If you drive into Downtown Summerville, go past Hutchinson square, continue past the gas station next to the Flowertown Players Theatre, and go into the alley behind it, although you might not realize it, you’ve made it to the Flowertown Player’s Back Alley Studio — a small white building that houses a black box theater and rehearsal studio.
Soon, theater goers will easily know which building they are meant to enter, as The Flowertown Players recently completed a beautification project that includes an outdoor wall mural. The side of the building clearly indicates the building for what it is — a black box theater and studio meant to enhance the local performance arts scene in Summerville.
According to Courtney Bates, executive director of Flowertown Players, talks of this project began about a year ago, but fell to the wayside in the midst of other, more pressing renovation projects.
The main building has been going through renovations during the off season, including updates to the carpet and paint, set to be completed by the first performance of the 44th season.
Bates, however, said she was determined to also accomplish her goals for the Back Alley Studio.
“I just thought, how amazing would it be if we opened up the 44th season with not only updates to the main theater, but to the Back Alley Studio as well,” Bates said.
The mural was created through the efforts of three artists: Ernie Eliason, Heather Johnson and Robert Venne. The artists brought their own ideas, and each had a different take on what they painted on their section of the mural.
“One great thing about having a mural is that it doesn’t have to be one particular theme, it gives you a lot to look at,” Bates said.
The mural doubles as signage, labeling the building “The Back Alley Studio.” It will feature bright colors, aspects from the solar system, the Charleston skyline, graffiti lettering, among other things.
“I thought it would be amazing to have a mural back there because the shows we put on in there are more avant garde. I wanted the mural to be fun and hip and funky, but still welcoming,” Bates said.
Eliason is the theater’s art director and has worked with the Flowertown Players for more than 10 years. He said the need to make the Back Alley Studio more welcoming was pressing.
“I’ve been in that back alley countless times and it never felt comfortable, Eliason said. “First, I pushed for lighting in the alley and then, after the last show there, I saw the actors take a photo in front of that blank white wall and it just looked terrible, I was embarrassed by it and I knew we needed to do something about it.”
The board approved the mural during the last season, however the main trouble with painting the mural was finding a paint that would stick to the walls.
The theater recently received an anonymous donation of paint that would stick to the wall and remain permanent over time allowing the project to begin.
Venne is a set painter and designer for Flowertown Players. For his section of the mural, he depicted the man eating plant from “The Little Shop of Horrors,” peeking out from behind a curtain, spray painting the words “Back Alley Studio,” with an arrow pointing towards the entrance. Part of the purpose of the project is re-branding of the studio after years of it being referred to as “The Annex.”
“One of my favorite productions, one that I have been in three times, is “The Little Shop of Horrors,” which is why I included the man eating plant,” Venne said. “I wanted to make it a little more theatrical so that’s why he is peeking around the curtain.”
While he has a lot of experience in painting and set designing, he had never done a mural. This was his first time doing graffiti. Venne said he watched several hours of graffiti tutorials on YouTube for inspiration and technique.
“Robert is very methodical in the way he sketches things out and plans things. He’s brilliant,” Bates said.
Street art has been popping up in other iconic Summerville locations as well. Coastal Coffee Roasters has a mural in the works, which will be revealed in a celebration at at 5 p.m. July 18.
“We’re just trying to spruce things up a bit. We are trying to make things better right now. We have a little down time and are doing other renovations to the inside of the theatre, so while we have the momentum, we might as well just do it. With the new addition of the mural at coastal coffee roasters, we just keep seeing more and more street art out there. I think it’s just time to make things a little bit nicer,” Eliason said.