Above: A majestic allée of oak trees is among the picturesque settings at Stono Preserve where the Arts Under the Oaks festival will take place April 10-11.
There is no question that COVID-19 has taken its toll on the entertainment industry, but the College of Charleston School of the Arts (SOTA) is bringing it back to life.
On April 10 and 11, 2021, SOTA will hold Arts Under the Oaks at the College of Charleston Stono Preserve (297 Dixie Plantation Rd., Meggett, S.C.) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A livestream option will also be available.
One of the first of many events allowing families and friends to safely gather to enjoy live entertainment, the festival will showcase the work that SOTA has been resiliently working on throughout the trials of COVID-19.
“Resiliency has been key,” says Saundra DeAthos-Meers, director of opera and assistant professor of voice, who helped spearhead the event due to her concerns about moving the College’s opera program forward with so many restrictions during a pandemic. “Singers may not sing inside in groups even with masks. This is a problem for an opera program. I was watching programs across the country cancel their productions and losing the ability to serve their students in their majors.”
At the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, DeAthos-Meers brought up her concerns to College of Charleston President Andrew T. Hsu, who suggested the College’s Stono Preserve as an outdoor venue.
“That is where the idea was born,” says DeAthos-Meers, adding that, after she gauged the Department of Theatre and Dance‘s interest in creating a SOTA festival, planning for the event began almost immediately, despite the uncertainty regarding in-person audience restrictions. At the time, crowds over 30 were still prohibited, even outdoors. But, she says, “SOTA forged on with plans, and we received approval of the event only five weeks prior.”
All that planning will pay off at the two-day outdoor festival Arts Under the Oaks, which will feature the following mainstage performances interacting safely with the audience:
Unbeatable: A Musical Theatre Showcase – Directed by theatre faculty member Laura Turner, the show will carry the “unbeatable” theme with three main groups of songs that play on beats or rhythms: “Can’t Stop the Beat,” “We Got the Beat” and “I Got Rhythm.” This performance of classic and contemporary musical theater songs mixes in audience participation, a little dance and some stories to lift spirits and remind guests of a time before masks.
Finding Place: A Dance Concert – Comprised of original dances choreographed by students, this concert investigates self, particularly in times of isolation and constant change: How do we stay grounded and what has become “our place”? When is it safe for our close circle to expand? Where do we go next? Directed by dance professor Kristin Alexander, Finding Place exemplifies resilience of self and others through contemporary dance work.
Le Nozze di Figaro: College of Charleston Opera – This famed opera by Mozart is a wondrous, intricate comedy of disguises, lost tokens of love and mistaken identity. Under the leadership of DeAthos-Meers, Orchestra Director Yuriy Bekker and Associate Professor of Theatre Evan Parry, Le Nozze di Figaro is deftly performed social distance–style by outstanding voice students with stunning choreography by dance faculty members Gretchen McLaine and Pamela O’Briant alongside professional and student orchestral musicians. The show has over-the-top dramatic story elements often found in modern-day comedies on the screen: a marriage contract between a man and someone who turns out to be his mother, a master trying to enjoy physical passion with his wife’s maidservant (a lusty boy who dresses as a woman to stay close to the woman he loves) and a pin which clasps a “love letter” that ends up in the wrong hands. Supertitles will help guests follow along the hilarious storyline.
In addition to the mainstage events, there will be sideshow events across Stono Preserve, including skilled fight choreography, sonnet recitations, costumed students entertaining guests and Three Little Pigs: Children’s Opera based on the music of Mozart. Visitors can also tour the historic grounds of the idyllic Stono Preserve while learning about the 881-acre property along the Stono River and the Intercoastal Waterway. The property is historically and archaeologically meaningful and holds tremendous potential for better understanding a diverse range of topics in the South Carolina Lowcountry history. In acknowledgment of the history of labor and traditional tribal residency of the land at Stono Preserve, the College of Charleston’s Lowcountry Digital History Initiative has coordinated an online exhibition, The Stono Preserve’s Changing Landscape.
Arts Under the Oaks mainstage events will be livestreamed and may include glimpses of the sideshow events. Livestream tickets are available for purchase ($20 general admission/$10 CofC employees/students) online here. In-person tickets may be purchased online here for either an entire day ($50 general admission/$20 CofC employees and students) or a half day with morning/afternoon options ($25 general admission/$10 CofC employees and students). The faculty/staff/student discount code for Arts Under the Oaks expires on April 4. Tickets will not be sold at the gate.
Sierra Buck is a senior double-majoring in arts management and communication.