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.
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.
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.