By Chelsea Anderson

Before the era of sky-high ticket prices, the theater functioned much like a public park, a communal space where all social classes – any and everybody – could come together and enjoy the arts. Luke Cleveland ’01 wishes to take communities back to such a time.

Rodney Vaughn and Luke Cleveland '01, founders of Coastal Stage Productions.

Rodney Vaughn (left) and Luke Cleveland ’01, founders of Coastal Stage Productions.

Turning this idea into reality, Cleveland and his partner Rodney Vaughn created Coastal Stage Productions, a traveling theater troupe based in Ridgeland, S.C. It has since been their mission to make the theater accessible to everyone, bringing high-quality theatrics to small rural communities throughout the South. From ticket prices to auditions and casting, Cleveland expressed that he aims to remove pretension from the theater and level the dramatic playing field in all aspects.

“Our goal is to try and move beyond the typical ­­ hoity-toity of the theatre,” says Cleveland. “Theater doesn’t have to be this stuffy – let’s wear spectacles and ball gowns and go to the theater.”

This weekend Cleveland will bring some zany and eccentric comedy to Mount Pleasant with a three-day showing of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.

Although he graduated with a psychology degree, Cleveland says his minimal theater exposure and humanities education from The College proved to be priceless. “I feel like I am well rounded and learned a lot about a lot of topics. When I began getting back involved with theater … I was really able to give insight and it was all from my training at College of Charleston.”

Cleveland hopes to one day settle down and make Jasper County – an area lacking in the arts– the permanent home of Coastal Stage Productions.

“Where Jasper County is one of the poorest counties in South Carolina, we don’t think that means they don’t deserve art,” says Cleveland.

A scene from "The Great American Trailer Park Musical."

A scene from “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.”

Besides issuing press releases and audition notices, Coastal Stage Productions connects with local community centers, churches and even seeks volunteers through assorted groups on Facebook – all to reach out to a grander and more diverse audience in the most unexpected places. And for those new to the world of theater, development workshops are also offered to improve acting and backstage skills.

“Everybody who auditions needs something,” says Cleveland. “Maybe they’re not going to get the part they really want. I’m going to ask if they want to work on the crew with me and backstage. We want everybody to feel needed and wanted and appreciated.”

Cleveland dreams of spreading what The College instilled in him – a passion for the arts – by transforming Coastal Stage Productions into a nonprofit that offers an outreach summer camp in needy communities and provides internships for those interested in education and theater.

“I kind of inched away from the theater, but then it just came back in my adult life and it really has been an incredible experience. And I know had I not had the education at the College of Charleston, I probably would’ve never gotten involved as an adult, either.”

If You Go:

What: The Great American Trailer Park Musical

When: Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, 3 p.m.

Where: Crabpot Players Performing Arts Center, 1137 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mt. Pleasant, SC

Tickets: $25/general, $23/students and military with ID,

This article was written by Chelsea Anderson, a junior from Conway, S.C., majoring in communication at the College of Charleston. She is a writer and blog editor for the College’s Cistern Yard Media.