The Palmetto State wears its Southern heritage like a badge of honor, and while in more recent times a review of that history has proven problematic, one aspect of that tradition which no one disputes its richness is Southern literature. Yet, given that cities in South Carolina like Charleston were once epicenters for the literary community, the current playwriting scene in the state is ripe for strengthening. The 23 Guild members in South Carolina have a variety of experience and career aspirations, but they all share the goal of wanting to see growth of the Dramatists Guild in the state.
Paddy Bell, lyricist and playwright based in Camden, SC, praised organizations and individuals in her region for being open to nurturing new work. She quotes Larry Hembree, a Columbia non-profit arts leader and theatre director, who says, “You can only produce Hello Dolly so many times! Not just the audience, but the creative team crave to put their brand on something innovative, unique, compelling.” She also commends theatre companies like the Arts Center of Kershaw County, Chapin Theatre Company, Centre Stage, and Trustus Theatre for their support of new works and neophyte artist. Paddy’s new show, One Life: Dogs the Musical, was set to premiere in April but was cancelled due to COVID-19; the show has a slated opening night for October 23, 2020.
In the lower part of the state, Bluffton, SC newcomer and dramatist Sharon Baker has found the majestic scenery of the South Carolina landscape a source for inspiration. She states, “The upside of being a playwright in SC: I live in paradise…so I can write my plays on my laptop on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches!” Yet, she longs for a professional theatre community with which she can build a relationship and collaborate with for play development.
As illustrated from the sentiments of Paddy Bell and Sharon Baker, playwrights in different locations across the state have found many benefits and some challenges in growing their craft here. The regional representative for the Dramatists Guild, Jacqueline Lawton, encouraged me to develop a proactive approach to strengthening opportunities and membership in the state. Before the outbreak of COVID-19 plans were underway for coordinating DG Footlights events as well as workshops on career development; however, the pandemic halted many of these activities for an indeterminate period of time.
One of the initiatives involved DG member Clifton Campbell, who expressed his desire to take advantage of Charleston’s characteristic as an international cultural destination with an exploding population. Clifton expressed his wish to help demystify potential career opportunities for playwrights who were not based in major markets. The Charleston theatre community shows signs of warming up to new play and playwrights’ development. Rodney Lee Rogers, co-founder of Pure Theatre, coordinated with me to launch a series of several DG Footlights events starting in the fall of 2020 through June 2021.
In a recent virtual arts meet-up, an attendee stated that practicing arts imbues individuals with compassion and resiliency. Those traits are also prevalent in the culture and approach to life of South Carolina folks. As the dramatists of the state work to develop their craft, strengthen the community, explore career development, and recover from the devastation of the pandemic, they will definitely utilize that compassion and resiliency to help create a more vibrant playwriting scene in South Carolina.