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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.

Palmetto High School in Williamston to offer its first theater program

From the Anderson Independent Mail

Article by Francis Parrish; photos by Ken Ruinard [caption id="attachment_22276" align="alignright" width="250"]Palmetto High School Palmetto High School’s Gracie Poore (left), Kaden Browning, and Jayce Childs take part in drama class activity near teacher William Ragland.[/caption]
William Ragland, Palmetto High School’s full-time certified theater teacher, told students in his class Thursday not to “let your fears hold you back.” “Improv is so much fun and terrifying at the same time,” Ragland told the group. Ragland stood on the auditorium stage surrounded by his class and spoke in an animated voice as he explained the rules of a theatrical warm-up game that included improvisation and movement. The Powdersville native was hired to start the first theater program in decades at the Williamston school. Ragland is no novice when it comes to the stage. He has been in 55 productions in Greenville community theaters, and last year, he started the Mill Town Players, a theater troupe in Pelzer. Ragland said it was a tough decision for him to leave Woodmont High School in Greenville County, where he built an award-winning theater program from nothing. But he felt it was the right choice to change schools. “I have developed an affinity for the underdog,” he said. “I don’t want to be at a school with all the resources. ... I want to be at a school where I’m needed.” The Palmetto High auditorium does not have a proper lighting system and will need to be updated for the new program. Ragland plans to convert his cream-colored classroom, which used to be the chorus room, into a multi-use, black box theater with a lighting grid in place of the ceiling and a sound board for class space, rehearsals and performances. “I am literally starting out with nothing, and that is exactly where we need to start,” Ragland said. “I’m excited about making something out of nothing. That’s what you do in theater. You imagine, you create, you engage, and inspire different people to work together toward a common goal bigger than themselves, and to lift up the community to bring pride, energy and culture to a place that may have been devoid of it before.” For the first few weeks of school, Ragland has been trying to connect with the school culture and with the students, he said. “This year is all about engagement and putting down the foundation blocks of the new program that hopefully will grow and be successful and endure from this point forward,” he said. The new Mustang Stage Company will participate in a state competition. The school has about two months to get ready for the South Carolina Theater Association High School Festival in early November. This year, Ragland teaches six Theater I classes. He hopes to offer Theater II classes starting next year. “I predict every year we will add a new course of some kind until we have Theater I-IV and a technical theater class," he said. “It’s not just about training good actors and putting on great high school shows, it’s about giving these kids skills to make them stronger and better versions of themselves, so they’ll be ready for whatever life throws them,” he said. After a show at the South Carolina Children’s Theater in Greenville, the superintendent of Greenville County Schools asked Ragland if he thought about being a teacher because he worked well with the children. “I said ‘No, thank you,' ” Ragland said. “I had witnessed the stress level of what it took to be a teacher. But he would not give up.” Ragland attended classes to earn a teaching certification and began teaching kindergarten and first grade art at Bryson Elementary School in a portable that had been vandalized. “I started with nothing,” he said. “I had a great mentor. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a perfect fit.” He then taught art at Sue Cleveland Elementary School, also in Greenville County, in for four years. “During this whole time, I was in plays in Greenville,” Ragland said. “I would do these shows at the children’s theater which would have been wonderful for my students to see, but they couldn’t because of the price and the distance.” That’s when he decided to begin directing plays that were more affordable at Greenville schools, to give students a different opportunity. He was recruited to start a theater program at Woodmont High. The program grew, and in 2012, the school won the state theater competition. Ragland and the administration hopes to build a similar program at Palmetto High. “That’s the fun part,” said Assistant Principal Jason McCauley. “We get to see the program grow from a seed.” McCauley has known Ragland since high school, and also worked with him at Woodmont for several years as well, witnessing the growth of the drama program. “He is very passionate about his craft,” McCauley said. “His passion is contagious, and he is able to share that passion with the students.”  

Spoleto Festival USA May 24 – June 9 in Charleston

[gallery link="file"] For 17 days and nights beginning Friday, May 24 through Sunday, June 9, Spoleto Festival USA fills the historic theaters, churches and outdoor spaces in Charleston, South Carolina with performances by renowned artists as well as emerging performers. Take your choice of opera, theater, music theater, dance and visual arts, plus chamber, symphonic, choral and jazz music. The 37th annual Festival will feature one of Spoleto’s largest lineups in recent history, with expanded dance and theater offerings and two original opera productions, as well as a wide range of classical and contemporary music.
The Opening Ceremonies take place at noon in front of Charleston’s City Hall. The newly retrofitted TD Arena will see its first performances on Friday night as Compagnie Käfig presents a program of hip-hop-influenced Brazilian dance. Following the evening’s performances, the Spoleto Opening Night Fête kicks off the 2013 season with an elegant street party with cocktail supper, live music, a full bar, and the company of Festival artists and patrons. Spoleto Festival USA is known for introducing audiences to new and groundbreaking work, and the 2013 Festival offers a number of American premieres in a variety of genres, beginning with the contemporary opera Matsukaze by Toshio Hosokawa, one of Japan’s most prominent living composers. In dance, young tap virtuoso Jared Grimes makes his Spoleto debut premieringa new evening-length work created especially for the Festival. The theater program offers the American premiere of a production of  Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by England’s Bristol Old Vic in association with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. One half of the operatic double-bill—Umberto Giordano’s Mese Mariano—will receive its first fully staged U.S. production. On the music front, John Kennedy, Spoleto Festival USA’s resident conductor and director of orchestral activities, will lead the Festival Orchestra in the American premiere performances of Pierre Boulez’s arrangement of Ravel’s Frontispice and Pēteris Vasks’Credo; and the Bank of America Chamber Music Series will feature the world premiere of a new work by composer-in-residence Samuel Carl Adams (son of composer John Adams, whose landmark piece Harmonielehre is being performed in a separate orchestral concert). Find the full schedule and ticket information on the Spoleto USA website.  

Performing arts groups sought for Opening Processional at North Charleston Arts Festival

Application deadline April 19 at 5 p.m. The City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Department is accepting applications from local performing arts groups of all ages for participation in the 2013 North Charleston Arts Festival Opening Processional on Saturday, May 4, at 9:45 a.m. In past years the processional has been led by African drummers and dancers and has included groups dressed in brightly colored outfits and costumes, volunteers carrying giant puppets, banners and other props, jugglers, dance troupes, theatre groups and more. Applications can be found on the Applications page at NorthCharlestonArtsFest.com. Deadline for applications is Friday, April 19, at 5 p.m. The Opening Processional has kicked off the Arts Festival’s Main Event festivities at the Charleston Area Convention Center Complex for over a decade. Participants parade around the complex toward the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. Once the Processional enters the North Charleston Performing Arts Center Auditorium, the celebration continues with a Performance Spotlight, featuring 3-5 minute performances by pre-selected groups. Performance Spotlight slots may be requested on the Opening Processional application and are filled on a first come, first served basis. The North Charleston Arts Festival will be presented May 3-11, 2013, at various venues throughout North Charleston and the surrounding area. The nine-day event is one of the most comprehensive arts festivals in the state, highlighting national, regional, and local artists and performers in the areas of Dance, Music, Theater, Visual Arts, Crafts, Photography, Media Arts, and Literature. For 3o years the festival has made quality arts programming affordable and accessible to the widest spectrum of the public, attracting over 30,000 residents and visitors from throughout the Southeast to participate in a fabulous array of free and modestly priced performances, workshops, exhibitions and activities. The Main Event weekend at the North Charleston Performing Arts and Charleston Area Convention Center on May 4 and 5 offers free parking and admission to more than 40 performances on four themed stages. Other Main Event activities include fine art and photography shows, the S.C. Palmetto Hands fine craft exhibit, a gem and mineral show, an antique show, activities for kids at Box City and Creation Stations, art and craft booths and a food courtyard. The Arts Festival continues with more than 60 free and ticketed events and exhibitions throughout the week at various locations, including street dances, concerts, theatre presentations, film screenings, workshops and demos, children’s activities, a National Outdoor Sculpture Competition and Exhibition and the Grand Finale with fireworks. For more information on the Opening Processional, contact Nancy Rodriguez at (843)740-5851. Visit NorthCharlestonArtsFest.com for more information and other participation opportunities, including applications for judged art, photography, and youth art exhibitions; art & craft and food vendor space; and volunteers.