Accomplished teaching is an art in itself, and that art is in illuminating a path to discovery. It is the drawing out, as Ashley Montagu wrote, not the pumping in.
Such a philosophy animates the staff of the South Carolina Musical Theatre Conservatory, the instructional arm of the recently established Charleston Performing Arts Center (C-PAC) on James Island.
Founded by Kirk Sprinkles, a veteran Broadway performer and teacher, and Scott Pfeiffer, whose chief focus is on the business end, the conservatory also benefits from the partners’ direct Broadway connections to such prominent figures as dancer, choreographer and director Caitlin Carter, who serves as honorary artistic director; Vocal Program director Stephanie Samaras, one of the New York theater community’s most respected vocal coaches; and Acting Program director Don Eitner, a Los Angeles-based director and acting method developer.
Sprinkles and Pfeiffer arrived in Charleston from New York in April 2013, having assayed what they felt was a singular void in the market.
“Students were going to Mount Pleasant for a vocal class, to James Island for a dance class and downtown for an acting class,” says Pfeiffer. “What we offer is more intensive development training under one roof, as well as a high caliber curriculum from master teachers who helped develop it.”
The company found its location on Folly Road and began assembling a board of directors in November while working on non-profit status. The Conservatory was born shortly thereafter, and the inaugural production of C-PAC’s performance wing, The Charleston Club, took place Thanksgiving weekend. It enjoyed sell-out audiences during a three-week run.
Conservatory students must participate in the full curriculum: weekly courses in acting technique, the history of American musical theatre, vocal performance, and theatre dance as well as basic anatomy, to understand how the body works.
“In doing our first holiday production, Naughty and Nice Burlesque, we saw that, with adults especially, there was a gap in knowledge, not just in technique but in [stage] etiquette, in knowing the business,” says Sprinkles. “We educated our cast in dance, acting, all of it. You may be a performer, but if you are not cast in a particular production, you will be working backstage or helping in some other capacity—costumes, lighting, what have you—always learning.”
To date, the Conservatory has attracted mainly adult pupils and a smattering of teens, but the goal is to have adult and youth classes of 20 students each. Throughout the school term, clients also will have the opportunity to study with guest artists who are master teachers. While the current facility is adequate for the moment, eventually C-PAC intends to move into a more central location downtown.
Having run a teaching studio with a performance arm of his own in Mount Pleasant from 2006 – 2011, Sprinkles knew the area, the market and how C-PAC might fill a niche.
“I enjoy sharing my experience and seeing a light go on in someone’s eyes. There is a large community theater scene here in Charleston, and I think a lot of them would love to pursue an actual career,” he says. “We definitely see the Conservatory as a stepping-stone. We hope that this will be a certified two-year program, after which students will be ready to go on to auditions for various regional theater companies. It’s not prior training that our students have to have to enroll, but more the raw talent, the passion, the seriousness, the drive.”
For more information, visit charlestonperformingarts.org.
Bill Thompson is the author of Art and Craft: 30 Years on the Literary Beat.