Taking the stage: Six major community theaters offer classes for young actors and an occasional play spotlighting them, partly to meet requirements to maintain their nonprofit status. But Columbia Children’s Theatre specializes in such education as well as offering several chances for youngsters to perform and watch productions designed for them. The theatre is in Richland Mall in Forest Acres. In addition, the Tri-District Arts Consortium offers an intense three-week training session each July for selected middle-school students in Lexington 1, Lexington-Richland 5 and Richland 2. Application is made through classrooms, with auditions to qualify.
New choices: Theater buffs tend to focus on offerings on stages in downtown Columbia — which are great — but there are other choices in smaller surrounding communities, too. New community theaters have debuted in Blythewood and West Columbia, joining older brethren in Chapin and Lexington. .
Expanding the menu: Some theaters — mainly Chapin, Town, Trustus and Workshop — offer more than plays. They hold occasional cabarets and other events to broaden their appeal as entertainment centers and to increase income. Generally, these events are cheaper to attend than plays, tending to be informal get-togethers focused on music. Snacks and drinks are available sometimes at these gatherings, but the options vary considerably.
A peek inside the artist’s mind: Once a year, art lovers have a chance to pick up a map for a self-guided tour of artist studios. “Open Studios” – one of the biggest art-driven events in the Midlands – provides an insider’s look at how local visual artists do what they do. Sponsored by the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, the event has bounced around the calendar but is expected to return in April. Keep an eye on 701cca.org.
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Walking art: Stretch your legs with a nice walk along the riverfront in Cayce and you’ll come upon a mural on one of the supports of the Knox Abbott Drive bridge. Columbia’s Ralph Waldrop painted a depiction of the steamboat Ruth II, and with a little imagination, it seems it could chug right down the Congaree River.
An artful education: For its third season, the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College has ramped up its offerings. “Not only do we prepare people for jobs in our community, we’re preparing our community to be a place people want to live,” director Katie Fox said. That’s a tall order, but one the college seems prepared to fill this year with a concert by Mavis Staples, an evening with National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb, the ‘50s musical comedy, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” and a half-dozen more events in its signature series. The 400-seat auditorium at 7300 College St. in Irmo is intimate and affordable. (803) 407-5011
Chamber echoes: Artistic director Edward Arron returns to the Columbia Museum of Art for a 13th season of chamber music, bringing beautiful music to a burnished environment. Arron, a cellist, seems to genuinely enjoy bringing colleagues and friends to play in Columbia, as did his predecessor and mentor Charles Wadsworth. columbiamuseum.org or (803) 799-2810
Love dance? Don’t miss the opportunity to see principal dancers from the New York City Ballet perform April 17, 2015 at the annual “Ballet Stars of New York” at the Koger Center. It’s a highlight of the year – an evening with the top of the top in the professional ballet world. Digital brochures will be up by the end of August, setting up all the coming year’s dance performances at USC at artsandsciences.sc.edu/dance.
Historic Columbia offers year-round tours and special events that provide a window to the city’s rich past. In addition to touring the foundation’s properties, these walking tours will offers some surprising facts about the city. Second Sundays: Historic Columbia offers strolls through some of the city’s historic neighborhoods and buildings on the second Sunday of each month. On Second Thursdays, you can walk through the city’s historic Elmwood Cemetery on two separate tours, “Secrets from the Grave” and “Moonlight Cemetery.” Cost is $12 adult and $6 children; Historic Columbia members get a discount. historiccolumbia.org; email@example.com; (803) 252.1770 ext. 23.
Community history: The S.C. State Museum offers a big picture of the state’s history, but several smaller museums offer residents of all ages a chance to learn more about the history of their communities — among them Cayce Historical Museum, Lexington County Museum and Sumter County Museum. The Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site is a great stop, expecially for students studying this period in history.
Off the beaten path: If you love art, be sure to discover the Midlands’ hidden gems, among them the Vista’s art galleries and museums and galleries on Columbia area college campuses. Best of all, most are free or charge only nominal fees.
Go to art school: The Columbia Museum of Art offers adult classes and a popular children’s summer camp program. You can learn how to stretch your own canvas and paint it, make fashion furniture and accessories, try your hand at printmaking and 2D and 3D art, with the art collection as a backdrop. While children are dabbling, adults can take novice and advanced classes throughout the year. columbiamuseum.org
Tim Flach, Dawn Hinshaw