Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Backstage With Don Neal, Director of Springfield’s Charlie Brown

By • Feb 10th, 2007 • Category: Interviews, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

We continue our shadowing of the Springfield Community Theatre’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown by chatting with Don Neal about directing the show [MP3 8:04 2.3MB].

Mike: Hi this is Mike with the ShowBizRadio Spotlight. Today I am talking with Don Neal who is directing the Springfield Community Theatre’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Good morning. How are you doing?

Don: Good morning. How are you?

Mike: I’m doing ok.

Mike: I’ve seen you in several shows over the past couple of years. You’ve even got years and years of experience before that. Do you prefer doing acting or directing or anything with theatre?

Don: Actually I’ve done acting directing and producing for quite a number of years. I moved to Northern Virginia in 1975. I got involved immediately in community theater. Since 1975 I’ve acted, directed or produced over 130 shows for community, dinner, and professional theater. I manage to keep busy.

Mike: Was that your career or were you in another field?

Don: I was a career army officer for 22 years. In that time traveling around the world, I found a very interesting community theater set up. All of the military bases back in the 50’s and 60’s had theater groups that were funded by the government. Those theater groups on the military bases worked hand in hand with community theater in the local town. Sharing talent and technical expertise. Exchanging props and costumes. I had quite a bit of theater experience while I was in the service. After I retired I did a couple of things. I taught school. I was a tennis teaching pro for 20 years. I coached both high school and college tennis teams. I’ve only been completely retired retired for about 5 years now. So I’ve managed to keep busy. But along with community theater I’ve done film and television work since coming to the Washington area. I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years.

Mike: How did you get involved with Springfield’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown?

Don: I’ve known about Springfield Community Theatre for a long time. I have not directed a show for them. I’ve spent most of my directing time with Little Theatre of Alexandria, Port City Playhouse, and various other community theaters around the beltway. But I don’t like to travel long distances without getting paid for it. In this particular case, I became aware that Springfield Community Theatre was doing Charlie Brown as a replacement show for the Wizard of Oz. I was very interested in Charlie Brown. I’ve seen the show several times over the years. I like the concept of the show and the methodology of presenting the show. I asked president and producer Anita Gardner if I could interview to direct that show. I got an interview. I presented a concept that they liked. They awarded me the show.

Mike: Since we’ve been going to the rehearsals, we’ve seen the six performers just kind of change into six year olds. That’s a pretty good trick considering the wide range of ages. Has that been problem having 30 year olds and 12 year olds, 14 year olds working?

Don: No, in fact it’s not a problem. That’s exactly the concept with which I approached the show auditions with in my mind. I told Anita I wanted to advertise the auditions as being open to all ages, all physical types. There’s a good reason for that. I don’t see any production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown as tracking with the Peanuts comic strip. You don’t necessarily want lookalikes for the Peanuts characters. Each actor creates an individual persona and that’s what I was looking for. The fact that we have cast ranging in age from 12 into their 30’s doesn’t bother me at all. That’s exactly what I was looking for.

Now in this particular case, the two 12 year old girls that we have playing Lucy and Sally, I think are going to be super stars. Right now they’re not old enough to participate in high school productions for the Cappie Awards, but I think they both have tremendous talent and wonderful potential. Both of them have studied their craft at places like the Shakespeare Theatre and the Kennedy Center. Both have performed professionally already. So they’re ready for a show like this to create an individual character. They mix with and get along beautifully with the actors that are in their 30’s in this cast. It’s a wonderfully cohesive cast and they’re having a lot of fun with each other.

Mike: Who was the hardest character to cast?

Don: Charlie.

Mike: Yeah? What were you looking for for Charlie?

Don: I was looking for someone who projected the qualities of a nerdy 5 year old. What I told all the actors when they came in to audition was you’re going to have to get out of yourself and into the mindset of an awkward 5 year old. We’re trying to project that all the way through the dance numbers. Elaine and I originally set out not to do polished choreography, but to give all these people movements that an awkward 5 year old would perform. And then rehearse them to the point where together they look like Radio City Rockettes. So far we’re heading in that direction.

We’re not doing terribly polished dance numbers in the sense of musical comedy. The movements that these actors have been given to do are what I consider to be typical 5 year old movements and I’m something of an expert on that subject because I’ve raised two children of my own and have three grandchildren that are just into their teens, so I’m familiar with what it’s like to be a 5 year old. In the case of Charlie Brown, Keith Miller, who’s playing that role. He’s an accomplished actor and was able to sing and act in the vane of an awkward 5 year old who doesn’t do very many things right.

Mike: I think that’s wonderful. I’ve enjoyed seeing how it’s been coming together.

Don: I’m pleased with the progress so far. We’re two weeks out from our opening. We’re at the fine tuning polishing stage. Of course the music is in good shape. It’s under good control.

Mike: OK, well thanks very much for talking with me today.

Don: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Mike: That was Don Neal. He’s directing the upcoming production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the Springfield Community Theatre in Annandale, Virginia. And now, on with the show.

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