A World Full of Love Like Home: Remembering the Craft Auditorium

essays_CraftBy Haley Sprankle, Jasper intern

“On June 30, 2014, I was asked to be the last person to “speak” from the stage of Craft Auditorium. With only a ladder and one clip light I was filmed reading a poem about never giving up. I honestly didn’t think I could get through it without sobbing. But as we started to film in that empty theatre I felt the strength and power of all of those who had been on and off that stage around me as I spoke. It is and will be one of the most profound moments of my life. I was honored to say goodbye to a place that nurtured me for 28 years.” –Hunter Boyle

The corner of Bull and Gervais street was inhabited by more than just a building. To some, it was opportunity. To some, it was where they first fell in love. To some, it was an escape from the real world. To all, it was home.

Workshop Theatre of South Carolina began its life as a director’s theatre without a home. They utilized as many spaces as they could for performances, trying to keep them innovative and fresh.

In the early 1970s, the company found a place to call home.

For years and years, the Craft Auditorium (named for Jack Craft, the director of the Museum who gave them the use of the property and was the theatre’s first and biggest supporter) housed not just a myriad of performances, but memories to last a lifetime.

As a community theatre, auditions were open to the public allowing a great diversity of people to come in and out of the theater. Many who partook in each production had to balance families, work, and jobs within the community before, after, and during each production.

The Craft Auditorium was what started it all for many. Many young actors crossed that stage that would find a passion for theatre that would drive them to pursue it as a career. Some performers such as Kelsey Chow or Kristin Davis performed there in their youth and later moved on to work on television and movies. Other young actors in the community began at the theatre as young as age five and have continued to study and pursue the art.

For about 40 years, Workshop Theatre faced many challenges and many successes. Through each hardship and success, one thing always remained true—art was created.

The Craft Auditorium was demolished Tuesday, September 23, 2014.

While the art and love of theatre does not rely on a building, each brick that came crashing down that dreary Tuesday morning was full of heart and sentiment.

In memorium of about 40 years with the Craft Auditorium, here are some cherished memories that came from that little corner of Bull and Gervais.

“We were a couple of weeks from opening [The Full Monty], and had just started to do run-throughs onstage. For the final scene, the guys were doing the strip number down to their skivvies, working with the costumes because they were part of the choreography but of course not doing the last “rip off the g-string” moment because in the show, the lights are supposed go out a split second afterward but we hadn’t added tech yet. So they’re doing the number, the whole rest of the cast is in the audience, in character, whooping and hollering. And then they just WENT for it! They had gotten together before hand and decided to just get it over with, but none of us knew what was coming. They ripped ‘em off and hit their last pose, just proud as punch with silly grins on their faces. It was the most wonderful moment of trust and fun and spontaneous joy. They knew they were in a safe environment and we had their backs, and it was a wonderful bonding experience that really was indicative of the whole production… we were a family, and to this day I don’t think there’s ever been a party quite like it.” –Laurel Posey

“My favorite moment on the Craft Auditorium stage also coincides with a very difficult moment. It was during my first ever show in South Carolina…La Cage Aux Folles. It was the season opener back in 2001. See where I’m going here? The tragic events of 9/11 happened the Tuesday of tech week. I remember walking into the theatre and seeing stoic faces on what was typically a very energetic and lively cast. We talked, consoled each other and even held a vigil in the courtyard. It was then I realized that these people we not just people I doing a show with, these people were my family. So there was talk of what to do. Do we postpone opening or do we continue on?… We continued on. Opening night was a huge bag of mixed feelings. I had those jitters we all get before the first performance but there was also a heaviness and uncertainty in the air. Will people still come? Will they laugh? Will they enjoy themselves? And the answer to all three questions was yes. It was exactly what these people needed…a distraction from reality. Live theatre is not only entertainment but it can also be an escape from tragedy and we proved it that night. After curtain call, we stayed on stage, had the audience stand and we all sang God Bless America to honor all who were lost on that day. Walking out into the lobby that night, we weren’t met with the typical “Great show” or “Congratulations” type comments that we would typically be greeted with. What we got were a lot of “Thank You’s.” And that was the best compliment we could have received.” –Jason Kinsey

“My first experience [at Workshop] was when I auditioned for To Kill a Mockingbird when I was about nine and got called back twice for Scout. Jocelyn Sanders was directing and I don’t even remember being sad about not getting cast because I was so fascinated by the whole process. Dogs was also such a unique experience because I got to not only work with some of the most prominent actors in Columbia, but also with a local playwright and composer. I was one of only two kids in that cast, and I really felt like a real actor for the first time. Then, Wild Party was so progressive and edgy. It was by far the most mature musical I’ve ever been in. That show was the craziest experience and I learned so much. Even though we had like six people in the audience every night, we loved it because we were doing such a unique show.” –Grace Fanning

“One afternoon, my brother Jason came to my apartment and said, “Let’s go! We’re auditioning for a show!” If you know Jason, you know it is hard to say no. Doing a show is like finding new family, and when you’re bringing members of your real family along it’s just that much better. 1776, directed by Clarence Felder brought me to Workshop Theatre of South Carolina. Then came Cabaret with David Swicegood, Annie and Fiddler on the Roof with Cindy Flach, and Jesus Christ Superstar with Scott Blanks. I got to teach musical theater with Terrance Henderson, and sweet Devin Anderson was a student. My oldest daughter, Sarah Peterson played Augustus Gloop in a class recital and I baked a million chocolate chip cookies, and the whole theater smelled like chocolate! Ron Dunn never lets me forget that. That place holds a lot of memories for me, where I met people who still rock my world, and for that I am forever grateful. Haley was only 5 when she was cast in her first show, Gypsy with Robin Gottlieb as Mama Rose, and a star studded cast, as often happens here. Theatre needs no building, though, and any life brought to the lifeless assemblage of brick and mortar was granted by the love of the people represented in these photos, and those whose faces were not captured by my camera, but whose performances echo in the hearts of any who ever witnessed a show. To arrive at this party and realize that, although I had spent much time in this building, there were many unfamiliar faces at this party, letting me know that many came before me, and even without these particular bricks, many more will follow.” –Rob Sprankle

“There have been many memorable moments at Workshop Theatre, from my first performance in 1993′s Into the Woods, directed by Jim E. Quick, too my last performance in 2011′s A Few Good Men. In case you didn’t know, I, thanks to Bobby Craft, am the infamous “Diva Down” due to an unfortunate costume malfunction during 1997′s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I was playing Pseudolus and had a ridiculous scene in drag where I had to run around the stage at full speed to make an entrance on the other side. As you might have guessed, I didn’t make it, slamming into a set piece. And thus became, “Diva Down”… But I wasn’t the first. Kimbi Glenn, during my first show, Into the Woods took a fall and actually broke her ankle onstage. The show didn’t go on that evening, effectively stopping the production in the first act, but the following evening, Michelle Poole-Graham took the stage on book for the performance and afterwards, was completely off-book for the remainder of the run. It was AMAZING to see and experience the dedication and preparation to become this other character with a day’s notice… Finally, La Cage aux Folles in the autumn of 2001 will forever be etched in my memory to demonstrate the power of theatre to heal broken spirits. On Tuesday, September 11th of the week of our scheduled Friday opening, our world forever changed. We were uncertain about whether or not to go forward with the production, because of fear of being seen as frivolous and insulting to the memories of those lost and continuing to grieve on our own as a cast. But we opened that Friday evening after having a cast-crew only candlelight vigil in the courtyard prior to the performance. “The Best of Times Is Now” took on a new and special meaning that evening, as we had many people in the packed house say to us afterward they knew “…we were going to be okay, because it was okay to laugh again…” After singing the encore of “Best of Times”, the entire cast began to sing “God Bless America” at the top of our lungs, and as they held one another with tears flowing down their faces, the audience joined us as well, singing a prayer for the ages with all our might to banish the darkness. I’ve never felt the power of the theatre as greatly as I did that night and it remains one of the most memorable nights of my life.” –Chip Stubbs

“My first thought was how much I always loved the first rehearsal on the stage after being in the rehearsal space for weeks. Being on that stage for the first time always made the show and cast so excited, and I loved the energy of that space. For every show I did there, whether I was acting in it or directing it, that first rehearsal on the stage was always my favorite.” –Elisabeth Gray Heard Engle

“It was a Tuesday in September and we were nearing the opening night of La Cage Aux Folles. As with almost any theatre show the week of opening is littered with last minute adjustments, tweaks, freak-outs and miracles that all make a show possible. It always comes together somehow, someway and then the cast always looks back and says “How’d we do that?” What made this one remain lodged in my mind is that this particular Tuesday was Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The entire cast including myself, Matthew DeGuire, Scott Blanks, Clint Poston, Steven Thompson, Chip Stubbs, Charles Felsberg and many, many others were left in stunned silence in search of answers…the same as many Americans. But we had a show opening in three days and a preview house in one. I heard that discussions took place regarding the cancellation of that night’s rehearsal, even talk of postponing opening night. Having no information to the contrary I went to rehearsal as planned. Needless to say, hardly anyone spoke about much other than the tragedy. Backstage conversations that usually flow more freely than most rivers were dammed up allowing only small trickles of conversation to emerge. The call came from our stage manager Ann Burns for places and, without hesitation, those in the opening number took their places on stage and the rehearsal began. I don’t recall much about that rehearsal, other than the fact that we did actually rehearse. A united cast sang the last note of the show and then we stood still, primarily because we had yet to block the curtain call and thus had nowhere to go. The silence was more than deafening as we stood in the Craft Auditorium waiting for our director Richard Blair to instruct his cast. From the darkness I could hear the seat squeak as he stood. If you know Richard, you know his voice is quite powerful with its rich tone and unique tambour. From the darkness we heard simply, “Go get changed. And then go be with who you need to be with.” The following three nights, two preview and our official opening night, were three of the best nights I can physically recall. I say physically because I still get goose bumps remembering the feeling of relief and gratitude from our audiences knowing that they could laugh and take their minds off the craziness of the world for a few short hours. I was a small part of that. Workshop Theatre was a major part of that. And the Craft Auditorium was the site of healing for our cast and, thankfully, a cast of thousands in the Midlands area. I will remain ever grateful for my cast, my director and for The Craft Auditorium at Workshop Theatre for helping all of us find a place of solace when it was needed the most.” –Jason Stokes

“One of my favorite memories from Craft Auditorium was after a rehearsal during tech week for Caroline, or Change the director, Jocelyn Sanders, was “holding court” with Pam Johnson, Caroline Weidner and myself. Jocelyn is an amazing story teller, and she was telling us about her day and the characters she runs in to through her day. I don’t think I have ever laughed as hard I did that night. We were sitting in Row E Center and Jocelyn was spinning a tale like no other. I will always remember that night. Caroline, or Change was the first show I co-produced with Pam Johnson, and I hold that show close to my heart. We laughed, we cried, and we loved during that show. One thing I will miss most of all about Craft Auditorium is Randy Strange. Every morning, we would have our chats about the show, the set, our families, our pets, or just about life. I really miss those chats. Also, Randy loved to try to scare me, and sometimes he would scare me without even trying. There were many days that it was just Randy and I in the building. We often heard mysterious noises like doors opening or closing, and we would joke that Walter was in the house messing with us. One of my most touching memories in Craft Auditorium was getting to see Hunter Boyle say the last words on Craft Auditorium’s stage. To see such an amazing actor take to the stage that he loved so dearly one last time, will stay with me forever. The memories that stick out in my head are of all the friends and family I have made over the years because of Workshop Theatre. I love that the Workshop Theatre family keeps growing and growing. We get to share our passion for the art of theatre and we get to share our lives together.

“A day after the demolition of Craft Auditorium, I was left with so many emotions, but the two that are the strongest are hope and love. Workshop may have lost its building on Bull Street, but we have not lost the memories that were made there. We still have friendships and families that were made there. We will always have the love and laughter, and yes, sometimes the tears that we shared there. I have hope for the future of Workshop Theatre. After watching the casts of The Little Mermaid and Five Guys Named Moe bond and love one another, I know Workshop will continue. The passion, love, and dedication to making quality theatre is still alive.” –Jeni McCaughan

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