Behind the Curtain: Steven Prince Tate, Choreographer of “ONCE ON THIS ISLAND”

Steven Prince Tate, Choreographer of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

Steven Prince Tate is all energy and enthusiasm, especially for his craft in dance and choreography and his artistic dreams for our production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, coming to the Dock Street Theatre stage this April. Hear from him about his inspirations and visions for the show below:

Share with us your artistic background. How did you get into dancing and choreography?

My artistic background is a self-made journey. I was, and still am, the kid that LOVED watching BET, MTV, VH1 and whatever awards show or artist special was on TV. I would study the hottest video at the time, learn the moves, then perform them at school dances with my cousin. Everything that I learned movement-wise was self taught until I joined my elementary school’s cheer and step team. My senior year in high school was when I was introduced to my first “dance studio.” My aunt took me to a masterclass that was being held and saw how much I gravitated to learning and picking up movement – she signed me right up! Unfortunately, that was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had and almost made me not want to pursue dance. However, when I went to college, I signed up for my first modern dance class without knowing anything about the genre. It made me fall in love with dance and choreography. 

Which styles of dance do you gravitate towards the most? Why?

This is kind of a hard question – not because of what calls to me but because of what is wanted at the moment. The first style I learned was the social/cultural form of Hip-Hop, but now I gravitate more towards the Contemporary movement. Though every style of dance has the capability of storytelling, Contemporary allows these stories to be avant-garde. In this you can stray away from the literal and become a moving parable: having the audience search for the meaning you are sharing while allowing them the space to create their own. Though it can be all over the place at times, I enjoy the task of unpacking a theme through dance. 

What has inspired you as you choreograph Charleston Stage’s production of Once On This Island?

To be honest, what has inspired the choreography for this show are the people, the landscapes being developed, and the imagination of our design team. Collaborations are very important to me as a creative person. Being in the space with the actors while making sure we pull the best out of them, seeing how they gravitate towards different movements and characters, and the ability to adapt to changes allows room for me to create beautiful moments for our actors and audiences.

What has come easily as you choreograph the show? Which aspects have proven to be more challenging?

What has come easily to me has been creating the movement, while it has been more challenging to consider the other moving parts in the show, such as our sets and props. When creating any ballet there is a blank canvas – the only moving parts a person need to worry about are the other moving bodies and costumes. However, with theatre the dancers and choreographers always need to keep the set and prop pieces in the back of their minds.

What are your favorite shows of all time?

Now this is a hard question, but I am going to answer it to the best of my abilities! I love comedies and living in fairy tales. 

1. The Lion King: the Musical: The mechanics of the costumes and how they function with the actors’ movements are fascinating to me. My favorite scene is “Mufasa’s Face in the Stars.” This was the first musical I saw in New York when it first premiered, too.

2. The Book of Mormon: This show makes me laugh so much. I loved the social awareness tone while being salacious. 

3. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical: I loved how specific and distinct the role of Tina Turner has to be. Whoever plays her MUST do their research!

Steven Prince Tate is a Memphis, TN native and began his dance training attending Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. While attending MTSU, he performed works by River North Dance Company’s Mari Jo Irbe, Bill T. Jones dancer and choreographer Stefanie Batten Bland (CSBB), Cloud Gate Dance Theater and CSU dance professor Chung Fu Chang, Venus Fly Trap B-Girl member Teena “Teena Marie” Custer, Dance Magazine’s 25 Choreographers to Watch (2006) Ursula Payne and many others. Furthering his dance training , Steven received scholarships from the American Dance Festival (2007-2009), apprenticed for Shelter Dance Repertory and Company Stefanie Batten Bland, has attended the Alvin Ailey school (2011) and Complexions Contemporary Ballet Intensive (2016) performing commissioned works by Rudy Perez, the William Forsythe project, Butoh company Dairakudakan, Laura Dean, Mark Haim, Hair: the Musical performer Judine Summerville, Kim Neal Nofsinger, and Dwight Rhoden. Steven holds a degree in Theater and Dance with a minor in Gender Studies and is a member of Alpha Psi Omega Theater Honor Society.

In 2010, Steven became a trainee and company member for New Ballet Ensemble and School. He has performed in works by Frankfurt Ballet dancers Francesca Harper (The Francesca Harper Project), Elizabeth Corbett, Pittsburgh Ballet Principal Alan Obuzor (Texture Contemporary Ballet), Soloist Kaori Ogasawara, Opera Memphis’ “Aida”, guested for Dmitri Roudnev Children’s Ballet Theater’s annual Nutcracker performance: the Prince and Arabian. In 2013, Steven’s talent was featured in a commercial for reality dance show So You Think You Can Dance Season 10 Memphis Audition. In 2014, Steven was appointed Associate Director of contemporary dance company Bridging Souls Productions and has choreographed several works for the company: From Me to You (2014), Until Daybreak (2015), HIM (2016) and social justice piece While We Are Dying (2016). He has taught classes and workshops for the Memphis Grizz Girls, Ohio University, James Madison University, University of Memphis, Sugar Strut
Dancewear: The Sugar Tour, Crosstown Arts, Crosstown High School, Project Motion, SubRoy Dance Studios, The Buckman Conservatory, Young Actors Guild, Kipp Collegiate Elementary and Middle School, DanzHouse, Studio Gray, The Boys and Girls Club of West Memphis Arkansas, St. Mary’s Episcopal School, STAX Music Academy, Christina’s Dance Center (Nashville, TN), Memphis Jewish Community Center Summer Camp, Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Company d, Dazzle Baby Ballerina Certified, Woodland Presbyterian, Marion Visual and Performing Arts Center, and Tennessee Ballet Theater, and Children’s Ballet Theater. Wanting to foster the Memphis community through dance, Steven developed his own emerging artists workshops “The Move” (2014), and “Vib-ology (2021) as well as professional and community based movement classes “ Nu-Flo & S.T.R.U.T.” (2018).

Recently, Steven’s work was featured in Essence, Yahoo! and for a viral Beyonce’ inspired “Baby Reveal” video. He has choreographed for Grammy Nominated artists Southern Avenue and Marco Pave, NBC the Voice Season 21st season runner-up Wendy Molten, featured artist Nedy, NBA Memphis Grizzlies’ Grizz Girls, Grandmas & Grandpas, NBE’s senior students and company, Memphis based female tap company Hot Foot Honeys, NPC Battle on the Bluff: Fitness Competition, The Buckman Conservatory, Tennessee Ballet Theatre, MBAA (Black Broadway Cabaret) Rhodes College (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), Playhouse on the Square (Ain’t Misbehavin’), Theater Memphis (Mary Poppins Jr.), Desoto Family Theatre (High School Musical Jr.), Company d, Opera Memphis and various musicians in the Tri-State area.

Behind the Curtain: Courtni Riddick, Costume Designer of “ONCE ON THIS ISLAND”

Courtni Riddick, Costume Designer of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

Courtni Riddick, our Costume Shop Director and Costume Designer for ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, has brought her talent to many of our shows since joining our professional staff in season 44. Learn about her artistic tastes and processes for designing this fantastical production, onstage at the Dock Street Theatre this April, below:

Share with us your artistic background. How did you get into theatre and costume design?

I originally started school in fine arts. While in school I was offered a work-study position in costume coordination. I fell in love with it, and the rest is history.

Which styles of theatre do you gravitate towards the most? Why? 

I love the esoteric and the fantastical. Anything that gives me an opportunity to try a new approach conceptually and artistically is interesting for me.

What has inspired you as you create your designs for Once On This Island? What are your dreams for Charleston Stage’s visual presentation of this special show?

The framing for ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is that of a community coming together to share and tell a story, utilizing whatever they have on hand to convey the beauty of a shared lore and history. I want to help the audience feel immersed in this telling, like they’re being let in on something special. With all the hard work our team is putting in, I absolutely believe they will be.   

What has come easily as you costume the show?

Collaborating with our Director, Crystin Gilmore, has been thoroughly enjoyable. She is open to and welcoming of our ideas. Her energy, attitude, and approach to this show and our team has been so inspiring.

Which aspects have proven to be more challenging?

The most challenging aspect has surprisingly been access to the unique resources and fabrics we need. Most of our really interesting fabrics we’ve had to travel hours to get or have them shipped in. 

What are your favorite shows of all time?

I would love to one day design for Sweeney Todd and Ti-Jean and His Brothers.

Courtni has been designing and building costumes for more than 15 years. Originally from central Florida, she graduated from Florida State University with an M.F.A. in Costume Design. She loves to create for the big and fantastical as well as the intimate and detailed and she is thrilled to be a part of the historic Charleston Stage team. Her recent credits include Bright Star and Murder on the Orient Express. Other credits include The Importance of Being Earnest and Eurydice.

Behind the Curtain: Seth Howard, Scenic Designer of “ONCE ON THIS ISLAND”

Seth Howard, Set Designer of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

We consider ourselves insurmountably fortunate to have the talent of Seth Howard for our ONCE ON THIS ISLAND scenic designs, playing onstage at the Dock Street Theatre this April. Get to know him and his bright, wonderful visions for the show in our interview below:

Share with us your artistic background. How did you get into scenic design?

Like most people in the industry, I started doing theatre in high school by joining the backstage crew. It was there that I fell in love with creating and fabricating set pieces for our shows. After high school I left the theatre world and went to school for mechanical engineering. 3 years in I realized that I wanted to change my major; engineering didn’t feel right for me. Luckily, my love for theatre never died and it just so happened that the college I was attending had an amazing fine arts program. I applied, and after a few rounds of interviews I was admitted into the stage design program at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM)!

What artistic styles do you gravitate towards the most? Why?

I tend to say that my overall design style is very “architectural.” I tend to see large shapes and structures when I’m imaging and sketching up shows. From there I break those large shapes down into individual elements that make up the show. However, I’m still on a personal journey to discover my style – I think this is something that takes designers years to really figure out.

What has inspired you as you design Charleston Stage’s production of Once On This Island?

I’ve been really drawn to the architecture of Haiti at large during my design process for this show. Haiti is full of culture, texture, and diverse styles of structures. It was my goal from the beginning to create a smorgasbord or all the interesting materials and architectural motifs found on the island.

What has come easily as you design the show? Which aspects have proven to be more

The overall idea of creating a market that serves as this communal space for all of the social classes that exist in the story came pretty easy to me. For me, the most challenging aspect was figuring out how to depict the “two different worlds” that occupy the story. I constantly asked myself “How do we visually show the difference between the peasants and the wealthy?” After a while of sitting with my thoughts I finally thought of the idea of using the street art (that is commonly seen on the island) as a way to show the different worlds. As you look at the set you will see that all of the portals that frame the space are covered in graffiti-esque murals where one side shows the homes of the peasants and the other showing the homes of the wealthy.

What are your favorite shows of all time?

I’m a sucker for Wicked! It was the first show that drew me into theatre and more importantly, piqued my interest in set design. But some of my other favorites are Heathers, The Secret Garden, and The Wiz!

Seth Howard (he/him) is a freelance scenic designer based out of Orlando, FL. He has
designed many regional productions and themed experiences across the country and is excited
to join the Charleston Stage team for this production of
Once on This Island. Some of his recent
design credits include
Deathtrap (Constellation Stage and Screen), Jersey Boys (Theatre
Aspen), and
Princess and Frog: The Musical (The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati). He received
his B.F.A. in Stage Design, Props, and Scenic Art from the University of Cincinnati College-
Conservatory of Music (CCM). Check out @sethhowarddesign on Instagram for more.

Meet Cody Elsensohn, Starring as Pablo Del Valle in “NATIVE GARDENS”

Cody Elsensohn, a Season 45 Resident Actor, has previously been seen on the Dock Street Theatre stage in The Play That Goes Wrong, The Addams Family – A New Musical, and A Christmas Carol. Now in the weighty, yet buoyant, role of Pablo Del Valle in Native Gardens, his acting skills are particularly shining. Hear from him about his preparation for this role below:

Season 45 Resident Actor Cody Elsensohn starring as Pablo Del Valle in NATIVE GARDENS.

What do you love about theatre as an art form?

I love the energy that is created by the audience and the actors. From the moment the stage manager calls “house is open” and voices of an audience begin to hum over the monitor, it’s as if a pulse for that day’s show has started. By the time “places” is called there’s a buzzing, electric energy in the theatre. The best part is when the curtain finally rises and the audience and actors share in that energy together; the actors playing off the audience, the audience engaging with the actors. There’s a heightened, supported, intimate feel when we’re all engaged in the story together. That synergistic relationship is something I love about theatre. 

How have you been preparing for the role of Pablo Del Valle in Native Gardens?

My process is pretty similar for any role I do. First, I like to listen to music that inspires me. For example, if the show is set in the 1920s, I will listen to instrumental music from the era while I work to aid in world building. For Native Gardens I looked up traditional and pop Chilean music, just listening to new sounds and getting a sense for the energy that Pablo grew up with in Chile. The next step is considering who this character is, what he wants, where he is, why he wants it—the preliminary questions to get to know who this character is at the top of the show.

Next I go through the script and Google literally anything I don’t understand, any pronunciations I need, any words I don’t know, and learn those things. For Pablo I needed to familiarize myself with topics mentioned in the script: native gardening, D.C. squatter’s rights, Lockheed Martin, life as an attorney. All these things help me know what I’m talking about and have a clear mental picture when I deliver lines. 

I’ll also list out what other characters mention about my character to get a clearer picture on his relationships with others. After I’ve done all of this preliminary work, it’s just about playing with lines and dynamics with my scene partners; exploring Pablo through interactions with the others. 

Tell us more about your character. What do you want us to know about him?

Pablo is a rising, successful, young attorney at Smith, Krause, & Wilson; a law firm in D.C. Pablo is originally from Las Condes, Santiago, Chile, attended boarding school in America, met in college and married Tania, and was disowned by his father for this. Years later at the top of the show, he and his expecting wife Tania have just moved into a long untended, fixer-upper house in an old, historic neighborhood. He’s viewed as a foreigner in his law firm, and feeling like an underdog leads him to try to be someone he imagines his colleagues will like. His pressures at work ultimately result in him having to scramble to stick true to his word, no matter what. 

What I want people to know about Pablo is that he feels he has something to prove. He wants to provide for his family, support Tania’s interests, and rectify his relationship with his father through a new relationship with their baby. He feels a lot of pressure to do all of these things, but that pressure comes out of love. 

What do you hope audiences will receive and ponder after seeing this show?

I hope our audiences’ notions of race and class are challenged by seeing the show, that they gain new perspectives about those who seem different. I hope people are excited by the show, and I hope they can walk away from it and see someone pass them by on the street and recognize their humanity just a little more clearly. 

What is your favorite show of all time?

For a musical, I’d have to say Cabaret; I just love the aesthetic, the story, the mood, etc. For a play I’d have to say Nick Staffords’ War Horse, which is a magnificent play with singing, interesting staging, and a massive multi-person operated horse puppet. 

Cody is ecstatic to join Charleston Stage in its 45th season as a Resident Actor! A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Cody earned his B.F.A. in Acting from the University of Southern Mississippi in May of 2022. Some of his recent credits include Billy Cane in Bright Star, Jerry Hyland in Once in a Lifetime, Actor 1 in The Stinky Cheeseman, and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cody would like to thank his family, friends, and teachers who endlessly encourage and support him; it is highly valued! Keep up with Cody by following his Instagram: @cody.elsensohn

Behind the Curtain: Crystin Gilmore, Director of “ONCE ON THIS ISLAND”

Speaking with Crystin feels like speaking with a longtime friend who cares deeply for you, even if you’ve only just met. A former Resident Actor with Charleston Stage and current Equity Actor in New York, we consider ourselves fortunate beyond measure to be graced with her talent and bright, compassionate personality from time to time whenever she appears as a guest artist in our productions. With ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, on stage at the Dock Street Theatre in April, she’s making her directorial debut, for which we are so proud and grateful. Read more about her process in preparing to lead this show below:

Crystin Gilmore, Director of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

You’re worked with Charleston Stage before many times — welcome back! What are your favorite Charleston Stage memories?

Thank you! My relationship with Charleston Stage runs deep. I have a plethora of memories that touch my heart. My first show with Charleston Stage was Beehive: The 60’s Musical! It’s a show with hits from all the 60’s girl groups. I loved it because the songs took you back in time and made you dance in your seat. As a previous Resident Actor, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching acting classes and working on the summer shows. There’s nothing like watching a child shine on stage at The Dock Street!! I have too many favorite shows to name but if I had to choose my top 3, I’d say Mamma Mia!– it’s the music, comedy and the dancing, The Seat of Justice– Julian Wiles‘ writing and commitment to the story is unmatched, and my upcoming show Once On This Island because It’s a story about unconditional love and it’s my directorial debut!

Share with us your artistic background. How did you get into theatre, acting, and directing?

My mother says I started acting straight out of her womb! Haha! I’d agree. I’ve always been a storyteller and a lover of people. I’m also the daughter of a southern preacher and an educator so this field suits me well. I started singing in the church at a young age, I participated in school talent shows and many church programs and I discovered a love for directing in college. I realized then that a collaborative is the best way to tell a story. 

Which styles of theatre do you gravitate towards the most? Why?

I gravitate mostly to straight plays though my resume is filled with musicals. Dramas and comedies rely on the actors ability to connect to the text and leaves no room for error. Some musicals leave you humming the songs and engrossed in outstanding vocals, all of which are just as complex and require another layer of expertise. I love musicals and I have friends who can sing effortlessly all times of day but singing requires me to cut out dairy from my diet and go on vocal rest outside when I’m not performing. I’m more aware of how I use my instrument in my daily life so straight plays take top billing for me.

What has inspired you as you study the script of Once On This Island?

Once On This Island has inspired me to be more vulnerable in giving and receiving love. This story has enriched my life in so many ways. My hope is that the cast and the audience members leave this production feeling inspired to give the love they desire freely and unconditionally.

What are your dreams for Charleston Stage’s own production of this special show?

Our version of Once On This Island will hopefully remind people that what they have in life is enough and that desiring what other people have is a waste of time. There is only one you and your life is sufficiently beautiful, individual and unique. 

What has come easily as you prepare to direct the show?

I’ve had a fantastic time in the collaborative process. My technical creatives have been fantastic in their flexibility and visions. They have made this process very easy in making my/our desired vision come to life. 

Which aspects have proven to be more challenging?

The most challenging part of a musical is adding all of the components together. It’s fantastically complex and beautiful at the same time. I trust that the actors and musicians will shine once the curtain opens on opening night.

What are your favorite shows of all time?

My favorite shows of all time are shows I have done or can see myself in like The Color Purple, Hamilton, School Girls; Or The African Mean Girls Play, The Mountaintop, and dare I say, Mamma Mia!

Performances of Once On This Island run April 12th – 30th at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. For tickets, visit

Crystin is grateful to have the opportunity to be back at The Dock with Charleston Stage making her directorial debut with Once On This Island! She was a Resident Actor with Charleston Stage many years ago and will forever call the company family. Crystin last graced the Dock Street Theatre stage in Black Pearl Sings! as Pearl. You may also remember her in The Seat of Justice as Mrs. Ruby Cornwell, in Mamma Mia! as Rosie, in Hairspray as Motormouth Maybelle and in Chicago, The Musical as Matron Momma Morton. Some additional credits include School Girls; Or The African Mean Girls Play in the role of Headmistress, The Color Purple as Shug Avery where she received an IRNE and Arts Impulse Award with Speakeasy Stage Co., The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin as Miss Pain with Progressive Theater, Letters from War as Mae with North Shore Theatre, Smokey Joe’s Cafe as Brenda with Show Palace Dinner Theater and Beehive! The 60’s Musical as Wanda with Greenbrier Valley Theatre. Crystin also enjoys being a motivational speaker, doing commercials, voiceovers and she hosts a podcast called POVwCrystinGilmore. Special thanks to her family, friends and the Lord. (Philippians 4:6-8) Wanna connect? @crystingilmore /

Meet Melonea Marek, Starring as Virginia Butley in “NATIVE GARDENS”

The lovely Melonea Marek, our Acting Ensemble Member in the role of Virginia Butley in NATIVE GARDENS, spoke with us recently about her process as a theatre artist preparing for this show! Read on below:

Acting Ensemble Member Melonea Marek as Virginia Butley in “Native Gardens”.

Please share with us some highlights of your acting experience. What do you love about theatre as an art form?

I have been acting since 1979 when I got involved with the Flowertown Players.  Since then, I have worked with The Footlight Players, Charleston Stage, Stage One and Workshop Summer Theater. I love that acting gives me the opportunity to step outside of myself and become another person for a while.

How have you been preparing for the role of Virginia Butley in “Native Gardens?”

I’ve been studying the script of course and also doing research on the playwright, Karen Zacarías. I am very different from Virginia, but we do have one thing in common: We both listen to NPR!

Tell us more about your character. What do you want us to know about her?

Virginia Butley is a highly educated, wealthy woman married to Frank. She had to fight her way to the position she now holds as a Defense Contractor at Lockheed Martin, a large contracting firm. She is proud of her accomplishments in a company, not to mention an entire career field, that has few women. I don’t think Virginia means to be offensive with some of her comments, but she is very opinionated!

What do you hope audiences will receive and ponder after seeing this show?

This show is so well written in how it truly explores all sides of political, cultural, and social opinions. I hope our audiences will come to the conclusion that we all have something to contribute to the conversation, and listening to experiences and opinions of those who are different from us can, in fact, be a life altering experience.

What is your favorite show of all time?

I have many: Steel Magnolias, Last Night of Ballyhoo (my first show with Charleston Stage!), and Laundry and Bourbon. But my favorite show of all time is Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will?

Acting Ensemble Member Melonea Marek

Melonea was last seen as Helen Hubbard in the Charleston Stage production of Murder on the Orient Express. Other Charleston Stage performances include Our Town, Shear Madness, Steel Magnolias, Last Night of Ballyhoo, Brighton Beach Memoirs, All My Sons, Omnium Gatherum and To Kill a Mockingbird. Melonea is happily retired from the Berkeley County Guardian ad Litem program. She’d like to thank her husband, Mike, for all his love and support.