Ashley Hall’s upcoming production of Annie JR. performed by students in sixth through twelfth grades is sure to be a fun-filled experience for students and families. Performing Arts faculty members Kirk Sprinkles Pfeiffer and Scott Pfeiffer, who are the founders of the Cultural Arts Center Charleston, have given students an amazing experience preparing for this classic musical. They recently shared their passion for teaching, inspirations for their productions, and what they enjoy most about working at Ashley Hall.

What Ashley Hall classes and special projects are each of you involved with, and what has been most exciting so far?

KIRK: We, Cultural Arts Center Charleston (CACC), were first brought on board to direct and produce Annie JR. for the Upper School. At the start of 2020 we were offered faculty positions to teach grades 2-8 in drama and choir. Every project is different. For me personally, teaching is my passion, so I’d have to say the teaching element.

SCOTT: I love that moment when I’m teaching or discussing a complex process, and I see the light bulb turn on for a student. Those “ah-ha” moments have been abundant as we’ve been rehearsing. The most exciting part has been seeing students’ confidence grow—whether or not they want to perform. They take on the challenges of singing, dancing, and acting, all in one class.

What have you enjoyed most about campus?

SCOTT: The atmosphere is invigorating. The McBee House, the live oaks, the welcoming and supportive faculty, and the way the students approach learning and supporting each other make every day an exceptional experience. Each day is made more special when walking on campus, students run to give a hug or shout “Hi Mr. Pfeiffer” and ask me to watch them on the monkey bars.

KIRK: The positive and supportive environment. We experienced this first from the faculty with their sincere support to help us find our way. But when we observed how supportive the students are with one another, we were mesmerized by this beautiful and admirable quality that is rarely experienced these days.

For each of you, what are you most passionate about? Why are you drawn to arts education and children’s programming?

KIRK: As a former Broadway performer, I know firsthand that there is a true urgency in preserving the art disciplines: respect and work ethic from the artists, the appreciation and etiquette from the audiences, and increased advocacy and promotion to the public. I believe that the appreciation and value of the arts begins in early education. It’s my responsibility as an artist-educator to inspire our youth to think creatively, feel passionately, connect with others and the world around us.

SCOTT: I am most passionate about creating an environment where every student can be free to express themselves creatively without fear of judgement by her peers or herself. The drama room is a place to explore, to “try things on,” and to take risks. The social pressures that students feel—especially due to social media—can hinder their ability to explore their creativity in a group setting. I enjoy helping a student break down those barriers (both internal and external) to become a more intuitive, compassionate, connected citizen of the world.

How are the Annie JR. rehearsals progressing? How are you helping the girls feel confident and prepared?

SCOTT: My job as a director is to ensure that everyone is in touch with her character and the story. With each scene, I share details of the time period to help them understand the context of their character and the story they are telling.

I don’t “dumb-down” my directorial approach or my expectations. I hold all cast members to a high standard and help them reach levels they never thought they were capable of reaching. The students have come with a lot of confidence, which makes my job that much easier. But, when that confidence wavers, I remind them that the theater is where they are free to try new approaches and encourage them to take risks. It’s a learned skill, so these students will become even better performers as we head into next year.

Preparation lies on the shoulders of the performers. The director and choreographer provide information, structure, guidance, support, and direction. Each student must independently learn her lines, practice her choreography, and know lyrics and notes. Hopefully, my directorial style has encouraged them to approach this production with a level of passion and detail that matches that of the professionals I work with and direct.

KIRK: I serve as the choreographer/co-music director/costume designer. The girls have been a delight to work with from day one! Most people do not realize that Annie JR. is a massive musical to produce. It requires a large cast, large movable sets, a great deal of costuming, not to mention complex vocals and choreography.

When most think of Annie, they think of a handful of orphans, Ms. Hannigan, and Daddy Warbucks. It is actually written for a cast of 30. We have a cast of 20 in our production. No, we haven’t eliminated roles. Instead we’ve doubled and tripled the parts for 17 of our cast members. This means playing multiple characters with quick costume changes!

We are not only preparing the cast by giving them their blocking, choreography, and notes but also helping them develop their characters, understand key historical elements, and teaching them various techniques such as vocal placement, breath support, dance technique, and even makeup and wig technique.

About the Cultural Arts Center Charleston (CACC)

SCOTT: Cultural Arts Center Charleston (CACC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and advancing the cultural arts through an ongoing series of family performances, educational programs, and community events that celebrate our diverse and multicultural community.

We have produced over 35 productions in 6 seasons since we established the organization. We create original dance musicals and music reviews and also produce full-book musicals. Last year, we even produced a musical, “My Princess Diana,” in New York City. Our Youth Theatre program provides arts education and performing opportunities for students ages 7 ½ to 18. Our “Broadway Theatre Workshops” focus on building skills in dance, voice, and acting. This summer CACC will participate in Ashley Hall’s Summer Program offerings. That camp will end with a performance held at CACC. We also have a summer immersive experience where we take young performers to New York City for an intensive training experience.