Sixteen-year-old Christian dashed up the steps onto the stage of Daniel Recital Hall and eagerly broke out into an a capella version of “Santa Fe” from the Broadway hit, Newsies.
“Dreams come true. Yeah they do. In Santa Fe,” he sang.
It’s not every day you get to practice an audition song with a Broadway star.
Performing for Legally Blonde and Cabaret Broadway star Kate Shindle was one of many unique opportunities available to Christian and more than 1,000 South Carolina high school and college students during the South Carolina Theatre Association’s annual convention held in November at Furman University.
A total of 1,186 professional actors, college and university students and professors, youth theatre representatives, high school students and teachers, and community theatre companies gathered on campus for the four-day program themed, “Redefining the Triple Threat: Performance, Education, Production.”
It was the first time the convention has been hosted in Greenville in almost 40 years and the largest turnout ever in the history of the organization, said Harry Culpepper, the new SCTA president and a theatre arts teacher at Hilton Head Island High School.
“It was very successful,” said Theatre Arts Professor Maegan Azar, hosting coordinator for the convention and immediate past president of SCTA. “The incredible keynote line-up combined with the variety of workshops created an energetic environment of learning.”
Keynote speakers included Shindle, the youngest-ever president of the Actors’ Equity Association, and Tony Award Excellence in Theatre Education Award winner, Corey Mitchell, a theatre arts teacher at the Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, N.C. Tony Award winner for Best Costume Design Gregg Barnes spoke on his work in productions such as Aladdin, The Drowsy Chaperone, Follies, Kinky Boots and Something Rotten.
Shindle, formerly Miss America 1998, shared her exciting journey into the world of theatre, starting with her first musical in seventh grade, The King and I, continuing to Northwestern University and onto Broadway today. She provided encouragement for students pursuing careers in New York City theatre and took time to coach several students individually.
“Anytime a microphone is on in the city and they’ll let you sing, go do it,” she said. “Go on auditions. Go to meetings. Keep building relationships with people.”
Shindle also provided candid remarks about what she called the “romantic idea” of the big break. “Sometimes you’ll get the job you want. A lot of times you won’t,” she said, discussing how she and other performers often get day jobs to support their acting careers. “You kind of have to get your vanity out of the way, within reason.”
The four-day program also featured a Community Theatre Festival, staged readings of 10-minute play works, professional screening auditions for college students and a plethora of hands-on, interactive workshops.
“The numerous workshops covering multiple aspects of theatre gave everyone attending the conference something to see, do and experience,” said Glen Gourley, professor and director of theatre at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C. “Furman University was an incredible hosting institution.”
Thirty-four Furman students and one alumna partnered with Furman staff and the SCTA administrative team to host a successful event, Azar said.
“These types of events are the way that Furman engages with community members,” she said. “By hosting this convention, Furman showed the community at-large that we find fine arts, and theatre in particular, to be important to a community and an institute of higher learning.”
Local actor and educator Anne Tromsness of Greenville said the conference provided productive discussions that she thinks will radiate ideas and action through South Carolina.
“As a performer and director, I love to go and learn from other artists,” said Tromsness. “The conversation, the discussions . . . inspire me to question my own practices, to re-connect with my values and vision. It helps to come together because we often work in our own pockets, communities, theatres, schools, and it is essential that we see what others are doing and how we may intersect with each other’s work.”
Culpepper brought 12 of his students to perform and compete in the High School One Act festival and participate in all the workshops and master classes.
“It allowed teachers to re-energize and get inspired toward elevating theatre in our schools and our communities,” said Culpepper. “My students were inspired and motivated to get back to school and start working on our next production. It is a beautiful thing to bring students together from across the state who are equally passionate about theatre as they are.”