A Tough Choice to Make 

Three Charleston natives give us their perspectives

Leaving home is never easy. For artists, however, the decision must be made, even if it takes years. There are as many reasons to go (or stay) as there are artists in the world. So I asked three recent creative exports to tell me how they made their decisions.

Henry Riggs, the humorist and former leader of the political sketch-comedy troupe Maximum Brain Squad, moved to Chicago this summer to pay his dues in the improv comedy scene and the 200-plus theaters that populate the Second City.

Amanda Rose moved to New York right after graduating from the College of Charleston's theater program to live the life of a starving artist. Five years later Rose is ensconced on Broadway as an understudy of a principal role in the hit musical, Wicked, which is sold-out for the next four years.

And Kevin Earl Taylor, the well-known artist who spent a decade trying to make a life in Charleston, is finally achieving national recognition for his work — ominous, grotesque, fantastical paintings — now that he lives in San Francisco. —John Stoehr

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Henry Riggs improv and sketch comedian, Chicago

My question is why can't artists test themselves in Charleston? Why is there a need to seek out a bigger city? I wanted to stay. But I couldn't. Charleston claims to have high cultural awareness, but it's really just rough around the edges.

People use Spoleto as an excuse. "We have Spoleto, so we don't have to promote the local arts scene." But there's no workshop theater, repertory theater, no ensemble theater. The closest thing to that is Theatre 99, which I admire.

When I came to Chicago, I stopped at a random theater and said I was new in town and I was looking for work. They told me I should audition for a show coming up. They said they're always looking for people. I think I could have done that with any of the 200 theaters in Chicago. I never got that in Charleston.

How can I make a career out of the performing arts without commitment, consistency, and dedication equal to mine? I don't know. But a spirit of collaboration would be the first step in keeping artists in Charleston.

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Amanda Rose stage actress, New York City

It was a money issue for me. I know that sounds superficial. I wanted a career. I didn't want to act on the side. I don't see that happening in Charleston.

I don't see that happening in a lot of places. The only places to have an acting career are in LA and New York. The auditions are in these cities. Even Charleston Stage auditions in New York. You come here to find the work. So even if Charleston had more theaters and more actors — that would keep some of the artists there, but if people want to find the work, they're going to come here.

That's why I left. I moved after graduating in 2002. I got lucky. Wicked is sold out for the next four years and five other companies want it. I was a temporary replacement at first. Once you're in, you're in. I'll stay where I am for a while. I live in New Jersey where I can have a real house and a car. There are advantages to living in Charleston. It's beautiful. I can have a washer and dryer in my apartment. The price of everything is less expensive. Here, a box of cereal is $6.

Stability would be nice. I miss that. I miss that constant in my life. There are so many variables in New York. You have to be on your toes all the time. Transportation is long and difficult. You pay for it each way. I used to be stuck in the city for auditions and have to sit in a hotel lobby while I waited for the next one, because it was too expensive to go home. I did a lot of TV-watching on my iPod.

The acting world is crazy. You never know what's going to happen. A friend of mine had a contract to do a new show, quit her megahit show, then the new show closed down. She had to start all over again. So there's no guarantee. But every week that I was unemployed is paid off many times over by being on Broadway.

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Kevin Earl Taylor painter, San Francisco

I love Charleston.

It's part of my training. It's my biggest influence.

I've left twice. First I went to San Diego. When I came back, I renewed my love for Charleston. I went through a phase when I wanted to say where I was from. I wanted to show there's more to the South than racism and rednecks.

I spent 10 years in Charleston doing that. I learned about promoting myself and all the in-and-outs of marketing. That's a hard thing for an artist to learn. But I got to a point where I wasn't inspired anymore. I didn't have a reason to paint.

I ended up doing a show in Monterey, Calif. When I was done, I spent a week in San Francisco, going to galleries every night. I was like, "Man, this is what I need." In that environment, you can't go home and not paint. I gave myself a year to get ready to move. It was the best decision I've made.

The proof is I'm progressing. I look at old stuff and think, "Oh, my god." That's my biggest accomplishment. In terms of my career, I'm having more shows. Stuff is going to Berlin and London, New York, and Philadelphia. I have five shows in the next two months.

If not for my time in Charleston creating venues for my work, I don't think I could have come out here. Charleston was a huge training ground, a good place for that. I'm still connected to the South. I'm cooking boiled peanuts right now. Got them from my Chinese friend. My inspiration comes from the backroads of South Carolina and from being with my grandfather. You can't get that in a big city.

A long time ago, Charleston really was the cultural mecca of the South, the Paris of America. We've lived on that legacy for a long time. Some people forget to change with the times. We thought we didn't need to progress with the rest of the world. Charleston never really did that.

2008 Fall Arts Preview

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