Charleston teems with theater aficionados, actors, playwrights and directors alike. From the Footlight Players and the Holy City Shakespeare group to College of Charleston’s own Department of Theatre and Dance, the same passion for drama is everywhere.
This rings especially true for Center Stage, the only student run theater organization at the College dedicated to putting in productions and hosting theatre events throughout the school year. Located on the second floor of the Simons Center, Theater 220, a 100-seat black box, acts as the organization’s headquarters and holds many of its events.
Center is an SGA organization, and consists of a board of elected officials, including a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, each with specific duties such as heading an event each season. Rounding out the board is a publicity chair, a social chair and a 220 commissioner.
Center Stage is complementary to the College’s Department of Theatre and Dance. All majors are welcomed to Center Stage for all opportunities, regardless of experience. For those that are less experienced, they are paired with upperclassmen as mentors. Roles in Center Stage range from acting and directing to lighting, stage-managing and playwriting.
The highly collaborative group offers actors the opportunity to play roles they normally would not get to. Playwrights and directors also get the chance to create productions that they are passionate about.
Senior theatre major Fadi Magdi, director of last semester’s “Waiting for Godot,” benefitted from this freedom firsthand. Interested in the universality of the play and the power of its multiple interpretations, Magdi originally pitched the show to the organization’s board.
“I did not want the play to have [just] one meaning,” said Magdi. Drawing on its vaudeville elements, Magdi also gave the play piano accompaniment, providing the play’s sole musical cues. In familiarizing himself with the play, he discovered a deeper connection with the material.
“I had a lot of irrational blocks in my life,” Magdi said. ““Waiting for Godot” [seemed to] opened the door of the cell, and of discovery.”
Center Stage produces two full length productions with SGA every semester. Auditions are normally held in the first two weeks of each semester, with general interest meetings held once a month on Mondays.
One of the group’s primary staples is its 48 hour play festival. Held annually at the end of January, the festival stays true to its name. Playwrights are given exactly 24 hours to produce a script. Scripts are then chosen and assigned actors and directors. The following evening, the select series of plays, roughly ten minutes each, are performed in front of a live audience.
Rough Draft, another event held during each theater season, also offers an open setting for anyone hoping to read plays, monologues, poems, screenplays or any other form of writing in front of an audience. Discussion and constructive criticism are always encouraged.
There are also staged readings of unsolicited plays that sometimes do not get to see the main stage. These renditions of plays, performed in the black box theatre environment, are written by students at the College. This year’s readings, “Good Boy” by Harrison Tucker and “The Trouble with Normal” by Josiah Albright, will be held on March 25. Tucker is senior majoring in Arts Management and Albright is a sophomore majoring in Theater.
The primary offering from Center Stage is its diversity of productions. From the dark, eerie nature of last year’s “The Crucible” to the unconventional humor of last semester’s “Waiting for Godot,” the themes and topics of Center Stage’s performances are both distinct and varied.
Each season, the organization adheres to a specific theme or motif, epitomized by its productions. This season’s plays, “Good Boys and True” and “Gay Card,” focus on self-discovery and identity, with narratives centered on characters discovering their own individuality.
“Good Boys and True,” written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa, is about learning to take responsibility for your actions and facing the consequences of your mistakes. The play will be performed March 16-19.
“The story we’re telling with “Good Boys and True” is one that could have and could still happen in real life. It’s one of privilege, hypocrisy and homophobia,” said the play’s director Niklas Abbing. “It’s an intense and gripping story set at a private all boys school in Washington, D.C. in the late ‘80s that deals with issues that are still prevalent in today’s society, which is why I chose to direct this show.”
“Gay Card,” with music by Ryan Korell, lyrics by Johnathan Keebler and musical direction by Matthew Walker, is a musical that tells the story of a gay college freshman as he finds his way. The play will make its world premiere with Center Stage, running April 6-10.
“I hope that ‘Gay Card’ becomes a story that’s bigger than the name,” said Director Clyde Moser, a senior Theater major at the College. “It is a story that focuses on identity, no matter who or what you are. As college students, we all try to figure it out as we go.”
When looked at in the aggregate, one notices that each production deals with themes of soul searching and individuality. The narrative of “Good Boys and True” is one that uncovers true identities in a high school setting, with “Gay Card” telling the story of redefining yourself in college. Being involved with Center Stage, students can undergo their own type of self-discovery, where they can learn more about their art, their passions and themselves.
“[Previous shows] focused more on shows and people,” Magdi said. “the newer shows [are] about the message.”
Aside from its events, Center Stage is also heavily involved in philanthropy, raising anywhere from $200 to $400 per semester for a local charity. This year’s selected charity is Charleston Holistic Education & Art Recreation Therapy, or HEART, an organization dedicated to helping adults with special needs and intellectual disabilities through various activities and forms of engagement.
Though there is plenty of fun to be had at Center Stage, this fun comes with responsibility. As a hands-on operation fully organized by students, the organization is a way for those interested and involved in theater to be rewarded for their creativity and hard work. At its core, Center Stage acts as a gateway for aspiring actors, writers, playwrights and directors to broaden their knowledge and enhance their understanding of theater all while gaining real world experience.
“Center Stage has offered me hands-on experience [unlike] any other theater opportunity you can get in your early 20’s,” said Rachel Feldman, President of Center Stage. As the group’s former Treasurer, Feldman has been involved with Center Stage since her freshman year at the College in many different capacities. As president, she now oversees all aspects of the organization.
When they are not busy performing, designing or directing, you can often catch members of the Center Stage community hanging out outside of Theater 220, in a spot simply known as ‘the couches.’
“One thing about artists,” Feldman said “they’re always working, creating.”
More information about Center Stage can be found at facebook.com/ctrstage. Productions and student readings are held in Theatre 220. Events are free to students and $7 to the public.
*This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Yard.