by Sandra Stringer
You may have driven by the Charleston Performing Arts Center (C-PAC) next door to the Hen and Goat on Folly Road and not even noticed it. C-PAC hasn’t been able to do real signage yet due to the town’s work on the corner of Folly and Camp Roads, so unless you’re really looking, you might miss them. But inside the rather unremarkable building a lot of magic is taking place.
They have a new show starting this week called Bandstand, an original dance musical set in the 1960s written by Kirk Pfeiffer, who sits down at the bar in the C-PAC to talk about the show, the place, and the work they’re doing to keep live musical theater happening on James Island.
Scott Pfeiffer, the Executive Director, sits nearby at a lighting board, working on the final plans for the show. Joy Gregory, the Musical Director, is in another room rehearsing songs with the cast of Bandstand.
American Bandstand and the Civil Rights movement
Kirk says that, “everything that we produce here are original dance musicals. I write them myself, come up with the concept. Scott also helps me writing the script. But dance is a large component. I’ve always found the parallel between music and society fascinating: how they affect each other, how they interweave”.
Kirk and Scott realized quickly that their demographic would be the local baby boomers. Kirk grew up with the music of the 60s and thought, “Why not just take the American Bandstand approach?” since the show was in its heyday during the teen years of his parents and other baby boomers.
The C-PAC show Bandstand is “told through the lens of the Civil Rights movement and American Bandstand. During my research I learned that Dick Clark was really a pioneer…instrumental for his work in integration. American Bandstand was an integrated show on the ABC network, and [Dick Clark] got a lot of pushback there. He also sponsored the Caravan of Stars. He would take tours with the artists and the dancers. He truly fought for African Americans and their rights on these tours.”
C-PAC as Cabaret Theater
The C-PAC concept is an old style 1940s type of old Hollywood MGM movie musicals that was about floor show entertainment. Kirk says that “cabaret theater is to me much more service-oriented. We have themed “Table Tootsies” that wait on you throughout the show. We have beverage service, desserts, savory snacks. They add a different atmosphere”.
They make good use of every of every inch of the space in C-PAC. “People are up on the spiral staircase, our cast sometimes will dance on the bar, on the piano…so you are encompassed, you are a part of it”.
Scott calls it a “4D entertainment experience. Most theaters you sit in stadium-style seating and you sit and passively watch what’s happening on stage. Here, the entertainment surrounds you. It’s a very different theater going experience. You are immersed.”
Bandstand, an original dance musical
Bandstand is set in a time that included the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, and protests of that war. Kirk points out that “When people hear their favorite songs from their childhood, it’s fond memories. You don’t think sometimes, especially when you’re a child growing up, listening to that, maybe you don’t really understand the true meaning of the song. But as an adult the meaning becomes clear”.
This show is different from their other shows. “On average we have a cast size of 7, but for this show we have 19 cast members”. The cast includes guest artists Maddie Casto, Kim Pacheco, and Khawon Porter, but there are a lot of local young people in the cast too. “The unique thing about this show is really all the kids. We don’t normally have kids in our shows. This is the first kids cast. It’s kind of fun, because it’s this new energy that we haven’t had in a while and it’s refreshing”.
He describes Bandstand as “a clean show, very entertaining, but historically accurate.” He would like to have a video of the show made available to all the schools in the area. They are actively seeking a volunteer videographer service company, maybe a school or a student.
C-PAC’S Musical Theater Education Mission
Another passion of Kirk’s is teaching. He wanted an organization that included the component of the theater, but he also wanted an education program. C-PAC has theater classes called Kids on Stage. It’s an after school program with three different levels, ages 4 to 15.
They also have a program that works in the local schools and provides, free to all students in the schools, six weeks of musical theater education with classes in singing, dance and voice. The classes are rotated between three different instructors.
They recently started the programs with local elementary schools: Stiles Point Elementary, Murray-Lasaine Elementary School, and Charles Towne Montessori. They are also partnered with Engaging Creative Minds. He believes that all kids should have the opportunity for this education, so he’s made it his mission to make sure that it’s available.
Getting a piece of the pie no small task
They hope to keep expanding this program but have started without the funding, donations or grants. “Scott and I are complete volunteers. That’s why there’s the term “starving artist”. You have to go after your passion, and that’s what I’ve made my whole career and my life…it was built on following my passion.”
They hope for donors and sponsorship but Kirk recognizes that “there are several theaters in the area, not to even mention all the non-profits, so we all take a piece of the pie. And unfortunately we’re such a small, localized organization that we don’t have the funding for advertising. There are a lot of people out there who don’t know that we exist, so it makes it really hard to get the donors, to find them, for them to find us”.
It’s a lot of work, but “we’re still the eternal optimists that our donor is right around the corner or the grants are going to start coming in or the next show is going to just put us on the map’.
They are currently running a Kids On Stage fund drive. “We must complete our fundraising goal of $50,000 so that we can offer our “in the schools” program to all elementary and middle schools west of the Ashley, from James Island, to Wadmalaw, and parts of North Charleston.” To donate or become a corporate sponsor, contact email@example.com.
Go see Bandstand, opening on February 2
Bandstand opens on February 2nd and tickets are available online. The show runs through February 26, and there will be a “Sweetheart Show” on February 14. There are 16 parking spaces behind the C-PAC and overflow parking next door at the Hen and Goat.
Kids on Stage is open for registration.
Sandra Stringer is our Editor.