FEATURE ‌ The Crucible 

Tired of producing other people's old work, local artists this spring are creating a flurry of original new stage productions

South Hall
Thurs. March 29-Sat. March 31 at 8 p.m.
Theatre 99
280 Meeting St. 853-6687

If spring is the season of birth and awakening in nature, locals are seeing that theme crashing onto area stages with all the subtlety of a runaway train in coming months. More than at any time in recent memory, local performers and artists are creating and mounting their own original performance works in an explosion of generative output that, looked at from the right perspective, has the marks of the beginning of a new era for the Charleston arts scene.

Sound hyperbolic? Maybe. But the stats speak for themselves:

1. Last weekend Charleston Ballet Theatre premiered resident choreographer Jill Bahr's newest work, Camelot, an ambitious take on the King Arthur legend at the Sottile Theatre, with her full dance company, flying effects, and custom-made, imported costumes.

2. Just two months ago, PURE Theatre premiered co-founder Rodney Lee Rogers' newest full-length play, Killing Chickens, which packed 'em in for a four-week run and collected critical raves.

3. In May, PURE will premiere another new full-length work -- this one from its in-house playwriting development lab -- called Coyote Picnic. (Full disclosure: it happens to be mine, but I promise not to whore myself shilling for it here.)

4. Over at Charleston Stage Company, founder/producer Julian Wiles is putting the finishing touches on his own newest original full-length play for Piccolo Spoleto, a biopic of slave rebellion leader Denmark Vesey that's scheduled to kick off his company's 30th season and takeover of the American Theater.

5. The creative iconoclasts behind the Cabaret Kiki phenomenon have been cooking up another serving of their unique music/dance/theatre/film performance act for a mid-May run at Theatre 99, with an encore at Buxton's East Bay Theatre during Piccolo.

6. Last year saw the rise of CofC student Henry Riggs' original stage production Hobo the Musical, which went on to be voted Best Non-Piccolo or Spoleto Play in our Best of Charleston issue. Since then Riggs and company have added additional new music and scenes, and Hobo 2.0 is now scheduled for another run at Theatre 99 during Piccolo.

7. Theatre 99 member John Brennan (BOC '07 Best Actor, Best Comic), will premiere his one-man play The Banana Monologues, based on a book by fellow comic Jason Cooper, on April 18, followed by a Piccolo run at Stars in the American Theater.

8. April 12 marks the opening and premiere of local playwright Michael Smallwood's original play Talk as part of the Footlight Players' late-night Salt and Battery series. Smallwood's play — he's a theatre major at CofC — is a triptych of interrelated one-acts, one of which nabbed him the top prize at the annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in February.

And this week, independent writer/producer Toby Singer will introduce his new, original full-length stage musical, South Hall -- a comic (mostly) take on college relationships, sexual gratification, and Generation Y's inability to connect with themselves.

If all that doesn't signify a trend, then I don't know what does.

Singer, the music director at Kahol Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue on Hasell Street downtown, moved here last June to take that job after graduating from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with a degree in music. South Hall's first incarnation was as a song cycle in Ann Arbor. In recent months, Singer has collaborated with CofC theatre senior Andy Jaworski (who's directing) on turning that collection of songs into a narrative-driven work for the stage and 16 total cast members.

"We've added some new numbers to expand and carry the story along a little better. It clarifies a lot of things, and it also makes the show a lot more affecting," Singer says. "Instead of being caricatures of collegiate life, the characters who populate the show now have three dimensions, they're real people with real conflicts. That makes it more engaging and interesting to an audience."

South Hall, in fact, seems to have as much of the spirit of South Park about it as it does The Kids in the Hall. In one song, entitled "STD," a human pincushion named Mallory sings "Can't you see? I've got an STD!/ It's not cool, when your crotch turns into a c-c-c-c-cesspool./ It hurts to pee, with an STD./ It's not fun, when you get a rash from a s-s-s-s-sweet pair of buns."

In another, "PreFace: The Facebook Song," two characters sing, "Whatever did we do without Facebook, When we had to leave our dorm rooms and mingle?/ Can you imagine a place? We used to break up face-to-face/ But now you always know when you're single!"

"It's the story of a college relationship and its rise and fall within the larger context of a freshman year for a group of college students," says Singer. "It's both funny and a little sad. All the characters have real difficulty in connecting to one another in any way but sexually. Sometimes that leads to humorous circumstances, but it also leads to sad, sometimes tragic ones."

The current generation of college kids is "hyper-sexualized," Singer observes, which he attributes to the fact that their parents approached sexuality without intimacy.

"The question," he says, "is where'd that intimacy go, what's its absence doing to us, and how can we get it back?"

With South Hall, Singer says, he's not necessarily trying to offer solutions to that quandary, "but just to present this situation for examination. And of course to do it with a lot of potty humor, bad language, and sex jokes."

Singer wasn't able to see the most recent short run of Hobo the Musical at CofC's Theatre 220 a couple of weeks ago, but having been through the creation, revision, casting, rehearsal, and production process with South Hall, he's got newfound respect for what that show's creators -- and any who put original new works on a stage -- go through for their art's sake.

"I'm really interested to see how people react to this show after having seen Hobo," he says. "As with that show, I like to think this one is completely original in style and subject matter. Regardless, it's really healthy when any kind of community can embrace new works."


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