The Greenville News

Published: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 - 6:00 am

Greenville, S.C.



Academy of Arts puts final touches on new home

Long wait for permanent home



By Ishmael Tate



When The Academy of Arts, a Christian performing arts center, opens for its first show in its new home this spring, it will be the realization of more than 15 years of work and planning by the academy's founder and president, Nicky Chavers.


The academy will be housed in the rear portion of the former Taylors High School on Main Street in Taylors and will serve a variety of functions, Chavers said.


It will be a training site for the high school students who tour the country during the summer putting on Christian plays in churches through the organization. Christian college students interested in pursuing acting careers will train and produce plays there. It also will serve as a community theater with opportunities for locals.


Chavers has bachelor's degrees in Bible and sacred music and a master's degree in music and dramatic production from Bob Jones University. He has written 26 plays and seven musicals and holds an honorary doctoral degree from Pensacola (Fla.) Christian College. He wrote most of the academy's repertoire, but his daughter, Wendy Rivera, wrote the play the theater will produce in April.


Chavers and his wife, Sheri, founded the academy and ministry in 1971 to expose Christian youth to drama and give them the opportunity to be involved in wholesome, professional productions. In later years their vision expanded to include people who wanted to pursue drama professionally.


Chavers, who attended a Christian high school, said many small Christian schools do not offer drama programs. "I thought 'Why can't we give them a professional experience in drama that would be Christian?' "


During the school year, the academy runs drama seminars in Christian high schools across the country. The schools receive the scripts and choose casts and crews. By the time the team from the academy arrives five weeks later, with the lights, costumes, props, and sound equipment in tow, the students have memorized their lines.


The team of directors, technicians, costumers and make-up artists teach the students how to produce their own show during the next five days.


"They discover this new ability that they have," Chavers said. "At the same time the whole message of the play is biblical and Christian."


The seminars also serve as a rough audition for the 40 or so students selected each year to be members of the Academy of Arts Christian Players. The students pay to attend a two-week drama camp, then split into three groups and perform plays in a total of 140 churches around the country. In the past local churches hosted the players.


Since its start in the Chavers' home 30 years ago, the academy has had several homes. After renting office space for eight years, the Chaverses operated the academy from Colonial Hills Baptist Church, where he was pastor. It's now based again in the family's home.


Chavers said the organization's motto is: "We've done so much with so little for so long we feel like we could do anything with nothing in no time flat."


In addition to more space for the staff of 13, the new building will allow the academy to offer Christian plays for the Greenville area year-round -- in one location.


The academy bought the old Taylors High School property in 1987 for $45,000. In 2003, the academy sold the front main building to the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Chavers estimates that the academy has invested a total of $700,000 on renovations to its building, including about $350,000 on the 400-seat auditorium/theater.


Phase one of the renovation is winding down, Chavers said. Demolishing a wall and expanding the auditorium added depth to the stage and made room for a scene-making shop. Most of the 400 theater seats have been installed. The rotating stage is up and running. Most of the hardwood floors have been repaired or replaced.


The theater has several original doors and the original heart-pine ceiling beams and woodwork, Chavers said.


"We wanted from the beginning to keep as much of the original character of this building as possible," he said.


The academy is selling bricks pulled from the building and nameplates for the theater seats to help pay for the first phase of renovations, he said.


Phase two includes renovating the upstairs dormitories and restrooms and installing an air conditioning system on the same floor. Phase three will include renovations on the rest of the upstairs, Chavers said.


He chose the name Logos, which means "word" in Greek, for the theater because of its biblical meanings. The Bible is often referred to as "the word." Jesus is also referred to in the Bible as "the word."


"You've got the written word and then you've got the personification of the word in Jesus," he said. "Everything we do here is going to exalt the living word and propagate the written word."


People who call themselves Christians should live by certain principles, he said. Too often a person interested in drama may have to choose between his faith and a particular role.


"They may require you to do something in the play that would be against those principles, for example, partial nudity or some moral issue," Chavers said. "They may ask you to use God's name in vain."


Chavers said that Greenville, with its abundance of churches and its conservative culture, is "ripe" for a Christian performing arts center and community theater.


"All of these people are looking for things to do, for entertainment," he said. "We've got a market here."


County Councilman Tony Trout, whose district includes the academy, said he is patiently awaiting its opening. He said that he expects the organization to be a positive addition for Taylors and neighboring Greer.


This is the inaugural year of the tentatively named Logos Players, a group of Christian college students who will be enrolled in a journeyman-like program at the academy.


Although not an accredited university, the academy offers an associate's degree and master's degree in dramatic production.


During the past 10 years, Jeff Hamrick, administrative pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Simpsonville, has seen several of the academy's productions at his church. He said he's been impressed with the messages of the performances and the level of professionalism the teens show.


"I think that folks would be surprised or at least pleased," Hamrick said.


When the curtains part for the first time next month, Chavers will be relieved to finally see his plays "on an actual stage that functions, not a gymnasium, not a church stage."


"The Bible is the greatest single source of dramatic material in the world. I want to do biblical drama on this stage on the same grandiose scale that Bob Jones does Shakespeare or the Peace Center does 'Les Miserables,' " he said.