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

September 26, 2008

“The Nicest Kids In Town” by Associate Artistic Director Marybeth Clark

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:08 pm

Now that WEST SIDE STORY has ended and rehearsals for FRANKENSTEIN have started, we are also getting ready for our annual black tie gala. October 2nd 400 of Charleston Stage’s faithful supporters will enjoy an evening of fine dining with dinner prepared by many of Charleston’s finest chefs. There will be a live auction featuring amazing trips and one of a kind items (see our web for a sneak peek and even get your bid in early). The theme for the evening is “A Night On The Red Carpet” and our Resident Actors will perform songs and dances from your favorite musicals that have made it to the silver screen. Our high school performance troupe, Broadway Express, spent a Saturday learning the mashed potato, the monkey, the pony and the twist so they can join in a number from the Broadway hit, HAIRSPRAY. We will also feature members of our middle school troupe, KidStage, and some of the cast of our summer show, DISNEY’S HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. There will be over 40 students performing and that is only about a third of the students who we work with each week. Come enjoy the show and a great evening!


(Charleston Stage’s Resident Actors and our troupes gather together in preparation for their Gala performance) 

September 23, 2008

A Dancer’s Life – Epson Salt, Icy Hot, Lay-outs, and Dancing at the Gym by Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 4:49 pm

Dancing and playing the role of Anita has been a dream of mine since I was knee high to a ballerina. I got the soundtrack to West Side Story when I was in middle school and I would sing “America” and “A Boy Like That” in the shower at the top of my lungs (my parents can testify).  Anita’s energy, smarts, and sass is what drew me to her and made Anita a dream role for me. I performed West Side Story for the first time in high school as a jet girl. I would watch Anita’s numbers from off stage every night and be in awe of the dance and fire she brought to the stage. Being that I am extremely Caucasian looking I never dreamed that I would get the privilege to play the part.

Then Charleston Stage Company came into my life and made that dream come true. The entire process of creating this show has been magical. From the early dance rehearsals, to refining and rehearsing the scene work, to finally being able to share the show with an audience. Magic truly happened on that stage. I speak for all the Resident Actors when I say we had to pinch ourselves every once in a while because we thought doing this show was too good to be true.

I will say it wasn’t all smiles and laughs. I have been dancing since I was 5 years old and never in my years of ballet classes and dance musicals have I been as sore as I was for the West Side rehearsal process. I became one of CVS’s loyal patrons, purchasing Epson salt and icy hot on a regular basis.  I must also say that never in my life have I felt more alive and worked as hard dancing onstage. Resident Actor Michael Lasris, (Bernardo) was a fantastic dance partner. Some of the lifts could be a little scary if the right partner isn’t there to catch you. He was always there and made the “Dance at the Gym” exciting every night.

Also working with Kevin P. Hill, our choreographer, was a treat. He taught us original choreography with his own vision and was always challenging us. I feel like a better dancer and performer due to his expertise and the opportunity to do this show.  

Overall, it was a truly magical and memorable show and I will miss it dearly. 


(Center:  Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith as Anita sings “America”)



(Center:  Resident Actors Michael Lasris and Sarah Claire Smith as Bernardo and Anita) 

September 21, 2008

Acting With the Body by Resident Actor Michael Lasris

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:03 pm

In college, when asked to describe myself as an actor, I responded with “tall,” “wacky” and “clumsy.” My professor told me, after reading my responses, that I clearly considered myself a “physical” actor, as all of my answers were physical traits (as opposed to emotional traits, like “brooding” or “nostalgic”). This is a true statement. I am a physical actor. I tend to develop my characters from the outside in, starting with my bodily positions and moving into emotional development. So, when I found out my first two roles for the season, Bernardo in West Side Story and The Creature in Frankenstein, I knew I had a challenge: I had to transition from a suave Puerto Rican to a “science experiment gone awry.” I can’t tell you how excited this made me to know that I am able to play back-to-back roles that show two completely different physical beings. 


With Bernardo, I had the challenge of making Kevin P. Hill’s stylistic adaptation of Jerome Robbins’ athletic choreography seem natural and NOT dance-y. And, with my extensive dance experience, this did prove to be a challenge. However, after harnessing the Latin flavor of the music and working with Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith (Anita), who also has an extensive dance background, I was able to develop the character that I was looking for: a sexy Puerto Rican who could dance well, but still lead a brute gang.


As for Frankenstein… we’ll see how the process works! I’ve already begun research on child-like movement patterns and, hopefully, with the help of Julian Wiles (our director/playwright) and the rest of the cast, I will find a physicalization for The Creature that will carry me on the character’s journey throughout the play. Cheesy? A little. But what else would you expect from a “wacky” physical actor?



(Center:  Resident Actor Michael Lasris as “Bernardo” fights Resident Actor Brian Zane as “Riff”) 



(Center:  Resident Actor Michael Lasris as “Bernardo” dances with Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith as “Anita”) 



(Resident Actor Michael Lasris as “The Creature” in Charleston Stage’s up coming production of Frankenstein



September 19, 2008

What do the Beijing Olympics have in common with West Side Story? By Prop Master Michael Christensen

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 3:25 pm

West Side Story has a lot in common with the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympics in Beijing.  While watching the performance, after one particularly impressive section of movement where a series of about a hundred boxes told a beautiful story, the announcers explained that all the delicate movement of the boxes was done by hand or with manpower.  I remember sitting there before hearing his explanation and trying to figure out if they had used computers or perhaps hydraulic lifts to get that precise a movement.  What they did use was people power and lots of practice to get it right and that is exactly the same resources that we use to have beautiful, and quick transitions from one scene to the next in our production of West Side Story.  During the 2 acts of the play we visit ten different locations from the interior of the neighborhood drug store to the decorated gymnasium dance. 

We don’t have nearly as many people on our backstage crew as they had moving those boxes in the birds nest but our crew has spent many hours practicing and fine tuning their movements to be able to complete the wonderful transitions from one location to the next in as little as 10 seconds.   Our crew is made up of high school students who have been trained in our TheatreWings Apprentice program.  Mark Davis is a new TheatreWings apprentice but he is doing a great job as Production Assistant arriving at the theatre 90 mins before the show begins so he can check every prop and set piece to make sure it in the right place and ready for the production.  Mark also plays “A-rab” in the show.  Another pair of new students to the program, Madison Beane and Savannah Ferguson, can be found each day sweeping all the platforms onstage and off to keep it nice and clean for the very physical production numbers.  Everett Pompeii joins the team by checking every prop and replacing any broken or missing items needed for the show.  Jake Pensmith is learning new skills on this show as the sound assistant where he has to prepare and test every microphone each night and get them ready for the actors.  Hayley Daderko rounds out the High school students working on West Side Story as a dresser where she assists the actors with those very fast costume changes.  Along with a few adult crew members also helping out, these kids are responsible for making sure the show runs smoothly and consistently.    And very much like the Olympic ceremonies, they leave you wondering “How did they do that?”


(West Side Story Crew) 

September 18, 2008

Life In The Pit by Music Director Wendell Smith

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:33 pm

The orchestra pit, that is. It’s always an adventure. And a whirlwind of activity. Besides the basic rhythm section, (Larry Crosswell, piano, John Kennedy, bass, David Patterson, drums) we’ve got an array of brass (Chuck Dalton, Steve Berry,trumpets, Phill King, trombone, Brian Reed, french horn) and woodwinds (Mark Sterbank, Jon Phillips, Kathy Ardrey). The woodwinds pull triple and quadruple duty, each playing three or four instruments a piece – flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophones, oboe (not at the same time, though I wouldn’t put it passed them.) So, too the percussionists, two players (Tim Clemons, Michael Hargrove) on timpani, xylophone, vibraphone, bongos, castanets, maracas, tom toms, cymbals and triangle. They move so fast every performance that I rarely catch a glimpse of them. So, counting me (on keyboards and conducting), we have 12 men and a lady “in the trenches.” Speaking of that lady and multiple talents, in addition to her instrumental skills Kathy Ardrey can be seen on stage every night as chaperone Glad Hand during “The Dance at the Gym”, and heard as the voice singing “Somewhere.” Talk about your over achievers! I’m proud of our musical crew, and it’s a pleasure to work with them. Thanks, gang, for helping Charleston Stage “sound” like a hit!


(A View Into The Depths Of The Orchestra Pit At The College of Charleston Sottile Theatre)

September 17, 2008

Graffiti Art Thank You by Scenic and Lighting Designer Stefanie Christensen.

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 7:00 pm

Have you seen West Side Story yet? If you have, you might be wondering about the fantastic paint job on the set. I am not just talking about the realistic brick or the aged concrete that make up the back alley look of the city. But also what is layered on top of that. All that fantastic GRAFFITI!!!!! And let me tell you, we had the best time creating the layers of words, symbols, shapes and pictures all over the stage and set out of spray paint and chalk.The paint job started as most things do, with a great foundation created by guest scenic artist, Jessica Hyatt. She spent every day for a week painting the different elements that made up the urban playground seen onstage. After we moved the whole set into the theatre, then came the first layer of graffiti. I think that was the hardest layer for me, putting that first blemish on the beautiful paint job that Jessica spent so much time on. But once the first mark was made, there was no stopping the gang. We had actors, crew members, designers, staff, Resident Actors, TheatreWings apprentices and even our Director onstage shaking cans of spray paint like maracas and leaving mark after mark after mark everywhere. And that was just the first step. Once the air cleared from the fumes, in rounds we brought in designers, actors and crew to go over the first groups work to create graffiti with the same kind of tension and rivalry that is seen in the show. And yes, that really is the back wall of the Sottile Theatre as our backdrop, and yes, we did spray paint right onto the wall of the theatre. I am not sure, but it is quite possibly a stage debut for the wall in a theatrical production.Finally once the theme was established, we brought in the expert, a real professional graffiti artist. He pulled art in with him from right off the street. He is a local artist who works at Artist and Craftsman on Calhoun Street named Abdul and he is fantastic. He researched logos and graffiti from the 1950s, translated slang into Spanish for the Puerto Rican Sharks and did a great job of putting it up on stage. A very special thank you to everyone who pitched in and made this a wonderful, colorful work of art. And if you have not yet seen it, you only have 4 shows left so don’t miss it!



(A Closer Look At The Graffiti Art)



(A Grander Scope Of The Set With Graffiti Art)

September 15, 2008

Playing Maria by Resident Actor Viveka Chandrasekaran

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 9:13 pm

To be perfectly honest, I never suspected Maria in West Side Story would be the first role I would play out of college. It is such an honor to be able to say that. This experience has shown me a lot about the abilities I never knew I had, and it has also shown me what it means to be a part of a team. The cast, crew, and directors are not only extremely talented and driven, but they are so inspiring to me. Every night I get ready and change costumes as fast as I can to make it to the side of the stage to watch my peers dance and sing their hearts out! All I can do is smile and think, “Look at them. They are powerful.” Watching them gives me a fire to get out there and contribute exactly what my cast mates are bringing to the story. The crew works just as hard as we do! The story would not be complete without the costumes, beautiful set, lighting, and the crew members to make the scene shifts happen. And the directors tie it all together! It is incredible to work with a group of directors that believe in us and the story. We are a team. We have been blessed with an opportunity to tell a beautiful story together. West Side Story was written for a specific type of energy, and every person in this production has the chance to give a piece of their heart to the audience. What an amazing opportunity! I couldn’t ask for a more meaningful experience.


(Resident Actor Viveka Chandrasekaran As Maria Singing “I Feel Pretty”)


(Professional Guest New York Actor Aaron Velthouse as Tony and Resident Actor Viveka Chandrasekaran as Maria singing “Tonight”)



September 12, 2008

Back at Charleston Stage by Bessie Edwards

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 7:16 pm

Ten years ago I was a goose in Charleston Stage’s production of Charlotte’s Web. I fell in love with the company then, and all throughout middle and high school I stayed involved with the company. I acted in several shows and worked on crew for over a dozen productions while I was in TheatreWings, our high school apprentice program.  After high school I attended Siena College in Albany, NY where I majored in psychology and received a certificate in theatre. While there I acted and stage managed for the school, and last fall I did an internship for The Unicorn Theatre in London, England. As graduation grew closer, I knew that I wanted to return to Charleston to work for Charleston Stage. In July, I was hired to become Charleston Stage’s Management Intern and got settled back into the company during our SummerStage production of High School Musical. Since then I have been working on West Side Story, and also loving the time I have to work with the TheatreWings kids. It truly feels like being home again. Last night I called all 167 cues for the opening of our spectacular West Side Story.  Calling cues means I direct when every light comes on, when scenery flies in and out, as well as, cueing all of the special effects.  It’s a complicated show, a cue every few seconds, but last night it went off without a hitch—I’ve come a long way from being a goose to cueing this full scale mega production and I owe it all to Charleston Stage.

September 10, 2008

Preview! Phones Are Ringing Off the Hook!

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 8:15 pm

Tonight the West Side Story company of 53 (30 actors, 13 musicians, 10 crew members) are joined by an audience for the first time.  Last night was the final dress rehearsal where the final fine tuning took place.    Tonight the large audience who’ve been buying tickets like crazy all day will be treated to one of the greatest musicals of all time.   The soaring score, gigantic set (wait until you see the work of our scenic graffiti artists) and well over 100 costumes all adds up to a stunning production . . . and the debut of Charleston Stage’s Professional Resident Acting Company—wait until you hear their amazing voices,  all supported by our live West Side Story orchestra and a terrific ensemble of singers and dancers and Aaron Velthouse, our guest “Tony”.  “Something’s coming”!   Something amazing! 




September 9, 2008

Building A Dream (by Resident Actor Sonny Kong)

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 7:39 pm

As West Side Story nears the end of it’s rehearsal process, the emergence of a beautiful final product quickly approaches. However, much is yet to be done.  Technical elements are being finalized, costumes are being added, and some minor changes in blocking are being made to accommodate the larger-than-life-set.  The “urban playground”, designed by Stefanie Christensen, gives the Jets and Sharks a variety of levels on which to play, but also lends a challenge for the “dream ballet” sequence.In order to take the characters out of their reality and place them into a dreamland of sorts, Stefanie brilliantly gathered sheer white fabric and hung several panels from above, spanning the entire stage. Fog was later added to enhance the effect. Once these technical elements were in place, it was my turn to join the picture.Although I am playing “Action”, the most aggressive and rambunctious Jet, I am also playing “Dream Tony”. That is, I quickly reappear as the dream version of Tony (accompanied by a “Dream Maria” as well) while the “real” Tony and Maria watch their dream come to life right before their very eyes. The ballet sequence is technically difficult, especially considering that both myself and Micky Dims (Dream Maria) both are relatively new to ballet. In actuality, my background in dance comes from hip-hop and Micky’s background comes from gymnastics. However, both of us picked up ballet in recent years and were lucky enough to get chosen by choreographer Kevin P. Hill as the dream duo. It seems the both of us have been to countless (and I really do mean COUNTLESS) extra rehearsals with Kevin or with Michael Lasris (“Bernardo”/Dance Captain) to learn and polish the ballet. After many rehearsals, the ballet eventually came together and transformed into a seamless and coherent artistic creation. While additional technical elements are still being added, the ballet, as well as the rest of the show, is nearing completion and is almost ready for viewing by the general public. As my excitement builds to open my first show here at Charleston Stage, I am simultaneously stepping away from the show and watching it emerge as a realized conceptualization… Get ready for West Side Story


(Resident Actor Sonny Kong And Local Actor Micky Dims As “Dream Tony And Maria”)



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