DI Performing Arts Center to be destination facility
Mary Gould has never been one to think inside the box - which might explain her love for the theatre and the art of performance. It’s more about the potential of the experience, the dream of something bigger, that upstages just about everything else for this talented visionary.
“I don’t know how to think in the box,” said Gould, founder of the South of Broadway Theatre Company (SOBTC) in North Charleston’s Park Circle community. “And I think that is absolutely at the root of who I am and how I function.”
So when Gould began to ponder creating a landmark Performing Arts Center that could not only house her beloved SOBTC, but one that could also become the site of South Carolina’s very first LORT facility (League of Resident Theaters), her sights quickly focused on Daniel Island. The LORT designation would bring to the island Broadway-caliber productions that would be eligible for Tony Awards.
“It makes perfect sense that this would be the best possible location,” said Gould, who has been paying close attention to the growth of Daniel Island over the years, specifically the success and regional draw of the Family Circle Cup, now known as the Volvo Cars Open. “…South of Broadway Theatre will be the ‘theatre in residence.’ We are the catalyst. We are the ones driving it. But it’s so much bigger than just nine months of theatre!”
Gould has been working behind the scenes for months on the project with commercial real estate broker and outgoing Daniel Island Business Association President Pete Harper, who announced that the new Performing Arts Center was in the works at the September 9 Daniel Island Speakers Series event. Land has been secured for the proposed facility on a 1.78 acre plot behind the UBS building off Island Park Drive.
“….If there are already 72 of these (LORT) theaters across the country, we’re not reinventing the wheel,” continued Gould. “We’re just claiming a spoke for our place.”
The prelude to this story actually began more than 40 years ago in Brazil, where Gould grew up with her parents, who were serving in the country as missionaries. They had no amenities, no electricity, and no running water. It was a simple and humble beginning for a young girl trying to find her identity.
“I finally got a transistor radio where I could listen to the Beatles,” recalled Gould, chuckling. “And my Dad told me they were sinful, so he confiscated it!”
For Gould, music offered a glimpse into an exciting and inspiring new world. When she moved back to the states at age 18, after a brief stint at Moody Bible Institute, she ended up in Chicago working for an insurance agent. While listening to classical music on the radio one day, something operatic came over the airwaves, and she had an epiphany.
“I sat there and I was just overwhelmed, and I thought if I can sing like that, that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
In the 35 years that followed, she would earn more than 30 roles as an opera singer. But something changed in the early 1990s, when she was cast as Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera, her first crossover role in musical theatre. “I felt like I had come home,” she recalled.
“I felt so much more comfortable in the theatrical world. And I found the actors very much more supportive.”
She continued to perform for a number of years, and then moved to the Charleston area, where she decided it was time to give the audition circuit a rest. She established the Mary Gould Vocal Studio downtown and, in addition to singing lessons, began offering workshops and seminars for students with her contacts in New York and Los Angeles. In the year 2000, she formed the South of Broadway Theatre Company, with the hope of one day creating a LORT theatre for actors in the Actors Equity Association.
“An equity actor is someone who belongs to Actors Equity, which is the union of actors and stage managers in this country and in the U.K.,” she explained. “It is a certain recognition of professionalism…The other thing about equity actors is you actually have to pay them a living wage. If you don’t have a theatre paying equity wages, those people have to work a regular job, in addition to their theatre work.”
With no designated LORT facility in the Charleston region, or the state, Gould felt it was time to push forward to make her dream a reality.
“We are the only I would say major tourist attraction that does not have a theatre company that is fully equity,” she said. “…I really enjoyed working with actors. I understood the theatre process, and I had developed my own internal language that I was able to translate into the actual nomenclature of the theatrical field….Having done opera for 35 years, I thought well, I’ve got nothing else to do for the next 30 years, I bet you I could do this, if I put some time into it!”
And so the process began. Over the last 15 years, Gould said she has done her “due diligence” to study and plan for bringing a LORT facility to the Lowcountry. The rapidly growing Daniel Island area, expected to reach some 18,000 residents and 12,000 workers by the year 2020, seemed a natural fit, she said.
“This will be a destination theatre. It’s going to benefit Charleston across the board.”
The proposed Daniel Island Performing Arts Center will have two theaters, a 450-seat Proscenium theatre for large productions and a 99-seat black box theatre for more intimate shows. Additionally, there are plans for outdoor plazas, indoor gathering spaces, catering kitchens, and more. Education will be another huge component.
“In theaters of this caliber, there is a whole department devoted to education,” said Gould. “So that’s something that this is going to be bringing. Not to cast dispersions on what exists already, but we may be able to bring opportunities that some of the smaller organizations cannot.”
The LORT productions would most likely take place in three week runs, with 12 to 16 performances per week. In the “off” weeks, visiting productions could take to the stages, so the facility could potentially be in use year-round.
“We are very cognizant that this needs to be a friendly, friendly space with a lot of different things going on,” she added.
Over the summer, students from the Clemson University School of Architecture took on the facility as a project and came up with several potential designs. Gould envisions it to be an iconic, state-of-the-art showplace that will attract patrons not only from the surrounding community and Charleston region, but from across the state and nation as well.
Another benefit would be its potential impact on the local economy. A similar LORT theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, a community about a third of the size of Daniel Island, generates an economic impact of $34 million and 495 jobs annually. Gould, once again thinking outside the box, sees even more possibilities.
“I think the thing that is not always talked about is the retention of intellectual capital…and artistic capital. Because we will be giving people a place where they can actually work and make a living, and stay here to do it.”
With more equity actors coming to the area, more equity theaters could spring up to support them.
“It’s great for the community,” she said. “It ups the ante.”
Cue the money!
As with any world class venue, it’s going to take money to make it happen. Gould has assembled a DIPAC Advisory Committee, made of up of island residents and other community members, to begin discussing ideas for the project and how it will be funded. They have set a timeline for fundraising, beginning with a goal to raise $1 million by April 2016 to secure a professional fundraiser and architect, and to pay for other building preparation requirements. A second phase, set to start in May of 2016, will focus on raising an additional $9 million, part of which will be financed.
“If Charleston can’t do this, who can?” said Gould, confident the goal can be reached through capital campaign donations, endowments, and other funding sources.
Most important, she added, is that the Daniel Island community gets behind the project.
“That has to be the first thing. Because if the Daniel Island community doesn’t take this to its bosom, it will not survive…If (our donors) are not convinced that the community we’re talking about wants us with passion, then they’re not going to put their money up.”
So far, feedback from Daniel Island residents has been very positive, Gould said. In fact, many have stepped forward to help advance the project by serving on the Advisory Committee. Daniel Island Company President Matt Sloan also offered his thoughts on the concept.
"By virtue of my oldest son, my family has become involved in local theater and have seen many benefits to the local community,” he said. “This proposed center promises to be a fantastic addition to Daniel Island, and I feel our central location and easy accessibility via I-526 make the island unique in its ability to draw participants and audiences from throughout the entire region. I see this being a win-win opportunity for both South of Broadway and the Daniel Island community.”
Gould, and those on her team, couldn’t agree more. If all goes as planned, the Daniel Island Performing Arts Center will open to patrons in 2019.
“I don’t let myself emotionally go to that opening night yet,” said Gould. “You can ask me that night ‘What does it feel like?’ Probably like going to heaven!”
Want to get involved?
If you are interested in supporting the campaign for the planned Daniel Island Performing Arts Center (DIPAC), becoming part of the DIPAC Advisory Committee, or if you have other questions, please contact Mary Gould at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the South of Broadway Theatre Company, please visit www.southofbroadway.com.