Friday Fiver: Jo Ellen Aspinwall

Jo Ellen AspinwallJo Ellen Aspinwall is the embodiment of following your dreams. After 15 years as a high school teacher, Jo Ellen decided to chase her passion: theatre. After earning her MFA in Directing from the University of Southern Mississippi, she moved to Charleston to dive into the full-time world of theatre.

Jo Ellen has directed and designed three dozen productions, including multiple Piccolo Spoleto entries. In 2010, Jo Ellen received the Bob Knowles Award for Outstanding Artistic Integrity and Professional Discipline for The Lost Colony. She is also the co-founder of Storytree Theatre.

Her current show, Dorothy in Wonderland, opens this weekend and runs through March 13 at Footlight Players. We sat down with Jo Ellen for this week’s Friday Fiver.

Your upcoming play features two of the most iconic fictional worlds of all time. As a director, how do you balance the two to ensure neither overshadows the other?

Most of the story takes place in Wonderland, so it’s a little out of balance naturally. But it’s a lot of fun to watch the Ozian heroes encounter such completely different rules and expectations in this new, topsy turvy world. One of my favorite moments is when Dorothy throws a glass of water on the Queen of Hearts (spoiler alert—she doesn’t melt!).

Once we’ve seen the worlds of Dorothy and Alice collide, suppose you could direct a sequel. What two fictional characters would you love to see come together next?

Hmmmm…this is a tough one! How about Hermione Granger and Anne of Green Gables? Or a sudden outbreak of zombies in a Dr. Seuss world? On a more adult level, the boys from Supernatural getting a visit from The Doctor!

What was your favorite fantasy book when you were a child?

I was a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle and the Wrinkle in Time trilogy definitely started my life-long fascination with fantasy stories.

Most recently you directed “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Footlight. How does your directing differ from a serious drama to a children’s fantasy?

Ultimately, every show is about telling a story. That’s where the work always starts, regardless of the specifics. The differences will come in style and scale of choices, in the focus of our energy in rehearsal—I find myself becoming much “bigger” when working on a children’s show, louder, faster, goofier.

You have an extensive theater resume, with many stage classics under your belt. That said, what is your guilty pleasure TV show or movie? 

Oh dear—I have a number of them! Probably the guiltiest is America’s Got Talent. There is something I just can’t resist about all those people every season fighting to live out their dream; I especially love watching acts who have been honing a particular skill for decades get the chance to perform for a huge and enthusiastic audience. I get ridiculously mushy about it…


Interested in being featured in a Friday Fiver? E-mail

Mural a fitting tribute to librarian Hurd

IMG_5227What was just a plain cream brick wall of a library branch is now exploding with color and, more importantly, serving as a memorial to a fallen librarian who served there for so many years.

Cynthia Hurd was the longtime branch manager of the John L. Dart branch of the Charleston County Public Library (CCPL) system and was one of nine killed in last year’s Emmanuel AME shootings. A bright and vibrant mural is being painted in her honor as a collaboration between CCPL and Enough Pie. Muralist R Robots (a.k.a. Nick Kuszyk) anticipates the painting will take about four days to complete.

Library manager Kim Odom said Hurd was a friend and mentor, and the mural reflects the values she brought every day to her community:

Cathryn Zommer, Executive Director of Enough Pie, is excited about bringing the mural to one of the oldest library branches in Charleston.

The community is encouraged to come out and watch R Robots paint the mural. On Thursday, from 3:30-5, the community is invited to paint the book carts inside the Dart Library, taking inspiration from the mural. The Dart Library is located at 1067 King Street.

IMG_5235 IMG_5229

IMG_5224 (1)IMG_5234

Behind the Scenes at Woolfe St.

Here at the Charleston Arts Alliance, having an insider’s view of local theatre can be quite the learning experience!

Today, we had the pleasure of speaking with Village Repertory director Keely Enright about this weekend’s upcoming production of “DISCORD – The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy” and Woolfe Street Playhouse’s gem blackbox, Sidestage.

This alternative, three-man production is currently being performed in Sidestage, a space only used two to three times each year in the theatre’s season. “DISCORD…” will be this stage’s last production until summertime, after Village Repertory puts on “Rock of Ages” on its mainstage. This humbling blackbox rings true to the historic and intimate aesthetic that the theatre has to offer, and because of this intimacy the audience has the opportunity to receive the message and words more clearly than other types of venues.

“DISCORD…” will run its final four showings this weekend starting tonight, Friday and Saturday night at 7:30pm as well as a Sunday matinee performance at 3:00pm. Enjoy the brisk (and not bitter cold) evening and celebrate what Village Repertory has to offer to our theatre community!







Redux Contemporary Art Center

REDUX CONTEMPORARY ART CENTER is a nonprofit organization committed to fostering creativity and the cultivation of contemporary art through diverse exhibitions, subsidized studio space for visual artists, meaningful education programs, and a multidisciplinary approach to the dialogue between artists and their audiences.

Redux Contemporary Art Center is thrilled to announce that after a five-plus year search, the organization’s new home has been secured at 1056 King Street, on the ground floor of the two-story warehouse that once housed Port City Paper and a roller skating rink. This stunning building was built circa 1942 but has been vacant for 15 years or so. This new location will more than double the footprint of Redux, from the combined 7,200 sf of the original locations at 136 St. Philip Street, where the organization has resided since its founding in 2002. The entire operations of Redux will be moved to 1056 King Street, with a target opening date of first quarter 2016.

Offering affordable studios for emerging local artists is central to the mission of Redux, and these new studios will be spacious, professional, and affordable with improved amenities for artists.

Upcoming Exhibits:

Gabriel Lovejoy: Positional Ambivalence: 

Positional Ambivalence attempts to celebrate the medium of paint, in many forms, as a vehicle for communicating complex ambivalence.

Exhibition on view: May 6 – June 17, 2017


Mayor Tecklenburg to kick off CJO season

Charleston’s newly inaugurated Mayor John Tecklenburg will take the stage to help the Charleston Jazz Orchestra kick off their 8th annual season.

The opening concert – “When Swing Was King – will be held Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St. The CJO will treat audiences to tunes from the 1930s and 40s, with such classics as “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Minnie the Moocher.” Mayor Tecklenburg will be a special guest artist on a piece by legendary jazz man – and Tecklenberg’s great uncle – Fud Livingston.

For more information or tickets click HERE.

For a sneak peak of the concert, check out the video below:

CJO’s WHEN SWING WAS KING rehearsal, featuring Mayor John Tecklenburg from Jazz Artists of Charleston on Vimeo.

Friday Fiver: Madeleine McGee

madmcgIf you’re a nonprofit and need an advocate, you need Madeleine McGee. As President of the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations (SCANPO), Madeleine is a tireless champion for nonprofits across the Palmetto State. Currently, she is leading the charge toward the annual SCANPO summit, which will be held March 9-11 in Spartanburg. The summit brings nonprofits together from across the state to learn, network, and connect. We sat down with Madeleine for this week’s Friday Fiver:

The theme of this year’s summit is Collaboraction — a combination of Collaboration and Action. What is one key thing that nonprofits can focus on to team up for a Collaboraction?

Building relationships. That’s why SCANPO puts some such emphasis on fellowship. What we are hoping for is that folks from the (nonprofit) community will say, “Let’s go learn together.”

What is one thing about nonprofits in South Carolina that most people don’t know?

That there are more than 23,00 of them. And since the EZ application form came out in 2015, the number approved by the IRS doubled from about 750 to 1,600. And our workforce represents 10 percent of the total (South Carolina) workforce. I think people forget the economic impact we have.

Last year’s summit was at Isle of Palms. This year’s summit is in Spartanburg. What is something the Lowcountry can learn from the upstate?

I am in awe of how the Spartanburg community works together. That’s why the theme is collaboraction. When I went to (Mary Black Foundation President and CEO) Kathy Dunleavy and asked her to chair, she said, “Yes,  but I’d really like to do it in collaboration with the other funders.” There’s a lot to be learned how their philanthropic organizations work together.

You spend a lot of time on the roads of the Palmetto State. What’s your go-to listen while traveling in the car?

NPR One. It’s a terrific app that gives you NPR. You can pick any stations you want. Of course I have SCETV radio. It‘s basically a podcast of NPR stations.

If you could wave a magic wand over Charleston, what would happen?

The diversity of our leadership class would grow leaps and bounds in the coming decades.


Interested in being featured in a Friday Fiver? E-mail

Love is in the Air!

Love is in the air! Looking for a place to take your date this weekend? Charleston Arts Alliance has you covered. In the mood for some theater? Catch A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by the Crabpot Players Theater, or Of Mice and Men at Threshold Repertory Theater. Love Dance? Your valentines wishes will be granted by Aladdin and Jasmine at North Charleston Performing Arts Center on February 13th at 5:30p.m. Seal the deal with Mr. Wille Clayton as he performs classic love tunes at Valentine’s Southern Soul Concert. Finally, wrap up your weekend at Love Bomb, a community celebration presented by Enough Pie where you can spread the love at St. Julian Devine Community Center. Still want more? Next Saturday don’t miss a free screening of The Age of Love, a film by Steven Loring about senior dating, at the Footlight Players Theater. For more information, check out our website at We look forward to seeing you all there!

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 12.07.34 PM

Friday Fiver: Jon Adam Ross

From left, Chantal Pavageaux, Jon Adam Ross, and Darian Dauchan.

From left, Chantal Pavageaux, Jon Adam Ross, and Darian Dauchan.

Jon Adam Ross is bringing his unifying vision to Charleston. The New York-trained actor and writer helms an exciting production that will be part of Piccolo. Jon and his team — director Chantal Pavageaux and actor Darian Dauchan — are this week’s Friday Fiver. Jon shared with us what their project is all about, and we hope you can come out and meet them at the City Gallery on Monday. We asked Jon to share the project in his own words:

The inHEIRitance Project is a nationwide series of five plays, each created with a different American city through community conversation, study, exploration, and expression and inspired by a different character from the book of Genesis. In Charleston, theatre artists Jon Adam Ross, Chantal Pavageaux and Darian Dauchan are exploring the story of Rebecca and her twin sons, and how that story relates to Charleston today. Local artists of all mediums are invited to create their own artistic responses that will accompany performances of the finished play when it premieres as part of Piccolo Spoleto in June.

THIS MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8th, from 11am to 2pm, Jon, Chantal, and Darian will be at The City Gallery to meet with local artists who are interested in discussing the source text and its relationship to the Charleston community, and learning more about ways to be involved in the process or the exhibition. Feel free to drop in at any point between 11am and 2pm on Monday, and stay as long as you like. They are eager to meet you and expand their understanding of Charleston and the vibrant artistic community here.

The Friday Fiver:

Your plays will be presented as five stories from Genesis in five cities — Charleston, Minneapolis, Austin, Kansas City and Seattle. How did you pick those five cities?

When we got the commission from The Covenant Foundation to start this project, they were interested in us eschewing cities with large Jewish communities (New York, Chicago, LA, etc.) and we wanted to find Jewish communities that were off the beaten path. Working with smaller, unique Jewish communities the stories would be more interesting and the population more accessible.

The story being told in Charleston will be the story of Rebecca and her twins, Jacob and Esau. What drew you to this story, and how did you adapt it for the performance?

We were drawn to Rebecca’s story in part because she is the least written about ‘matriarch’ or ‘patriarch’ of the big 7 in the book of Genesis. And also because she is not a passive character, but rather takes initiative and changes the path of succession – or inheritance – for her children. That she carried, bore, and raised twins, and played favorites along the way, made her an even more complex character. Her sons’ fates are intertwined in her story, and Darian and I are eager to explore the twin relationship on stage. To be clear – we have not created the play yet. That will happen through our conversations in Charleston these next weeks and months leading up to Piccolo.

You are looking to perform the show at both African-American and Jewish houses of worships during the run. How do you see art as a tool for bringing together different faiths?

Theater is a key element of religious ritual, and the stories we’re wrestling with are ones with shared ownership across faiths. We have an opportunity to create and share art that is familiar in a universal way, but also presents the audience with versions of these stories that challenge their traditional understanding, making them think “wow, I never thought about it that way!”

You and your team are currently in Charleston planning for the event and, hopefully, taking in the Holy City. What has been one of your biggest pleasant surprises about Charleston?

Unlike any other city we’ve worked in, Charleston feels like one community. Everyone knows everyone else and are so eager to introduce us. Forget six degrees of separation, in Charleston it’s one degree. It’s been the most welcoming arts community, religious community, educational community and it’s all intertwined. We feel like we’re in one large living room.

You are an accomplished writer and actor with a BFA in acting from NYU. That said, give us your one guilty pleasure TV show or movie that you just have to indulge in on occasion.

Jon – When Harry Met Sally – that ‘Mr. Zero Knew’ story while doing the wave at a NY Giants football game sends me every time

Darian – Shawshank Redemption – because of the power of the human spirit

Chantal – Any reality television show where somebody gets to accomplish their dreams (Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, Project Runway, etc.)


Westview Middle Shadows Us!

On Friday we had the supreme pleasure of hanging out with the coolest group of middle school students. Westview Middle School asked us if we could host some of their artistically inclined students for a job-shadow day. Rather than have the students come to our office, we decided to get them out and have them speak to some of our amazing groups and artists in the field! Our wonderful friends at Footlight Players let us use their theatre (which was set up GORGEOUSLY for ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’!) and we had incredible painter Jonathan Green, sister act duo Gracie & Lacy, Charleston Performing Arts Center‘s Scott Pfeiffer, and local Renaissance man Marcus Amaker come speak to the students.

We absolutely LOVED hanging out with these amazing students and sharing the opportunity to interact with some of Charleston’s all-star artists. We want to give a big thank you to everyone who participated!

IMG_2246 IMG_2230  IMG_4885