Off-Broadway playwright, director, opens acting studio and arts center in Branford

BRANFORD — SC Murray was recalling a recent experience while substitute teaching at Walsh Intermediate School.

“One of the students asked me, ‘hey, Mrs. Murray, this your dream job’?” the ever-exuberant 40-year-old said on a recent morning at Sweet 2 The Soul, her newly opened acting studio and arts center at Lakeview Center.

“I said to him, ‘yes, it is. Being able to meet you and connect with you and being part of your education is my dream job, yes.””

For Murray, “this is my opportunity to show these children that I’m here and I see them and respect them and I want to be here with them,” she said. “That’s crucial now, with the state of our children post-pandemic, and given what the isolation has done to them, mentally, physically emotionally.”

That’s where the six-week Saturday actors boot camp for kids comes in — there’s a Sunday iteration for adults — as well as tutoring for reading and one-on-one studio sessions in the 1,600-square foot space.

There’s also a free satellite in-person program on “The Art of Play” to provide at-risk youth a safe screen-less space to draw, work on puzzles and board games, and engage in acting classes.

“You can’t do theater alone,” Murray said. “You have a whole company around you supporting you, showing you that you’re seen, that you matter, that you’re part of something.”

If all those programs sound unduly ambitious, don’t underestimate Murray.

As a fledgling playwright in Atlanta in the early 2000s, she was supporting herself with a series of odd jobs and facing rejection after rejection. So she decided to produce them on her own, using unconventional spaces like parking lots and alleyways for her cast members to rehearse her one-acts.

“There is always a way,” she said.

When she had her first child at 25, she and her husband LeRoy decided to home-school her.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, but we knew right away that we wanted our daughter to have a type of education that mirrored ours, which was very arts-driven,” she said.

Eleven years later, they’re home-schooling their five kids, who range in age from four to 15.

“We’re a well-oiled machine,” she said. “The older kids help the younger ones, and we come in when needed.”

From their experience homeschooling, she and her husband recently re-released “The Sound of Essentials” on all music streaming platforms, with catchy songs for kids including “Hard Words, “Days of the Week,” and “Shapes.”

“It gives children confidence, it increases vocabulary, and improves diction,” she said. “This is from our home to yours.”

When the pandemic shut down her one-act Off-Broadway stage play, “The Kingdom of Kingston,” centered around a mythical royal family — it premiered at the Actors Temple Theater on March 8, 2020 — she searched far and wide before hitting upon on a Black theater festival through the Yale School of Drama.

“I connected with them and I was able to produce a virtual one-act with Yale Cabaret in December 2020,” she said.

By then, she and her family had decamped to New Haven. “I was seeking a place with a rich creative world that would see me and all I had to offer and this was the place,” she said.

In March 2021, she found the unit at Lakeview Center just over the Branford border with East Haven. Previously a dance studio that didn’t survive the pandemic, “it’s a blessing,” she said, looking around the wide sunlit rehearsal space. “It’s perfect.”

She named it Sweet 2 The Soul, drawing from the Proverbs 16:24: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and health to the bone.”

At a recent actors bootcamp, she was coaching Sydney Afriyie, a seasoned actor who has performed Off-Broadway.

“Why can’t you take another loss right now?” she asked from a seat in the back as Afriyie stood on the makeshift stage in a scene study with a partner. “I want to hear the truth in those words.”

“There’s just been too much,” he said.

“Show that,” she said. “Some of the scripts that you get, they’re not colorful, they’re bland, or none of it makes sense, the director doesn’t know what they want, so all you have in your favor is honesty.

“The more honest you choose to be, the better performer you will be,” she said.

Murray has more programs in the works. Among them: free acting classes for seniors on a fixed income, either in-person or virtual, through a grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development; a summer camp for kids focusing on the arts; and a conference called “One Step in the Right Direction.”

“That comes from my 15-year-old,” she said. “She saw me in a fog one day and she texted me and she said ‘one step in the right direction is better than 10 minutes thinking about all the things you didn’t do right today.'”

It seems that Murray has been taking her daughter’s advice. “Most of the people I coach are not trained actors,” she said. “And a lot of my audiences are not theatergoers. I want to introduce them all to the power and magic of theater. I believe theater can heal and we need that now more than ever.

“And yes,” she said, beaming a smile, “This is another one of my dream jobs.”

Sweet 2 The Soul is located at 249 West Main St., Suite 9, Branford. Visit sweet2thesoul.org for more information.

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