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BWW Blog: Introducing “ChipandGus” on SecondStage!

An interview with Whitaker Gannon about the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina’s new entertainment-streaming platform.

The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina was where I learned that I wanted to pursue Musical Theatre. I've done six shows there, and I am always eager to return to the stage that I grew up on, whether it is to perform or be in the audience. With COVID, such an opportunity would seem impossible, but the clever folks at the Arts Center came up with some pandemic-friendly solutions for theatregoers this year. So, I recently chatted with the Arts Center's Whitaker Gannon to learn a little bit more about what they are up to!

To start, I know you've had a long history with the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, so could you briefly describe your journey there and what you do at the Arts Center now?

Yes, absolutely! Essentially, the Arts Center has been my second home since the age of 10. When I was in fifth grade, I auditioned for a kid role in one of their shows and was lucky enough to get the part. Then all through middle and high school, I continued and by the time I graduated, I had been in six equity productions at the Arts Center, which was such an incredible opportunity as a young artist. Plus, younger me felt pretty cool getting to work and hang out with a bunch of NYC actors twice my age!

Fast forward a few years, I graduated college with a freshly-instilled passion for directing and so I applied for a summer apprentice position at the Arts Center to serve as an Assistant to the Director for their production of Legally Blonde. After that contract, the Arts Center ended up offering me a full time job as Resident Assistant Director to serve as AD for all the shows of the season and I've been doing that for almost two years now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a particular strain on the live arts/entertainment industry. What new initiatives has the Arts Center taken to keep the arts alive in the Lowcountry?

We are fortunate to have such an innovative group of staff members here because as soon as the stay-at-home order was issued in March 2020, everyone immediately started putting their heads together to find ways to keep engaging with our audience virtually and provide creative outlets on digital platforms.

We offered a Virtual Play Club, which was essentially a Zoom book club but with plays. For our young artists and performers, we had a series of virtual summer camps and digital art lessons. And not to mention a whole bunch of video content, including "Quarantini" interviews with Arts Center directors and performers, behind-the-scenes tours of the theater, production design tips and tricks, and more. The list is pretty extensive ... but despite our curtain being down we still continued creating for our Arts Center family.

Later on in the pandemic as it became apparent that the virus wasn't going away any time soon, we shifted towards finding a more significant way to bring theatre to our patrons. That's when we came up with SecondStage, which is our very own Arts Center Streaming Experience.

Tell me about SecondStage! What are the big differences between using this new platform and the Arts Center's typical season?

Well, SecondStage is something we've wanted to offer - initially conceived for a live format - in tandem with our five, full-scale productions of our Theatre Season. Pulling inspiration from fringe theatre, we wanted to create small-scale productions that tell a really big story. The intermission of live performances in 2020 gave us the chance to expand this idea and launch SecondStage as a virtual theatrical experience instead.

Kicking off this theatre series is the riveting comedy ChipandGus! The show was filmed on our stage with four cameras over the course of two days, and edited for several weeks. The finished video is available for streaming now! Also, we've got an excellent lineup of innovative, thought-provoking shows planned for later in the year, so stay tuned.

SecondStage will undoubtedly broaden our offerings and inherently can evolve into live performances too that are smaller, limited-run, edgier works. It also may become a hybrid of both live and streamed shows. In one form or another, we plan for SecondStage to have longevity.

I'd love to hear more about "ChipandGus". What's the premise? Tell me all about it!

The whole show is absorbing from start to finish. You have these two oddball acquaintances - a struggling composer and a socially-inept philosophy professor - and their entire relationship seems like a contradiction. They converse incessantly, but never really communicate. They couldn't be more different, yet their lives are intertwined in profound ways.

And even though they meet once a month in the backroom of a local sports bar to play ping pong for an escape, this night is different, full of hilarious and heart-breaking revelations. It's a fast, funny, gripping piece of theatre that I guarantee you won't forget.

A picture containing text, personDescription automatically generated
Christopher Patrick Mullen
and John Ahlin play opposite each other
in the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina's
production of "ChipandGus".

So, it's a small production, right? Only two actors?

Yes, just two. Christopher Patrick Mullen plays Chip and John Ahlin plays Gus, but what's even more outstanding is that Chris and John both wrote and directed the play as well! If you think that's impressive on paper, wait until you see how beautifully intricate the show is and then you'll really be amazed.

When John was playing ping pong in his youth, he realized there was a certain theatricality to the game and wondered how could ping pong could be woven into a play. Several years later when John and Chris were performing in another production together, John happened to overhear Chris talking in the dressing room about how he was pretty good at ping pong. Long story short, John pitched the concept to Chris and the rest is history!

What about these actors and their funny story with "ChipandGus" enticed the Arts Center? Why should audiences tune in?

It actually is a funny story and in hindsight, it feels like fate that we found this show when we did. Per some wild coincidences, Chris and John were both cast in our production of Neil Simon's Rumors in February of 2020, which was the last play we performed before we had to close the building for quarantine. Even more serendipitous, there just so happened to be a ping pong table in the basement of the house that the actors were living in during this contract.

Chris and John decided to invite the cast and a handful Arts Center friends over to their house, and they performed ChipandGus one Sunday night after a matinee of Rumors. Everyone who saw it immediately was in awe. The fast and witty back-and-forth dialogue paired with the seriously impressive ping pong volleys was so uniquely captivating. And we already knew that Chris and John were brilliant performers, but these two characters they brought to life have an explosive chemistry that is mesmerizing to watch.

After the performance, we were all posing hypotheticals: "What if we brought this show to the Arts Center?" "Maybe a production of it in our Black Box studio?" And then after the idea of SecondStage was borne, picking this show was a no-brainer. Since ChipandGus thrives in an intimate setting, the play translated so beautifully to film because the tighter camera angles allow viewers to feel up close and personal with these characters in an extraordinary way. It truly was a meant-to-be confluence of events!

On that note, where can audiences watch "ChipandGus" and how can they support the Arts Center through this ongoing pandemic?

It's available now until the end of February, and viewers can sign up for SecondStage by visiting artshhi.com/secondstage. It's $20 for 48hr viewing access, but right now we have a $5 off Groundhog Day discount if you use the code GH2021 at checkout (coupon expires 02/18).

We hope you'll watch!

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From This Author Student Blogger: Cassie Maurer