PURE Theatre artistic director Sharon Graci said there wasn’t anything outside of theater she considered doing. As she recalls, “When I was 13 years old, my parents sent me to classes at the local community theater, and I just never stopped being a part of it.”
In reality, Graci’s story isn’t that simple. There has been plenty of preparation and evolution unfolding behind the scenes that eventually opened doors leading to her current role.
Graci told the City Paper she initially trained as an actor at Point Park University, and it was only about 20 years ago she really started to shift her attention toward directing, specifically new play development.
These days, she usually gets to call her own shots, since PURE is a professional regional theater founded by Graci and her husband, Rodney Lee Rogers, back in 2003.
“We produce contemporary theater, and we mainly just wanted to join the party already happening here with Charleston Stage and Village Rep, and Footlight Players and Midtown Productions,” Graci said. “In the past 18 seasons, we’ve produced more than 70 regional premieres and over two dozen world-premiere plays.”
Graci said her ever-enigmatic team adheres to three guiding principles — promises actually — that they make to the audience: to only tell stories worth listening to, to constantly strive for excellence and to always endow attendees with something noteworthy to talk about when they leave the theatre.
“After almost two decades, we’ve maintained a consistent vision of success that focuses foremost on increased relevance and deep connection with our audience, and we’ve established ourselves as a gathering place where the wider community grapples with our divisive issues, mines our collective purposes, and seeks out common ground,” Graci said, adding that, “I think what is most important to me is that we use drama wisely and that PURE’s work is a catalyst for inclusion, awareness, acceptance, action and change.”
PURE Theatre’s new season titled “Emergence,” is all about coming out of the darkness into the light.
“It’s concerned with what it means to become, to arrive somewhere different, with an illumination that wasn’t there before,” Graci said.
The season will open at the Dock Street Theatre and Cannon Street Arts Center with a one-person play featuring one of PURE’s original core ensemble members, David Mandel. The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey runs for six performances at the end of September and beginning of October.
The company also has a new program in the works, the Fall Nights series, happening outdoors at Battery Gadsden on Sullivan’s Island, with two featured plays, Constellations, with core ensemble members Paul Rolfes and Camille Lowman and Buyer & Cellar with core ensemble member Brannen Daughtery.
Finally, according to Graci, PURE will finish 2021 with Little Gem, a play featuring two core ensemble members, Sullivan Hamilton [Graci’s daughter] and Camille Lowman, and directed by core ensemble member Cristy Landis.
In the end, Graci said she couldn’t be happier about the road she has taken or the future of PURE Theatre.
“There was a time when I was really wrapped up in this idea of a career that people could look at and say that I had achieved something of note,” she said. “If this all ended tomorrow, I can tell you from the most honest place within me, I am happy to have taken this ride. I made beautiful things for a living with people who I love for an audience that challenges and inspires me in a city that moves me every day, and I am grateful beyond measure.”