Almost any given night of the week, there’s a group of students, faculty, alumni or visiting artists on stage at a university in Augusta or Aiken.
“We’re one of the best-kept secrets in the CSRA,” said Professor Jack Benjamin, chair of the Department of Visual & Performing Arts at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
Kelly Thomas, director of the Maxwell Theatre at Augusta State University, agreed. Universities offer diverse programming often not seen at other venues, he said.
“We really try to cover a broad spectrum of the arts, from dance, theater, world music, jazz, Shakespeare,” he said. “We try to find things you won’t see anywhere else.”
Many productions, concerts and recitals cost less than a movie, with discounts for students and seniors.
“We try to keep the prices down and the quality up,” Thomas said.
Last week, an ASU alumna returned to the Maxwell Theatre to present The Songs of Henri Duparc, a collection of the French composer’s songs for voice and piano. Kira King, soprano, performed with Linda Banister, mezzo-soprano; Phillip Pickens, tenor; and Isaac Holmes, baritone, with ASU music teacher Rosalyn Floyd accompanying.
The program cost $5 and showcased the talent of an ASU graduate, faculty members, and a fellow performer from Paine College with Holmes, who is an assistant professor of music at Paine, a lecturer with the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at USC Aiken and former artistic director of the Columbia County Choral Society.
“It’s a unique event,” said Linda Banister, a professor of voice at ASU and the director of the ASU Opera Workshop. “We try to showcase our former students, but we don’t get to do it very often.”
For current music students, performances like these are vital to their education, Banister said. “It’s good for them to see,” she said. “It gives them something to shoot for.”
The stage at the Maxwell Theatre is shared by students and touring world-class artists. Upcoming events in the Lyceum Series include Imago Theatre’s production of Zoo Zoo in February, which combines mime, dance, music and special effects into a theater performance for all ages, and Ballet Folklórico de Antioquia, Colombia, a vivid ballet of Colombian folklore, in March.
Some of the region’s best student musicians, however, will also be showcased this spring. The annual Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert in April is $5 and features solos from select musicians, who will perform with the ASU orchestra.
“Of all the events they do, this really highlights the top talent at the school,” Thomas said.
AT USC AIKEN, students grow as they are given increasingly difficult tasks in their performing arts education. In February, University Theatre Player students will stage their own shows in Experimental Relief, a series of 10 five-minute plays that raise money for charity.
“They’ve selected them. They’re directing them. They’re performing in them,” Benjamin said.
He’s proud of the work the students have accomplished.
“USC Aiken has been recognized as one of the top theatrical performing colleges in the Southeast,” he said. “We are consistently rated at a very high level.”
Audiences should come with high expectations for all of the school’s performing arts groups, said Joel Scraper, director of choral activities and an assistant professor of music at USC Aiken.
“We’ve worked hard to develop a good reputation,” he said. “The expectations are very high, and that’s a good thing.”
But audiences, he noted, aren’t the only ones to benefit from the performances.
“I think it’s crucial that students perform live,” Scraper said. “Performance is a part of who we are and what we do.”
The school offers diverse music programming, with faculty and student recitals throughout the spring.
“We have three different choral ensembles, instrumental ensembles, a community concert band, the USCA wind ensemble, jazz band, faculty and guest artists and musicians in residence,” he said.
In April, the school’s wind ensemble and concert choir jointly present a program, American Portrait, at The Etherredge Center.
“This is something we’ve never done before,” Scraper said, noting that the first-of-its-kind event is free and open to the public. “There really is a diversity of programs. We have quite eclectic programing, which I like. There’s something for everybody here.”