Alumnus makes his Crossroads Repertory Theatre directing debut

June 30, 2010

When Brandon Wentz was an Indiana State University student majoring in theater, it was just as likely that he'd be aiming the spotlight as standing in front of it.

ISU's theater program gave the 2004 graduate a well-rounded introduction to the stage, he said, and helped him learn the skills he needed to be comfortable in all areas of the theater.

Wentz, now 30, has spent much of the last six years honing his acting skills by attending graduate school at the University of Georgia in Athens, performing and voicing commercials in the Cincinnati area where he now lives, and visiting Terre Haute for the last several years to perform with ISU's summer Crossroads Repertory Theatre troupe.

But things are a bit different for Wentz this summer as he steps out of the spotlight just long enough for his Crossroads directorial debut with the children's production of "Pixies, Kings and Magical Things: Three Tales by Hans Christian Andersen."

Crossroads Repertory Theatre producing director Sherry McFadden said when it was time to select directors for the 2010 season, there was little question about Wentz's ability to do the job.

Wentz excelled as an ISU student, she said.

"He told us last year that if there was an opportunity, he wanted to direct a children's show," McFadden said. "So when we started thinking about what we were going to do, we decided to give him a shot. And he's doing really nice work."

Wentz said moments in his childhood have inspired his direction of this production.

When he was 7 years old, he and his friends would create mini-productions to perform for family members and any others interested in watching.

"The more I mentioned my experience to people, the more I realized I wasn't alone in it," he said. "There were a lot of people I encountered who had done that sort of thing for their parents, or parents whose kids had done it for them."

Drawing on that memory, Wentz is directing "Pixies" in a way that duplicates the intimacy and the spirit of those home performances, he said.

"I think that there's a great balance in children's theater to make it accessible and interesting in a way that will inspire and incite imaginations," Wentz said. "But like Pixar (Animations Studios) does so well, we also want to entertain the adults, so it's important to consider them, too."

"Pixies, Kings, and Magical Things: Three Tales by Hans Christian Andersen," written by Ric Averill, is a stage adaption of some of Andersen's most beloved stories. Andersen himself becomes a character within the play recounting some of his own history as an "ugly duckling." The Crossroads production intersperses the history of the author with three of Andersen's tales: "The Swineherd," "The Pixie and the Grocer," and "The Emperor's New Clothes."

In "The Swineherd" a vain and "particular" princess learns a lesson from a clever boy when he compares her behavior to the animals he tends. A pixie's decision in "The Pixie and the Grocer" to save from a burning house a book of poetry rather than the grocer's riches teaches the value of "art over appetite." And in the classic "The Emperor's New Clothes" vanity is given a fun comic twist by the invisible threads of a weaver that leave the nude emperor seeking approval from his ill-advised ministers.

Guiding his cast of six actors through the process of staging the characters' actions is proving to be one of the most satisfying aspects of directing, Wentz said.

That's primarily due to his love for improvisational acting. At both ISU and the University of Georgia, Wentz was instrumental in forming improvisational acting troupes that have continued to perform after he graduated.

"Improvisation really set me up for when I went out into world," he said. "It's such a freeing form of theater, and it's really much more useful than I could explain."

Much like his days as a 7-year-old actor for his family, Wentz is encouraging his actors to employ that same freedom as they perform their roles.

"This play doesn't require a heavy hand from a director," he said. "This is an ensemble piece and it is their energy that drives it."

"Pixies, Kings, and Magical Things: Three Tales by Hans Christian Andersen" opens July 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the New Theater on the ISU campus. Additional 7:30 p.m. performances are July 2 and 3 and July 24. A 4 p.m. matinee performance is July 18.

Tickets are $12 and may be reserved by telephoning the ticket office at 812-237-3333 Tuesday through Friday between noon and 4:30 p.m. or between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. the evening of a performance. Tickets may also be reserved through the Crossroads Web site at www.crossroadsrep.com.

Contact: Jean Shutt, publicity director, Crossroads Repertory Theatre, 812-237-3334 or jean.shutt@crossroadsrep.com

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Crossroads-Sunshine-Boys/DSC8331SunshineBoys/905584914_zhyEG-D.jpg

Brandon Wentz performs in "The Sunshine Boys," one of four shows that are part of the 2010 Crossroads Repertory Theatre summer season (ISU Photo/Kara Berchem).

Writer: Rachel Wedding McClelland, assistant director of media relations, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3790 or rachel.mcclelland@indstate.edu.