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How two Upstate actresses are doing their PART as arts entrepreneurs

From The Greenville News Article by Paul Hyde, photo by Heidi Heilbrunn

Kimilee and Candice Bryant will tell you they were born in a trunk. Not really. In theatrical parlance, it means the two grew up in a family of actors. Their parents met and courted while doing shows at Greenville Little Theatre, and their mother owned a dance studio. A grandfather performed with Joanne Woodward in Greenville. Kimilee and Candice, following in their family’s footsteps, have acted professionally themselves. Kimilee spent 10 years on Broadway in “The Phantom of the Opera.” Candice recently appeared in the CBS television series “Unforgettable.” Theater pulses in their blood. Now, the two are taking on their most challenging role ever: co-directors of a new Upstate theater company, PART (Performing Arts Renaissance Theatre). PART made its debut with Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods” this past weekend at the University of South Carolina-Upstate’s Performing Arts Center. The Tony Award-winning musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm stories, following characters from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella” as they strive for “happily ever after” and learn that life is no fairy tale. But some dreams do come true. For the Bryant siblings, the creation of PART qualifies as one. “This was something we wanted to do for a very long time,” Kimilee Bryant said. The Greenville-based Bryants shared creative duties: Co-directing “Into the Woods” and acting in the show as well.

Find a role for PART

Starting a theater company, of course, is no easy ambition. Though PART’s first production takes place at Spartanburg’s USC-Upstate, plans call for the company to perform at various other venues in Greenville. Greenville, of course, already is home to several thriving theater companies that produce their own work, including the Warehouse Theatre, Centre Stage, GLOW Lyric Theatre, Greenville Little Theatre and S.C. Children’s Theatre. And, of course, there’s the big presenter on the block, the Peace Center, which hosts national Broadway touring companies. How will PART fit in? The theater company’s specialty will be versatility, offering plays and musicals but also some opera, said Kimilee Bryant, who is also a former Miss South Carolina. “In my 25-year career, I’ve never come across a company that does all three genres,” she said. Long-term plans include designating or even building a permanent venue in Greenville for PART performances. Shows will feature both local and professional talent. Luckily for the Bryants, a strain of entrepreneurship runs alongside devotion to theater in the family. Their mother, of course, not only founded but led a dance studio for more than 50 years. A grandmother ran a daycare and a grandfather owned an air conditioning business. “We come from a entrepreneurial background,” Kimilee Bryant said. Candice Bryant took the reins of her mother’s dance studio for a few years and is now putting those skills to use in marketing PART and in other administrative duties. She also created PART’s website. Kimilee Bryant also is no stranger to small business. In 2008, while starring in Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera,” she created her own company, Rubylee Productions, to produce concerts by Broadway singers. In a sense, though, Bryant has always been an entrepreneur. Actors are contract workers, selling a product – their talent – and dealing with an array of concerns such as marketing, health insurance and professional development. “As an actor, you are your own business and your own CEO,” Bryant said. Nevertheless, starting a theater company involves considerable on-the-job training, she said. “I’m trying to adopt the attitude of ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’” Bryant said, with a laugh. “It’s a tremendous challenge.” One definite factor in PART’s favor: Greenville loves theater. “There’s certainly enthusiasm for theater and plenty of talent,” Bryant said. Greenville’s large pool of actors is one reason Bryant wanted PART to showcase plays, musicals and opera. “We have so many people who have crossover talent,” she said.

Taking flight

The Bryants hope to announce future shows for this fall and next year, but first, as with all nonprofits, fundraising will be a big necessity over the next few months after “Into the Woods.” Before coming back to Greenville last year, Kimilee Bryant spent 25 years working as an actress in New York City. Her best-known role was Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera.” She was associated with “Phantom” for 10 years, beginning on Broadway in 1994 and later performing in the show in Switzerland, Toronto and on tour in North America. She’s the only actress ever to have played all three major female roles in the musical on Broadway. Kimilee Bryant, who graduated from the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and attended Converse College, was named Miss South Carolina in 1989. She competed in the Miss America pageant where she won two talent scholarships to help with her graduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music. She received her Master’s of Music degree at the school. She returned to Greenville a little more than a year ago after the birth of her son, Aiden, now 2 years old. “I have family here and I want my son to be around family,” Bryant said. “My mother is just over the moon about Aidan. He’s her first grandchild.” Bryant is now an adjunct professor, teaching voice and other courses at Anderson University’s South Carolina School for the Arts. She’s also a guest lecturer at Converse College, having recently taught the opera workshop there. In addition, she has a thriving private voice studio and holds theater camps in the summer. Her younger sibling, Candice, just earned her theater degree at USC-Upstate. Kimilee Bryant finds herself busier than she’s ever been. “Eight shows a week on Broadway was so much easier,” Bryant said, with a laugh.