Sarah Summerall

(Lexington, S.C.) — For a number of Winthrop University theatre students their love for the arts began at an early age, after finding inspiration in a unique middle school musical theatre program in the Midlands of South Carolina.

A number of students said they decided to study theatre at Winthrop after they found inspiration through song and dance while performing in musicals produced at Pleasant Hill Middle School in Lexington, S.C., which opened in 2006.

Jess Cook, a freshman technical theater major, said she found her passion for the arts after helping to make costumes for the two musicals she took part in at Pleasant Hill.

“I knew I wanted to do something with performing ever since I was young,” Cook said. “I just saw that they offered theater at Pleasant Hill and I was like ‘Oh this sounds fun. Let’s sign up for it.’ And then ever since then it just skyrocketed into something that is now my entire life.”

Each year, seventh and eighth-graders in the musical theatre program at Pleasant Hill perform a show, with a production value that would rival the programs at some universities.

“It really inspired me to keep doing (theatre) and all the teachers were positive and helped everyone develop a passion for it,” said Miranda Campagna, a sophomore theater education major.

Lori McKelvey, musical theater and drama teacher at Pleasant Hill, said she aspires to teach students how to develop the perspective of an artist and show them how much work a performance can entail.

“My goal as an educator is to open the door for them and to spark that interest,” said McKelvey. “Some enjoy it enough to continue and they study in high school and beyond.”

She said it’s exciting to see her former students progress with their theatre careers, with some showing an interest in teaching.

“It is definitely encouraging to see those younger students that I had come through and want to continue and do what we have been doing for a long time,” said McKelvey.

Currently, there are at least five former Pleasant Hill musical theater cast members pursuing a theater degree at Winthrop.