What does it take to make art in Charleston? For many artists, it means deftly balancing another demanding job, and thereby logging far more hours than a typical workweek.
Many are familiar with the term "side hustle." However, the full-time, full-on enterprises of local artists would be more fittingly deemed their "other hustle." And this masterful juggle is testament to the lengths those in the creative sector will go to feed their soul and buy their groceries.
Anyone who has witnessed a heckler in action knows it takes nerves of steel to face the potentially rowdy crowds from a comedy stage. However, when your day job involves wielding a cleaver and getting elbows-deep in entrails, you’re likely up for the challenge.
For the past 20 years, comic and improv actor Andy Livengood has worked as a grocery store butcher, taking whichever slabs are hauled in from the meat trucks to lovingly carve them into tonight's dinner.
The butcher's morning schedule and supportive manager also accommodate his nocturnal feats as a funny man. He performs two to three shows a week at Theatre 99. It's a taxing schedule, but he's up for it.
“There is something about making a bunch of people laugh that just feels great,” Livengood said. “I get fed off the crowd’s energy.”
The longtime comedy fan wasn’t striking for the spotlight, but got the bug when he started attending comedy shows in his time off from his steady, agreeable career as a full-time job, which entails not only working with the meat, but considerable customer service skills that leverage his well-honed humor.
"I will make jokes at your expense later,” he said of particularly tough customers. In fact, Livengood has created a one-man show, “Butcher Stories,” which he performed last year as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival.
The healing arts
You may recognize the name Colin Quashie from his provocative work that slyly smashes racial stereotypes. His show now on view at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art includes works like "Gabriel," which doctors an image of Louie Armstrong’s hallmark trumpet with slave shackles.
While Quashie uses ample wit in his works of art, his other occupation is no laughing matter. He is a registered nurse at the Medical University of South Carolina, specializing in vascular access.
“As an RN, I have a wonderful opportunity to engage with literal strangers,” said Quashie in an email. “What I’ve learned is that art can play a powerful role in the healing process.”
Such stressful, day-to-day dealings with life and death have enabled Quashie to realize that there are things more important than anything he is currently doing in art. What's more, as a veteran, he gains further perspective by crossing paths with many vets with post-traumatic stress disorder that include art in their therapy.
“I have the luxury of walking away and being able to ease that stress with art, but others don’t,” he said. “I don’t take that for granted.”
Neighborhood sounding board
Pop in to Brown’s Court Bakery, and you may find yourself tempted to eavesdrop on the ever-personable chat between a customer and Miles Boinest, the gentle, genial guy behind the counter who seems to have an ear on the entire Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood.
For almost seven years, the front-of-house manager and lead barista has worked full time there, minding the shop, while taking customers' orders and listening earnestly to their personal tidbits.
That expert ear spills over to Boinest's evenings and weekends, when the Savannah College of Art and Design graduate can be found in the trenches of a PURE Theatre production, either as sound designer or stage manager.
“I was drawn to the right-brained nature of it,” said the self-avowed left-brainer and trained actor of his current theater endeavors. “But I’ve always been pretty analytical.”
That comes in handy with both the detail-dense stage management tasks and the demands of sound design. The latter also calls for selecting the music for a show, thus helping to create a world for the actors, and paying close attention to the actors’ lines and responding accordingly.
“Working with actors is very much a conversation,” he said.
It was the coffee that brought the serial barista to Brown’s Court, but it is the neighborhood that keeps him there. PURE is located close by at Cannon Street Arts Center, and Boinest has promoted the neighborhood synergy by selling the bakery’s cookies at Pure's intermission and posting show flyers at the shop.
“It’s a real neighborhood,” he said. And clearly it’s one in which Boinest has his ear to the ground.
It’s all about the feels
“If my wrists go, I’m in trouble,” said Eden Fonvielle.
For the past 16 years, she has worked those nimble wrists on the snare drum to provide percussion for the V-Tones, the perennially popular band she founded with her husband, ukulele player Donald Whitley, aka Noodle McDoodle, along with another friend.
Billed on their Facebook page as “Charleston’s only ukulele hot club jug band,” the group folds in vaudeville, ragtime, and swing. Fonvielle also lends vocals and, at times, breaks out her tap shoes to join in on jovial, rambling standards like “Dinah” and “Honeysuckle Rose.”
Those self-same drumming wrists play a crucial role in her other profession as a massage therapist at Nurture Massage Therapeutic Spa. It's an occupation the former food-and-beverage server took up in 2000. “I just decided I want to make other people feel as good as I feel when I’m on the table,” she said.
The two jobs represent a roughly even split of her time, bringing in around the same income. “If you put it in a pot and boiled it, I probably gig as much as I massage,” she said.
They also take a similar physical toll. “Both of them are keeping me in shape.”
And, while Fonvielle may apply a tad more pressure to her clientele as a massage therapist than she does as a musician, her end game is the same.
“I really like making people happy,” she said. As long as those all-important wrists persevere, so will her aim to spread joy. With such heart, talent and tenacity, she and her fellow artists are making Charleston richer for us all.