored to have had so many opportunities with Charleston Stage and to be a part of their Acting Ensemble.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: My spare time is spent traveling, gardening, and as much time as I can with my grandchildren.




November 21, 2017

Meet Charleston Stage Acting Ensemble Member David Loar, Starring as Ebenezer Scrooge

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 4:32 pm


Q: Where did you grow up? Were there any activities you did as a child that led to your passion for the arts?

A: I grew up in Richmond, IN. My father was Art Supervisor of the Richmond schools for 30+ years and a terrific painter, so I was surrounded by art and artistic endeavors during my childhood. I have very fond memories of sitting behind my dad in his basement studio, watching him paint, and of hiking into the woods with him on weekends to find the dilapidated houses he loved to sketch. As a kid, I memorized great comedy routines like Bob Newhart’s “The Driving Instructor,” and I would recite them for anyone who would listen. I never tried acting onstage because I was extremely self-conscious about the bald spots on my head caused by alopecia areata. In high school, I decided that I wanted to be an English professor and a novelist. My greatest passion, though, was for sports—football, basketball, baseball, swimming, and later bicycling—and I think it was the passion I brought to sports that translated most directly into my passion for acting many years later.


Featured: Painting by David Loar’s father Ed Loar.

Q: Where did you receive training? How did this prepare you for your work in the theatre world?

A: I got my actor training in a 2-year conservatory program at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, starting at the “advanced” age of 33. In the 4 years of community-theatre acting I had done before winning a scholarship to AMDA, I was operating purely on instinct. At AMDA, I learned real, Stanislavski-based acting techniques for the first time. I also learned unarmed and armed stage combat, which have served me well in my Shakespeare career. The teachers at AMDA believed in the power of work ethic and preparation—as I always have, in every endeavor I’ve ever pursued—and those two attributes have led to almost every success I’ve had in my acting career. My AMDA training gave me the confidence to start pursuing acting as a professional career. In fact, I landed my first professional job—playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and Banquo in Macbeth in a year-long tour with the National Shakespeare Company—only a few weeks after graduating from AMDA.

Q: This isn’t the first time you’ve played Ebenezer Scrooge. Please share.

A: The role of Ebenezer Scrooge and the story told in A Christmas Carol have had enormous significance in my life. The first time I played Scrooge—for the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, in 2001—my parents died within a week of each other during the already-intense 3-week rehearsal period. My mother had had Parkinson’s Disease for 35 years, so her passing was actually a blessing. My dad’s death, however, was a stunning blow to me even though he had already suffered 3 strokes. I had based my version of the Scrooge character on my dad, who was a notorious curmudgeon.

I was able to go home to Indiana for my mom’s funeral, but because we were headed into the first weekend of performances when my dad died, I wasn’t able to go home for his funeral. Dad was in the stands for every football or baseball game I’d ever played, and I felt sure that he would have wanted me to honor my commitment to the rest of the cast, to the show, and to the audience. As a result, I was literally performing as Scrooge looking at his own tombstone, with the Ghost of Christmas Future looming over him, at the exact moment my father was being buried, 800 miles away in Indiana. That month of shows was an incredibly intense experience; I would often leave the stage after an emotional scene, sob for a few moments backstage, and come back onto the stage. Sometimes I was sobbing onstage, just hoping that the emotion I couldn’t control fit the moment within Scrooge’s transformation. I played the role the following 2 years for ASC, and although the emotions of that first experience abated somewhat, I’m still moved to tears 16 years later by memories from 2001 that I can see as clearly as if they’re happening right now.

The story of Scrooge’s redemption and reclamation, from tortured, hardened miser to caring, generous soul…it still gets to me every time, in every rehearsal, every performance, after all these years.

Q: Where have you worked previously?

A: My “claim to fame”—if it can be said that I have one—is the 8 years I spent as a member of the Blackfriars Resident Troupe of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. I played over 90 roles for ASC, including Shylock, Prospero, Richard II, Claudius, Lord Capulet, and Ebenezer Scrooge. Prior to ASC, I toured the country for 6 years with the National Shakespeare Company, Chamber Repertory Theatre of Boston, and Shenandoah Shakespeare Express. In Phoenix, I performed with Southwest Shakespeare Company and Class 6 Theatre. In Charleston, I’ve worked with Charleston Stage Company, PURE Theatre, Woolfe Street Playhouse, Midtown Productions, and Footlight Players.

Q: What are some of your favorite past roles you’ve performed throughout your career?

A: A few of my favorites have been Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Richard II in Richard II, Captain Bluntschli in Arms and the Man, and Ebenezer Scrooge. And most recently, The Poet in An Iliad, the one-man show by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare that I’ve been working on since 2015.

Q: What role will you be performing next with Charleston Stage?

A: I’ll be playing the role of Richard Burbage in Shakespeare in Love next April.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: I spend as much time on Folly Beach as I possibly can: swimming, boogie-boarding, walking, and taking photos. I also love walking my dogs 5—6 times a day, reading, and watching great movies with my wife, Kristen Barner.


Performances of A Christmas Carol run Nov. 29th – Dec. 20th at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. Purchase online today by clicking here.




October 20, 2017

Meet Grace Schmitz, Our New Costume Design Coordinator and Senior Costume Technician

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 10:28 am



Q: Where did you grow up? Were there any activities you did as a child that led to your passion for the arts?

A: I grew up in a very small town in southern Mississippi where I could walk a few blocks to the Library whenever I liked. I would read fantasy constantly but I also explored the sections with instructional books for different trades and crafts. I read books about everything from cutting hair to making puppets, and would dive into my own art projects constantly.

Q: Where did you receive training? How did this prepare you for your work in the theatre world?

A: My Mom taught me to sew at a young age and doll dresses turned into personal clothing projects by high school; eventually I began making costumes for my high school’s Theatre productions. I have a Bachelors degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a Masters from The University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Costume Design. I have also worked at several theaters across the country and consider each environment a new learning experience as I work with new people and new projects with their own unique challenges.

Q: Briefly describe your position at Charleston Stage and what you do for the company.

A: I am the Costume Design Coordinator and Senior Costume Technician at Charleston Stage. I designed the costumes for Disney’s The Little Mermaid and am also the Costume Designer for To Kill a Mockingbird, Avenue Q, and Shakespeare in Love this season and Assisting our Costumer Emeritus Barbara Young on A Christmas Carol. This goes hand in hand with my position as Senior Costume Technician where I will be spearheading the construction of major costume pieces for each production for my own designs as well as others.


Q: Where have you worked previously before Charleston Stage?

A: I have worked with many companies across the country in many different parts of the costuming team including Cirque do Soleil, The Santa Fe Opera, Cape Fear Regional Theatre, Triad Stage, Peppercorn Theatre, The Illinois Shakespeare Festival, West Virginia Public Theatre, Rivertown Theaters, and Southern Arena Theater.





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