Upstate theater community committed to keeping doors open, lights on despite difficult year

Local News

GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – In the performing arts, timing is everything and the Upstate theater community is having a hard time finding any time on stage. 

While parts of the economy have come roaring back, theaters are still closed, stages are still empty and performers wonder when they’ll ever get back to work.

Café and Then Some is hard to miss and sometimes hard to ignore.  It’s been an off-kilter, keystone of downtown Greenville since the early-80s serving dinner and satire — usually local jokes making fun of local characters and a few show stopping songs.

Until this year, when all the shows stopped.

“We walked out of here on March 15th and didn’t come back,” Co-owner and performer Susan Smith said.

Susan Smith and her husband, Bill, have been gone for months, waiting and paying to keep the lights on and the building warm with zero revenue coming in.

“It’s been a tightrope. We’ve been very lucky to get this far through loans and savings, and grace of God, and all that,” Susan Smith said.

“I think about it almost every day. When am I gonna have to say I can’t borrow any money to keep the power on, to pay the insurance,” Bill Smith said.

Just down Augusta Street stands another imposing and mostly empty landmark: The brand new $11 million South Carolina Children’s Theater.  

Matt Giles began his new career here as co-artistic director on March 16 of this year.

“My first act of walking into the office was, ‘Alright, lets cancel everything.’ That was literally that day,” Giles said.

The theater itself is big, bright and beautiful. It opened in April. 

They’ve never sold a ticket. They’ve never held an indoor performance.

And while some children’s classes returned this summer, they’ve had lower attendance and almost no actual performances.

“None of us have control anymore,” Debbie Bell, the executive director of the South Carolina Children’s Theater, said. “We have planned and cancelled more events than in the history of this organization this year, just trying to get back to our  public.”

Giles has gotten creative, though.

He staged a show on the loading dock out back and another drive-thru performance in the parking lot. 

Now, he and his fellow actors just have to find a way to hold on.

“Going to see a show and sitting next to strangers you don’t know, but you’re laughing at the same thing, you’re crying at the same thing.  You’re moved by the same moments and it connects you all,” Giles said.

Bill and Susan Smith remain committed to keeping the stage lights on, if only to tell one more local story.

“We have to do the life after COVID show.  It’s really the juice that keeps us going,” Susan Smith said.

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