New Play To Be Performed at Pennington School Is Written, Acted, and Produced by School Alumni
“THE PLAY’S THE THING”: “We thought this was an opportunity for Pennington School graduates to continue to work in the theater. They might not have been able to do this after graduation, and found they missed it. It’s also an opportunity to work together with alumni who were not classmates. We have graduates from the Class of 2016 and one from 2011.” Henry Sheeran (left) and Tim Secrest, Pennington School Class of 2014, have started a new theater company, which will have its first production June 23.
CLARIFICATION: The Pennington School production of “Charlie and Bruno” will be performed on Thursday and Friday, June 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 25 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The curtain is going up on a brand new production at The Pennington School. Charlie and Bruno, a one act play, written, produced, directed, and acted by former Pennington School students, will be performed at the school June 23rd and 24th.
Capital J Theater Company was created by Princeton resident Henry Sheeran and Tim Secrest, both in the Pennington School Class of 2014. Friends throughout their years at school, they were each involved in theater, with Tim’s focus primarily on production and Henry’s on writing, music, acting, and directing.
Their enthusiasm developed early. “I really got interested in production from the sixth grade,” says Tim, and adds Henry, “In middle school, I was interested in music and writing, and then, got into performing in high school. I also directed the Middle School play Charlotte’s Web the spring of my senior year.”
After graduation, Tim went up to New England, entering the University of Vermont, and Henry headed for the Big Apple, attending The Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Both continued their interest in theater, and also stayed in touch with each other.
“I contacted Henry about doing something together,” explains Tim. “We both wanted to collaborate on something, and we started working on it last fall.”
“We started with many ideas,” continues Henry. “I had written a 20-minute show in college, and now I expanded it. Writing is a huge challenge. It’s so painful, but also really fun!”
They worked hard, and gradually, Charlie and Bruno began to take shape.
“The play takes place in 1918 and 2016,” explains Henry. “It comes largely out of research into war and veteranhood, from looking into lives of veterans through interviews. My interest originates in World War I, and the idea for the World War I part of this play came from a class I took about images of war and violence in German literature.
“A big part of the play is about inherited traditions. War is something that has always been with us, and is passed down through families. The play is not anti- or pro-war. It is a look at a set of experiences.”
Establishing their own theater company, which they named Capital J Theater, was the first order of business, and then they set about gathering the five-character cast and the crew. The company, consisting of all Pennington School alumni, numbers 10. Heading the company are Henry and Tim and Hope MacKenzie as producers, and Charlie Paige is director of publicity. Tim is also production manager, in charge of stage design, sets, lighting, etc.
Help and Support
Once auditions were held, rehearsals got underway at the school’s McLarty Black Box Theater, which will also be the site of the performances. They received support and encouragement from school officials and faculty, including Headmaster William S. Hawkey, PhD, director of drama Lisa Houston, and Jason Harding theater technician.
“We are so grateful for everyone who helped and supported us,” say Henry and Tim. “Whenever we think we need someone, a new person seems to show up! At one point, we needed a poster designer, and one just came along.”
Henry and Tim also looked upon their venture as the beginning of a new alumni theatrical series.
”The idea of the Pennington Alumni Theater Series encapsulates all of my wishes for my former students,” says Lisa Houston. “First, that they will remain interested in theater as an art form; second, that they will hold the working relationships they made at Pennington dear, and last, that they bring their expertise back to Pennington. Henry, Tim, and their team are doing this and more with this production.”
Adds Headmaster Hawkey: “I know I speak for many of my colleagues here at Pennington when I say that we are delighted to be able to host an entrepreneurial alumni group on campus. The timing worked out well with the school’s schedule, and we are thrilled that some of our young alumni are bringing their interest in theater back to our campus. I look forward to seeing the play, and to more alumni engagement in the future.”
Theater can entertain us, educate us, transport us, and has done so through the centuries. Experiencing a story, and seeing it brought to life by real people in real time and the excitement and anticipation that accompanies it is unique.
Bringing theater to new audiences is an exciting — and certainly challenging —experience for Henry and Tim. The theater and all it entails is very important to them, and each hopes to have a future in it as their careers unfold.
“With theater, the constraints of being there are so real,” points out Henry. “You have to suspend your disbelief. And in theater, there is always the human factor — the actors and the audience. We were talking about it in rehearsal, about the inherent sacrifice that theater makers undertake to embody a story. That’s a large part of the draw of theater; it’s the level of vulnerability that actors, writers, etc. must reach by right of being on stage. Because theater is so terrifying for the people who make it, it is that much more exciting for the people who watch it. Actors (to use one group of theater makers) are sacrificing their dignity, stature, etc. in order to tell someone else’s story.”
“Theater is so personal,” agrees Tim, noting, “If something happens, something unexpected, you have to deal with it right away. There can always be a challenge.”
After Charlie and Bruno ends its run, Tim will continue his production work in New York, where he will design two off-Broadway plays.
“I was able to get an internship with the help of my lighting professor at the University of Vermont. I will also be working as a theater lighting technician at the New York City International Fringe Festival. Then, at the end of summer, I’ll be transferring to the California Institute of the Arts near Los Angeles. I am looking forward to collaborating with as many people as I can, and especially to designing different kinds of concert lighting.”
Henry also looks forward to collaborating with many individuals, and particularly those who can help him stretch his talents. “I look forward to working with people I can learn from, who will challenge me. I enjoy everything about the theater, all of it. And I like switching between things — acting, directing, writing. Taking risks.”
Right now, Henry and Tim look forward to June 23rd and 24th, when (itals) Charlie and Bruno (end itals) will have its first and second performance. Beyond that, they hope those performances will be the start of a new Pennington Alumni Theater Series, which will become an annual alumni event They anticipate a new production — or perhaps two — next summer.
Charlie and Bruno will be held Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, June 24th at 2 p.m. at the McLarty Black Box Theater on the Pennington School campus. Tickets are $3 in advance and $5 at the door.