Meet Lauryn Kay, Charleston Stage’s new Institutional Giving Manager

We sat down with Lauryn Kay, Charleston Stage’s new Institutional Giving Manager, to learn more about her passion for the performing arts and community enrichment in Charleston. Read below:

Tell us about your background in the performing arts.

I grew up with a strong passion for music that came from singing in school choirs and shows. My favorite part of high school was singing and dancing in show choir, and I knew music and performing arts would always be a big part of my life. I studied music at Charleston Southern University and received my Master’s degree in Vocal Performance at the University of Florida. During this time, I sang in choral ensembles, operas, and theatre productions. My favorite roles were The Witch (Into the Woods) at CSU and Rosina (Barber of Seville) with UF Opera Theater. After college, I worked in arts administration and frequently performed with Gulfshore Opera in Fort Myers, FL. Since moving back home to Charleston this year,  I have participated in concerts with The King’s Counterpoint choir, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, and worked for Spoleto Festival USA.  

Nonprofit development is a special vocation of work. What does serving the arts community in Charleston mean to you?

The arts community in Charleston has a special place in my heart. This is a city I love to call home! I feel privileged to work downtown in the same places I watched musicals and performed in choir concerts. I want to serve this community by helping to make theatre and live performances more accessible to Charleston locals and visitors. Through this mission, theater lovers are united! 

What excites you about Charleston Stage? 

Charleston Stage is beaming with quality theater productions and diverse educational programs. Amongst this, there is a sense of community and collaboration that I’m thrilled to join! 

What is your favorite show of all time?

If I had to pick a favorite, it’s the all-time classic, West Side Story. I played Anita at CSU and have seen it more times than I can count –  it never gets old! 


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.

Meet Don Brandenburg, Starring as Frank Butley in “NATIVE GARDENS”

Don Brandenburg is a longtime player and director in our local theatre scene. We are so excited to bring his talent to the Dock Street Theatre stage with NATIVE GARDENS, our final straight play of the season! Read more about his artistic process in preparing for the role of Frank Butley below:

Acting Ensemble Member Don Brandenburg as Frank 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 part of the theatre scene for more decades than I care to think about. During that time, I have worn many hats, not just actor, but also a producer, director and numerous thankless jobs in between. What thrills me about theatre as an art form is the connection between the actors and the audience. An audience feels the energy emanating from the actors on stage, while the actors on stage feel the same from the audience. It’s an interactive experience that is only felt through live performing art forms.

While some theatre productions are designed to “make you think,” not all theatre productions “teach a lesson” or make you ponder some deep probing question that you will discuss for days. Some theatre is just there to entertain. A good comedy or fun musical lets you leave the theatre with a smile on your face. If the actors (with credit to the entire production team) have done their jobs, the audience leaves with the intended outcome.

How have you been preparing for the role of Frank Butley in Native Gardens?

I have played many different types of characters over the years, but the process of character preparation is always the same for me. The first item of importance is location. Where does this character live? What is his background and upbringing? What is his socio/economic status? This helps determine dialect, accent, and the character’s mentality, which are extremely important to believability. Working on accent and speech pattern is a focus right from the start of the rehearsal process. Also, the character’s age, or perceived age, is an important factor in order to deliver the proper gait. This was never more important to me than when I was in my twenties and was cast in a role playing a man in his eighties. After character background and age have been examined, the process is simply putting my mind into “becoming” the character and making myself think and function the way the character does with the other characters in his life. I don’t believe there is any secret to it other than that.

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

I play Frank Butley. Frank and his wife, Virginia, live in a stately, upscale D.C. neighborhood. Frank is an avid gardener who takes meticulous care of his backyard flower garden to the point of being obsessive-compulsive. He is preoccupied with winning a Horticultural Society Best Garden Award for which he has entered every year, only to never be awarded higher than an honorable mention. Both Frank and Virginia are put to the test when a new, young couple moves in next door and starts a property border dispute just when the new garden competition is about to begin. The battle between Frank, Virginia, and the neighbors turns hilariously relatable.

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

I hope our audiences walk away thinking about what it means to be American in 2023 and what compromises we all have to make for mutual gain.

What is your favorite show of all time?

I have been asked this many times. I don’t have a favorite. I have many favorites. When it comes to gripping drama, you can’t beat Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang is a great contemporary comedy. I played Vanya in a production a few years ago. I love A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in the classic musical comedy category and as a newer musical, Something Rotten! is fabulous.

Acting Ensemble Member Don Brandenburg

No stranger to the Charleston theatre scene, Don has been producing, directing and acting in theatre productions for decades, all while handling his professional career as a civil engineer. Don first worked with Charleston Stage during Season 20 (1997-1998) when he directed a production of To Kill a Mockingbird. He most recently performed in Charleston Stage’s productions of Noises Off and Murder on the Orient Express. Don has worked with a number of Charleston area’s performing arts groups, including The Footlight Players, where he was a past Artistic Director for the organization. While working for The Footlight Players, Don directed favorites such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Sugar Bean Sisters, Suddenly Last Summer and the musicals A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Della’s Diner and Slammergirls. He was seen on the Footlight stage as Vanya in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and in the musicals Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Heathers: The Musical. Don has been seen at Threshold Repertory Theatre in The Jacksonian and Murder at the Howard Johnson’s. Over the years, Don has also been in many TV commercials and industrial films.

Meet Kayla Green, Starring as Tania Del Valle in “NATIVE GARDENS”

Photo by Reese Moore Photography

We are honored to present the artistic work of Kayla Green in the role of Tania Del Valle in our upcoming production of NATIVE GARDENS, opening next week! Read more about her preparation for this role and love for theatre below:

Share with us more about your acting experience! What do you love about theatre?

High school is where I really got into theatre. I had many chances to be a part of amazing ensembles until I landed my first speaking role as Yvette in Clue. I was so proud of myself when I saw my name on the cast listing. I swear I felt like I won a million dollars! Spending days after school with people who have the same love and appreciation for theatre was a different type of energy that I loved to be around. When high school ended, I was so determined to be an actress that I ventured into film acting while pursuing local theatre opportunities as well. In 2020, I was honored to be cast in Footlight Players’ production of Matilda, but the Covid lockdown happened and they had to put it on hold. Unfortunately, it was not picked back up for the next season, but instead we got to perform a show called All Together Now!, in which we sang different songs from musicals. Between then and now, I have done some background work on TV shows and movies, which was fun and very interesting. I can’t wait to be on stage again for Native Gardens

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

I’ve been really looking to the Latina women in my life I look up to, such as my mom, my sister, and Representative AOC. I see aspects of Tania in them by how passionate they speak and how they are always trying to build a better life for themselves and the people around them. I have also been writing certain memories for Tania, like happy times she spent at her grandparents’ farm and how she met Pablo in college. 

Which aspects of rehearsing come more easily to you? Which are more difficult?

For me, I find it easy to relate to my character and see into her world. One of the reasons is because I’m an Afro-Latina, and I do face micro-aggressions for this every so often. Also, I like to think that I have a big imagination, even as an adult, so creating a background for Tania within the context of the play helps me produce the emotions needed throughout the show. What I find more difficult is really trying not to second-guess myself when it comes to remembering my lines. Rehearsing has been consistently helpful, but I always feel the need to look at my script to make sure that I’m right. 

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

I hope our audiences will consider how they treat the people around them. As a huge Harry Styles fan, I really believe in his statement that you should treat people with kindness. People should lead with empathy in their lives because this world is already filled with darkness and negativity, so we, the people, have to be the positive light. Also, I really want our audiences to realize that, in some way, shape or form, we all have privileges. How we use them can tell a lot about who we are as people. We cannot be willingly ignorant to this. 

Plays or musicals? What is your favorite show of all time?

Easy answer…musicals. My favorite show would have to be Once On This Island, which Charleston Stage is performing this April! It really caught my eye when they performed it at the 2018 Tony Awards! The Haitian-inspired dancing, colorful, castaway-type costumes, and the way they were incorporating water, sand, AND goats was breathtaking. I personally have never seen a musical do that before. After listening to the cast recording, I became absolutely enchanted.

Local actor Kayla Green

Kayla began acting in high school and has been pursuing her passion ever since. She would like to dedicate her performance to her high school drama teachers who made a huge difference in her life. Whenever she is not performing, Kayla loves to go to markets in the area to support local artists and small businesses. She is a ecstatic to join Charleston Stage and looks forward to continuing her acting journey with them. If you’d love to keep up with her follow her on instagram: @kayla.elise_

Presidential Shoes to Fill: Resident Actor Raymond Cronley on Playing John F. Kennedy in “JFK AND INGA BINGA”

Raymond Cronley, one of our talented Season 45 Resident Actors, has been bringing JFK’s legacy and charming Boston accent to the Dock Street Theatre stage night after night as we perform JFK AND INGA BINGA this February. Hear from him about his preparation for the iconic role below:

Resident Actors Raymond Cronley and Eliza Knode as Jack Kennedy and Inga Arvad Fejos in Charleston Stage’s February 2023 production of JFK AND INGA BINGA.

How is this show unique from others you’ve performed in before?

What’s most unique about this show is that it’s a completely original work, written by our very own Director, Julian Wiles, and set right here in Charleston! I’ve never before had the opportunity to work on a show quite like this. It’s inspiring to live and work right alongside the setting of the play, being able to go to the parks and shopping centers mentioned. Additionally, having the playwright as a director means that lines can be altered much more freely. During the rehearsal process, Julian would take how we performed our characters into account and was able to make some adjustments to make certain moments work better! That is certainly an exciting process to be a part of.

How have you prepared for this role? 

I read a lot about JFK — specifically his early life and upbringing. Kennedy has to be one of the best documented politicians of the last 100 years, so I had a bounty of information to draw upon. Additionally, I studied the mid-20th century upper crust Bostonian accent he used, and listened to as many candid recordings of his voice as I could!

Resident Actors Cedar Valdez and Raymond Cronley as Lem Billings and Jack Kennedy in Charleston Stage’s February 2023 production of JFK AND INGA BINGA.

What are the easiest and most difficult aspects of playing this role and doing this show?

What’s easy for me is the comedy in this show! It rises very naturally out of the situation these characters find themselves in. Making the comedy happen is probably easier overall for me than it is for the roles some of my fellow cast mates are playing, as most of it comes from Kennedy being blissfully unaware of the crazy lengths the other characters are going through to keep their surveillance a secret.

One of the more difficult, yet satisfying aspects of this role to nail down was Kennedy’s character arc. At the top of the curtain he’s as brash and cocky a young lover as you might expect. But over the course of the show, he realizes his feelings for Inga are much deeper than he had previously thought. It’s the kind of arc you would expect from a young man of 24. I myself am 23, so I find that kind of emotion very accessible and fun to tap into. Still, it’s a challenge to take the audience from their preconceived notions of Kennedy as a womanizer to someone who’s feelings are genuine.

Do you prefer plays or musicals? Why?

I was a musician long before I was an actor! I started playing trumpet at the age of nine, and didn’t find out that I could sing and act until five years after that! Though I adore acting in straight plays — especially comedies — musicals are my home. There’s something about music which seems to stir the soul. It has always roused a deeper emotion in me than most non-musical media.

What’s your favorite show of all time?

My favorite show I’ve ever seen is Hadestown, hands down! It’s the definition of a classic story brought to life by incredible music and lyricism that’s poetic, yet accessible. My favorite production I’ve ever been a part of is Rumors by Neil Simon. Specifically, it was a high school production where we were required to censor any foul language. Sounds unfortunate, but as it turned out, the cast included all of my closest friends at the time, and as the ensemble we came up with a host of zany euphemistic phrases to replace the curse words. The resulting performance had our director nearly peeing herself with laughter every night at rehearsals, and so it remains my all time favorite productions to have been a part of!

Resident Actors Raymond Cronley and Eliza Knode as Jack Kennedy and Inga Arvad Fejos in Charleston Stage’s February 2023 production of JFK AND INGA BINGA.

Raymond is incredibly jazzed to be joining Charleston Stage as a Resident Actor for their 45th season! Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Raymond graduated in May of 2021 from Ohio Northern University with a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre. Previous credits include Jack in Into the Woods, Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein and George in Sunday in the Park with George. He would like to thank his family and friends for their wholehearted support and encouragement! / @raymonley