BY QUINN DAVIS
Shakespeare once said “In a theatre, the eyes of men, after a well-graced actor leaves the stage, are idly bent on him that enters next.”
Since the pandemic struck, we have all been clamoring for outdoor theatre, and waiting for those that “enter next.” In Trailblazer Park in Travelers Rest, presented on a sizeable stage against a backdrop of greenery and trees, theatre lovers are in for a much needed, and rare treat: Two performances by casts and crews of enormous talent. The first is the perfect show for the season, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, followed quickly by Mark York’s “Phantom in the Park”, a Broadway treat. Presented by The South Carolina Repertory Theatre, and overseen by two names synonymous with theatre, creativity, and stage, John Fagan and Kimilee Bryant.
I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with both of them for a brief time when either could be wrested from their work on the stage. Given their love of what they do, this was no mean feat. They have both poured themselves into these shows, and are determined to make the experience one the audience will want to repeat. The first I was able to tear away from their toil was Director John Fagan.
Mr. Fagan has been bringing Shakespeare to the Upstate since 1999, having brought nearly all of the Bard’s work to audiences for years, and given more than one actor just starting their first foray into theatre. It’s been an adventure, to say the least. Battling the elements each season, and the other unknowns that come with outdoor theatre, including eccentric passerby and bridesmaids belting out 80’s hits at the tops of their lungs, he has nearly seen it all.
This is the eighth time he will be directing Midsummer, and not one has been the same. This performance, however, he says will be “quite different” than anything audiences have seen. As with any outdoor theatre, one must adapt to the environment. In the case of Trailblazer Park, Fagan says part of the fun has been adapting the show to the park’s unique foot and bicycle traffic, an element he seems to have made use of. Another challenge the cast and crew faced was the sheer size of the stage, some 70ft, and surrounding yard, and how to utilize it best to tell the story. They have done so with gusto, taking advantage of the space with expertise.
Mr. Fagan makes every possible use of the talents of the cast, occupying moments with “lots of running, lots of dancing, and… lots more singing and dancing!”, sure to keep the audience’s heads spinning and the laughs coming. When asked what one thing set this performance apart in his mind, Mr. Fagan said with no small amount of joy, “We have thrown the cultural influence bag wide open”. I cant wait to see what he and this amazing cast and crew pull from that bag. It’s sure to be a night of color, laughs, singing, and pageantry that won’t soon be forgotten.
Ensuring this is a star-studded assortment of local talent: Richard Beveridge, Shaniece Criss, Matt Shearin, Jaimie Malphrus, Adam Jones, John Genova, Candice Bryant, Briana Clary, John Carino, Brian Reeder, Townsend Reynolds, Josh Wilson, Wyatt Coker, Robert Penninger, Dave LaPage, Kimilee Bryant, Andrew Bryant, Anna Hickey, Lois Hade, Sallie Watson, Noelle Chart ,Briana Clary, and stage manager Bronwyn Frank.
After stealing Mr. Fagan away from his work, I was able to sit, or rather walk and talk, with a very mobile Kimilee Bryant. She told me at the onset “I never sit down”, and there was no exaggeration there. Constantly moving and working, she was able to give me insight into her prior history and current work at Trailblazer Park between breaths and breaks whilst performing various tasks for the shows. Mrs. Bryant is an upstate native, and has an incredible career, performing as Christine Daaé in Broadways Phantom of the Opera, Carlotta in the national tour of Phantom, roles in The Pirate Queen, and others while with The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, performances with the Portland Opera such as Frasquita in Carmen, and a long list of film and cabaret.
To say she has kept moving would be a gross understatement. That movement has brought her back to the Upstate, and her work at Trailblazer Park. Although having known each other for years, Mrs. Bryant realized she and Mr.Fagan had never had the opportunity to do a show or production with one another. That is changing with these two shows. Inspired by the space, and stage, she had wondered aloud why no one had used the space for theatre thus far, and betwixt she and Mr. Fagan, decided to remedy that.
During one of the few pauses in our trek from stage to yard, she said “I’ve been looking forward to this for a year- this will be one of the most fun and different Midsummers ever”. I believe every word. Mrs. Bryant is putting an equal amount of work into the second production, directly from Broadway, Mark York’s “Phantom”. From the bright bouquet of Midsummer to the stark beauty of a Broadway masterpiece, Mrs. Bryant is helping to bring Theatre to Travelers Rest with a bang. Phantoms cast and crew is a stunning amalgamation of seasoned Broadway and regional talent, including Duane McDevitt, Sean MacLaughlin, Michele McConnell, and Mrs. Bryant herself, reprising her role as Christine Daaé.
During these talks, Mr. Fagan couldn’t keep a smile from his face, despite the heat, and the work that lied ahead. Mrs. Bryant nearly literally glowed talking about the work they have done. The cast and crew for bother performances are spending every available moment, no matter the conditions, fine-tuning the minutiae of these shows. It is rare to encounter such passion and zeal in any project, and audiences are, without question, in for the rarest of treats this August.
A Midsummer Nights Dream runs Friday, August 13th, and Sunday, August 15th, at 7 pm. Phantom runs Friday, August 20th and August 22nd at 7 pm. This is a brief window to take in a titanic effort, and an extraordinary opportunity to see stellar theatre.