Two weeks ago, students from Beaufort Middle School attended a production of "The Misanthrope" in ARTworks' Black Box Theater. The play was written in 1600s France. Their teachers, including Stephanie Luzny and Susan Walker, were concerned about the students' behavior in the audience. But when my husband, Irby Rentz, got home that night after running the lights and described how the students laughed and talked out loud, responding to the stage action, I realized I had missed the best performance of the nine-show run.
"The play was good and funny. My mom was in it -- her performance was good. A couple of times I was nervous because she's my mom," said Sam Exley about Melissa Florence in the role of Arsinoe, which she played imperiously.
In Beaufort's locally produced plays, dance recitals, concerts and festivals, the actors are your neighbors. They do a phenomenal job keeping the rest of us entertained. They memorize hundreds of lines and deliver them for the joy of the art form. All they ask is that you sit back and enjoy, shake their hands after the performance, and give it a good review to your friends.
"The students were well-behaved and attentive," JW Rone said when I asked him about the audience. He directed the play, and is the executive director of ARTworks and an experienced performing artist-educator. "They talked and murmured, but about the show, keeping up with the characters. They responded at the appropriate times, and really enjoyed Russ' character. It built up to the point that they laughed just to see him on stage, and now he understands the progression of his character, too."
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Russel Perry is a Battery Creek High School student who had the role of Basque, a bumbling servant. Like the middle schoolers, he now better understands the audience-performer relationship -- everybody needs to be on their toes (even if still in their seats), ready to respond, ready for the next line, ready to groan or applaud (but no tomatoes in the Black Box Theater, please).
Middle schooler Cassandra Knoppel said, "The relationship between Celimene and the 'prude' reminded me of girls at school who say they are friends but talk behind each other's backs." But in this 17th century story, it was the costumes, bold modern dress accessorized with bluetooth ear buds and smartphones and e-tablets, that made Cassandra "connect to the play," she said.
Apply Cassandra's observation to Beaufort: The deep history and long-established arts reputation are empowering backdrops for contemporary actors and dancers and poetry readers and musicians -- and tourists. Apply it to the questions that Main Street Beaufort, USA is posing in its upcoming marketing workshop about how young people feel about downtown Beaufort. One answer: The setting and scenery are great, really, but stronger Wi-Fi and more shows, please, because we're going out, looking for roles, seeing and being seen, doing something spectacular.
In the spirit of the rival department store managers in the movie "Miracle on 34th Street," I recommend shopping locally and performingly this holiday season. Get out and meet your artist-neighbors. Tickets are easy to wrap. Talking about an exhibition is great party chat. Attending arts events is plain joyful.
On my list: Night on the Town; the opening of Steve Johnson's gallery on Boundary Street across from the Piggly Wiggly; The Charles Street Gallery's holiday reception; the Christmas Cabaret and Tall Tales from Wales at ARTworks; storytelling on a "Not So Silent Night" with the Uncalled For Trio at The Shed; The Festival of Trees; and the hundreds of yards of yarn that Deanna Bowdish is unfurling to create an artsy-craftsy optical contusion, "slightly twisted," connecting her gallery on Bay Street and her gift-spangled installation at ARTworks.
The artists making these events possible have guts to get on stage. The performing arts are growing in Beaufort, and nothing but good for the art scene and all those observant, room-filling youths.