Industry professionals speak on experience, tricks of trade
The Midlands Center for Expressive Arts is hosting a series of workshops aimed at providing tricks of the trade to aspiring artists of all ages and skill levels in the local area. The MCEA Artist Roundtable Workshop Series highlights individuals in such fields as writing, theater and music, and the gatherings feature speakers at the professional level.
Charles McKenley, the founder and program coordinator of MCEA, created the organization as a need for the community after meeting several talented, artistic people in the Midlands area who didn’t know how to go about creating a professional career in the arts for themselves.
“I graduated from Presbyterian College with a degree in music performance and great tools for auditioning, but I didn’t know where to go, what the next step was,” McKenley said. “I created MCEA to provide a hub for artists helping other artists in training, performance opportunities, the business aspect — everything they need but aren’t taught how to do.”
The first workshop of the series, held Saturday, July 16, was titled “The Writer’s Voice” and focused on just that — aspiring poets, authors and playwrights listened to advice from professionals in the industry on how to find their voices as writers and how to get their works published.
“I always wished I had the opportunity to speak with people in the field to know how they’re doing, how they got their start,” McKenley said. “Sometimes it’s luck, but learning tricks of the trade is what this workshop is about, to help boost artists’ careers.”
The workshop featured Charlene Spearen, the associate director for the South Carolina Poetry Initiative and a professor of English at Allen University, who spoke about her experience becoming a professional poet after already having established a separate career and a family, finishing a collegiate career and receiving her doctorate later in life.
Author Shirley Ann spoke about her experience writing and publishing her book “What Mommy Needed to Know,” a work based on the tough conversations she wished she had with her mother but never did.
McKenley spoke on behalf of playwrights and his experience of having one of his plays featured at the National Black Theatre Festival.
Alisa Brewer, a resident of West Columbia who enjoys poetry and creative writing as a hobby, attended the workshop to get back into writing and learn more about publishing.
“MCEA offers a place and chance for my talent and desire for art to be recognized and inspired. So far, I got to meet other emerging artists and hear from those well into the success of their craft,” Brewer said. “Though last weekend was my first encounter with MCEA, I’ve met many wonderful people, been invited to attend — and have attended — other poetry events around Columbia that I otherwise wouldn’t have known existed.”
The second workshop, “The Big Stage,” was held Saturday, July 23, and focused on music, theater and dance elements of the arts. McKenley described the gathering of attendees and speakers as “a time to share our journeys and where we are in the arts as individuals.”
Linda Carr, owner of Linda’s Carraoke Karaoke and DJ Entertainment, spoke of her professional singing and instrumental experience in a band and how she was able to eventually turn her passion into a full-time business career.
One of the speakers present was recent USC visual communications graduate Ndidi Ekpenuma. A self-taught dancer, Ekpenuma spoke of her experience dancing with the group Ricochet, joining the co-ed dance fraternity Delta Phi Delta and choreographing a routine that won a Spurs and Struts dance competition, among a number of other dance events.
“Dancing is something I’m always going to do,” Ekpenuma said. “I have a couple of jobs here and there where I’m getting paid to dance, but I guess you could say I’m a realistic dreamer, keeping extra jobs in case things don’t work out.”
The workshop also featured Eric Bultman, the executive director of Sumter Little Theatre and an adjunct professor of theatre at USC Sumter who received his MFA in theatre at USC Columbia and spoke of his personal story of establishing a career as an actor.
“You know that feeling you get right before the lights come up on stage? That feeling you get in here?” Bultman asked the attendees of the workshop, pointing to his chest.
Bultman referred to that feeling as the “artist’s fire,” the desire to perform or create that needs to be expressed in order for artistic individuals to be happy and proud of their talent. Despite the common element of worrying about finding a career or enough money in the arts, Bultman encouraged artistic attendees to pursue their passions.
McKenley spoke of his experience of performing on stage as a singer.
“The conversation and connections made with the people who attend have been invaluable,” McKenley said.
The final MCEA Artist Roundtable Workshop “The Package” will focus on arts management — how to market and promote artistic work and how to secure the right talent agent. The workshop will be held Saturday, July 30, at the Columbia Music Festival Association building at 914 Pulaski St. from 1 to 3 p.m. Those interested may register online at midlandscenter.com. Registration is $15 in advance and $20 the day of.