Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series exploring different roles of musical theater. For questions, comments or concerns, email Stephanie Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The words of a song or script can touch your heart. The movements of a dance can show you what's there.
Twirl these elements together, and you will arrive at the captivity of musical theater.
“Even people who don't consider themselves ‘singers' or ‘dancers' are surprised how quickly they can learn and how fun it is to get on stage and be a part of an ensemble that can create something that is completely transformative for an audience,” said Jim Anderson, Aiken Community Playhouse Youth Wing director.
Active Playhouse performer Adam Shults' first Playhouse role was a lead one – Danny Zuko in the 2007 production of “Grease.”
Since then, Shults has been cast in at least eight musicals, some of which he has choreographed.
Among other projects, he has choreographed at least four Playhouse musicals.
His first choreographer job was in 2012 with the Playhouse's production of the “Wizard of Oz.”
“I'm the type of person, when something needs to be done, I'll make it happen,” Shults said.
With little dancing experience of his own, he volunteered to be the show's choreographer.
He was also cast as the Scarecrow.
“It is difficult dancing in a show while choreographing,” Shults said.
He has done this at least two other times with the 2013 Playhouse productions of “Drowsy Chaperone” and “Hairspray.”
Sometimes, to help manage these dual responsibilities, Shults will have a fellow actor step in as his assistant choreographer.
“This helps a lot,” he said.
He will often rely on his assistant to help rehearse a scene's dance numbers, after Shults has taught them.
In the instances in which Shults is pulling a double shift, he will look to the show's director and assistant director to tell him how the sequence looks.
While creating the choreography, one perspective Shults keeps in mind is that of the show's cast, something that Augusta dancer and dance teacher Samantha Bass does, as well.
Bass graduated from Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School in the mid-2000s. While at Davidson, she focused on studying dance.
She has choreographed at least two Augusta-based musicals; both were “Annie” productions with the Young Artists Repertory Theatre company.
“For me, ‘Annie' was easy,” Bass recalled.
To create the dance sequences, Bass drew from the show's time period – the Depression Era – and designed around her actors' dance skill levels.
She would also think about the characters themselves.
“Miss Hannigan (for example) was always drunk or tipsy, so I based the choreography off of that,” she said.
When it comes to teaching the steps, Bass relies on her memory whereas Shults might sketch his steps out.
Be it in a musical or in a straight play, the bond of a family beats at the center of the theater.
Some are strangers to each other before the show starts, and the show is what brings them together. Others are already friends and family members before auditions.
The show just lets them grow their familial circle.
For Anderson, it was the eagerness of his daughter Madison that got him back onto the stage.
“We moved here from Alaska in 2001, and I was responsible for opening up the UPS Customs Brokerage operation at Centennial Corporate Center, so I didn't have much time for theater the first few years we were in Aiken,” he said.
Anderson has performed for practically his whole life, according to his online biography.
He graduated from New York City's American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1987.
In 2004, Madison saw that the Playhouse was holding auditions for the musical “Annie Get Your Gun.” She ended up being cast as one of Annie's sisters, Jim said.
“I took Madison to every rehearsal and just sat there reading and doing work until it was over,” he recalled.
One evening, the show's pianist was unable to attend rehearsals due to being ill.
Jim, who has played the piano since he was a kid, “sheepishly raised my hand and volunteered to play,” he said.
After this point, Madison and he kept their eyes on the Playhouse.
The following year, auditions were posted for “Oliver.” Madison wanted the title role.
Jim told her the reason she might not be able to get it is that the role was for a boy.
“When it came time for her to go up and audition, she pulled a cap out of her bag, pushed her long, blonde hair up in the cap and ended up landing the role of Oliver,” he remembered.
That same audition, Jim was back brought to the stage.
“They were short on adult men to read for some of the roles, so the director Bonnie Fulgum looked around the room and said, ‘Mr. Anderson, I know you're not here to audition, but would you mind just standing in and reading the part of Bill Sykes since we're short on men today?' ... After I read for the part, Bonnie had me fill out an audition form,” Jim said.
He got the role of Sykes.
“It was one of the several magic moments on stage for me so far,” Jim said.
Sydney Fowler, a junior at USC Aiken, has “known since I was 8 years old what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
Since she came to USCA – and Aiken – from Rock Hill, she's kept active in USCA's fine arts department.
“I have found a new home here in Aiken among very caring friends, who I now call family,” she said.
Fowler has theater-related experience, both behind the scenes and on the stage.
“I have no music or dance training, but my sense of physicality lends itself to being able to pick up dance steps,” she said.
Fowler has been in at least three musicals between attending Rock Hill High School and USCA. She has also assisted with USCA's Garcia Theatre Project's musical theater workshop. The Garcia Theatre Project is an annual program for high school students.
“I have found (these workshops) to be a sincere bonding experience that has allowed me to meet many talented individuals who share the same passions as I do, but with less opportunities to act on them,” Fowler said.
The current Playhouse musical is “9 to 5” directed by Bradley Watts.
“9 to 5” will run May 23, 24, 30 and 31 and June 6, 7 at 8 p.m., with two Sunday matinees on May 25 and June 1 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $15 for students.
Watts describes it as a “girl power” show.
The show does contain some adult language and themes.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Playhouse at 803-648-1438.
Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.
Aiken Standard File Photo Robert, played by Tim McFall, picks up the best man at his wedding, George, played by John Gillespie, during a rehearsal for the 2013 Aiken Community Playhouse musical “The Drowsy Chaperone.”×
Aiken Standard File Photo Adam Shults choreographed for and acted as the Scarecrow in the 2012 Aiken Community Playhouse production of “The Wizard of Oz.”×
Aiken Standard File Photo The Russian widow Popove (Rachel Beeson) is horrified in several ways by the landowner Smirkoff (Derec Longfellow), who has verbally fought with her over money he said is owed him. Above, he suddenly professes his love for her. Judges at the USC Aiken Garcia Theatre Project named Beeson the best festival actress.×
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