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MASTER OF THE STAGE: Strom Thurmond High School Theatre Director Steven McKinney Still Bringing Broadway in 40th Year of Performances

Johnston, SC – Strom Thurmond High School Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast places director Steven McKinney onto the rarest of stages. He has been bringing “a bit of Broadway” to students at Strom Thurmond High School for 40 years and shows no signs of slowing down with a huge fall show that has drawn large crowds of happy patrons. 

McKinney and his ensemble cast of talented actors and performers, alongside a dedicated parent and community support team, close out their fall performances today, November 12, 2022, at 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, November 13, 2022, at 3:30 p.m. (SOLD OUT). Tickets for today’s (Nov. 12) show may be purchased online at

“When we started this 40 years ago, our goal was to bring a little Broadway to the students here at Strom Thurmond High School and that’s what we’ve done,” stated McKinney, who is known affectionately among his students as “peanut”. “This year marks a big milestone for all of us because it’s my fortieth year here at Strom Thurmond High School doing plays for the community, which is hard to believe. I started here as assistant director and music director for Cherie Griffin, who was the drama teacher at the time, and I learned everything from her. The things I’ve learned from her have been incredible.” 

For McKinney, who says there have probably been well over 300 shows throughout the years, creating and directing shows for the Edgefield County community has been its own reward. 

“Our community here is really the best part of this because they support us so much,” McKinney added. “Years ago we had a scene that required a cow, one of those wooden cows folks used to put in their yard, and we saw one in someone’s yard and just went and knocked on their door and asked if we could borrow it for our show and they said yes. We didn’t even know who they were, but they let us take their cow. We’ve had great support.”

For many years, McKinney directed shows in the school’s cafetorium, which brought its own challenges with a smaller stage. During the last school year, however, monies from a 2018 bond referendum project approved by Edgefield County voters constructed a brand new, 350-seat state-of-the-art auditorium on campus.   

“We used to do our shows in the cafetorium for years and years and years, but the new auditorium gives us more space on stage, so we can build bigger sets, and we can also have more elaborate choreography,” commented McKinney, “The stage was hard for us to fill up at first because I had never really directed a show on such a large stage so I called my mentor (Griffin) and she told me how to fill it up. We have state of the art everything, lighting and sound and it’s amazing. When they took out the old cafetorium stage though, I literally wept, just because of all the memories from over the years.”

He says the key to bringing a great performance to the stage is first and foremost to have talented performers, and second, they need to be properly cast in their performing roles based on their strengths and abilities. 

“You have to have good singers and actors,” McKinney added. “You also have to be able to cast well and that took us a little while to get used to doing. You look to see who looks the lead and who sounds the lead, who can sing the songs and dance the leads, and then who can act the lead roles. The auditioning process is very important and we cast according to that. When you have an ensemble show like we have now you can be more flexible with some of the roles, but those are still very important. Those ensemble parts are very, very important to the entire show.”

“You also need an excellent stage crew and tech crew because you are constantly moving around parts of the set so fast and it has to be choreographed and they have to fit the music, which also needs a good director,” added McKinney. “We’re very fortunate to have such great people here who make all those things happen.”

The production of Beauty and the Beast is led by McKinney, choreographer Julia Crider, musical director Clare Henry and assistant director Tyler McKinney. Lead actors include Ella Mathis Miller in the role of Belle, Dawson Kulp as the Beast, Daniel Mims as Gaston, Lillian Cockrell as Mrs. Potts, Jessie Dampier as LeFou, Colton Johnson as Maurice, Tobias Knight as Lumiere, Reece Lowe as the Baker, Truman Massey as Chip, Nathan Milling as D’Arque, Kiersten Skinner as Babette, Lilly Smith as the Enchantress, Jari Smith as Cogsworth, Brandon Thomas as the Prince and Cara Williams as the Wardrobe. 

Additional cast members include Mina Allen, Riley Brightharp, Ayden Culver, Natalie Dolph, Shamarion Freeman, Chloe Galloway, Molly Harling, Karalynn Hecker, Cleo Heitmann, Breylie Hodson, Shakyla Jones, Jericka Jones-Mason, Lily Latham, Dixie Latham, Carter Massey, Olivia O’Gorman, Michaela Owen, Makayla Rushton, Sunasia Saxon, Chief Spicer, Mason Toothman, Jenasys Washington, Cara Williams, Harmony Williams-Talbert, Allie Wise, and Lila Wood.

“He’s just a really great director,” stated Ella Mathis Miller of McKinney. “He has a terrific program going. He’s done such a great job and it shows every time we rehearse our show and perform.”

McKinney has no plans to retire any time soon, either. He’s just having too much fun.

“I love my job and I love teaching,” stated McKinney. “I love producing and directing shows and seeing the talent of these students and the kinds of performances I can get from them in these shows. That’s what keeps me coming back. There is nothing like seeing the students’ faces when the show ends and they’ve given it everything they have and then you turn around and see the faces of their parents, just beaming. That’s what makes it all worth it. That’s what it’s all about.”

ECSD Public Information Office