Meet Don Brandenburg, Starring as Frank Butley in “NATIVE GARDENS”

Don Brandenburg is a longtime player and director in our local theatre scene. We are so excited to bring his talent to the Dock Street Theatre stage with NATIVE GARDENS, our final straight play of the season! Read more about his artistic process in preparing for the role of Frank Butley below:

Acting Ensemble Member Don Brandenburg as Frank Butley in “Native Gardens”.

Please share with us some highlights of your acting experience. What do you love about theatre as an art form?

I have been part of the theatre scene for more decades than I care to think about. During that time, I have worn many hats, not just actor, but also a producer, director and numerous thankless jobs in between. What thrills me about theatre as an art form is the connection between the actors and the audience. An audience feels the energy emanating from the actors on stage, while the actors on stage feel the same from the audience. It’s an interactive experience that is only felt through live performing art forms.

While some theatre productions are designed to “make you think,” not all theatre productions “teach a lesson” or make you ponder some deep probing question that you will discuss for days. Some theatre is just there to entertain. A good comedy or fun musical lets you leave the theatre with a smile on your face. If the actors (with credit to the entire production team) have done their jobs, the audience leaves with the intended outcome.

How have you been preparing for the role of Frank Butley in Native Gardens?

I have played many different types of characters over the years, but the process of character preparation is always the same for me. The first item of importance is location. Where does this character live? What is his background and upbringing? What is his socio/economic status? This helps determine dialect, accent, and the character’s mentality, which are extremely important to believability. Working on accent and speech pattern is a focus right from the start of the rehearsal process. Also, the character’s age, or perceived age, is an important factor in order to deliver the proper gait. This was never more important to me than when I was in my twenties and was cast in a role playing a man in his eighties. After character background and age have been examined, the process is simply putting my mind into “becoming” the character and making myself think and function the way the character does with the other characters in his life. I don’t believe there is any secret to it other than that.

Tell us more about your character. What do you want us to know about him?

I play Frank Butley. Frank and his wife, Virginia, live in a stately, upscale D.C. neighborhood. Frank is an avid gardener who takes meticulous care of his backyard flower garden to the point of being obsessive-compulsive. He is preoccupied with winning a Horticultural Society Best Garden Award for which he has entered every year, only to never be awarded higher than an honorable mention. Both Frank and Virginia are put to the test when a new, young couple moves in next door and starts a property border dispute just when the new garden competition is about to begin. The battle between Frank, Virginia, and the neighbors turns hilariously relatable.

What do you hope audiences will receive and ponder after seeing this show?

I hope our audiences walk away thinking about what it means to be American in 2023 and what compromises we all have to make for mutual gain.

What is your favorite show of all time?

I have been asked this many times. I don’t have a favorite. I have many favorites. When it comes to gripping drama, you can’t beat Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang is a great contemporary comedy. I played Vanya in a production a few years ago. I love A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in the classic musical comedy category and as a newer musical, Something Rotten! is fabulous.

Acting Ensemble Member Don Brandenburg

No stranger to the Charleston theatre scene, Don has been producing, directing and acting in theatre productions for decades, all while handling his professional career as a civil engineer. Don first worked with Charleston Stage during Season 20 (1997-1998) when he directed a production of To Kill a Mockingbird. He most recently performed in Charleston Stage’s productions of Noises Off and Murder on the Orient Express. Don has worked with a number of Charleston area’s performing arts groups, including The Footlight Players, where he was a past Artistic Director for the organization. While working for The Footlight Players, Don directed favorites such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Sugar Bean Sisters, Suddenly Last Summer and the musicals A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Della’s Diner and Slammergirls. He was seen on the Footlight stage as Vanya in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and in the musicals Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Heathers: The Musical. Don has been seen at Threshold Repertory Theatre in The Jacksonian and Murder at the Howard Johnson’s. Over the years, Don has also been in many TV commercials and industrial films.

Meet Kayla Green, Starring as Tania Del Valle in “NATIVE GARDENS”

Photo by Reese Moore Photography

We are honored to present the artistic work of Kayla Green in the role of Tania Del Valle in our upcoming production of NATIVE GARDENS, opening next week! Read more about her preparation for this role and love for theatre below:

Share with us more about your acting experience! What do you love about theatre?

High school is where I really got into theatre. I had many chances to be a part of amazing ensembles until I landed my first speaking role as Yvette in Clue. I was so proud of myself when I saw my name on the cast listing. I swear I felt like I won a million dollars! Spending days after school with people who have the same love and appreciation for theatre was a different type of energy that I loved to be around. When high school ended, I was so determined to be an actress that I ventured into film acting while pursuing local theatre opportunities as well. In 2020, I was honored to be cast in Footlight Players’ production of Matilda, but the Covid lockdown happened and they had to put it on hold. Unfortunately, it was not picked back up for the next season, but instead we got to perform a show called All Together Now!, in which we sang different songs from musicals. Between then and now, I have done some background work on TV shows and movies, which was fun and very interesting. I can’t wait to be on stage again for Native Gardens

How have you been preparing for the role of Tania Del Valle in Native Gardens?

I’ve been really looking to the Latina women in my life I look up to, such as my mom, my sister, and Representative AOC. I see aspects of Tania in them by how passionate they speak and how they are always trying to build a better life for themselves and the people around them. I have also been writing certain memories for Tania, like happy times she spent at her grandparents’ farm and how she met Pablo in college. 

Which aspects of rehearsing come more easily to you? Which are more difficult?

For me, I find it easy to relate to my character and see into her world. One of the reasons is because I’m an Afro-Latina, and I do face micro-aggressions for this every so often. Also, I like to think that I have a big imagination, even as an adult, so creating a background for Tania within the context of the play helps me produce the emotions needed throughout the show. What I find more difficult is really trying not to second-guess myself when it comes to remembering my lines. Rehearsing has been consistently helpful, but I always feel the need to look at my script to make sure that I’m right. 

What do you hope audiences will receive and ponder after seeing this show?

I hope our audiences will consider how they treat the people around them. As a huge Harry Styles fan, I really believe in his statement that you should treat people with kindness. People should lead with empathy in their lives because this world is already filled with darkness and negativity, so we, the people, have to be the positive light. Also, I really want our audiences to realize that, in some way, shape or form, we all have privileges. How we use them can tell a lot about who we are as people. We cannot be willingly ignorant to this. 

Plays or musicals? What is your favorite show of all time?

Easy answer…musicals. My favorite show would have to be Once On This Island, which Charleston Stage is performing this April! It really caught my eye when they performed it at the 2018 Tony Awards! The Haitian-inspired dancing, colorful, castaway-type costumes, and the way they were incorporating water, sand, AND goats was breathtaking. I personally have never seen a musical do that before. After listening to the cast recording, I became absolutely enchanted.

Local actor Kayla Green

Kayla began acting in high school and has been pursuing her passion ever since. She would like to dedicate her performance to her high school drama teachers who made a huge difference in her life. Whenever she is not performing, Kayla loves to go to markets in the area to support local artists and small businesses. She is a ecstatic to join Charleston Stage and looks forward to continuing her acting journey with them. If you’d love to keep up with her follow her on instagram: @kayla.elise_

Presidential Shoes to Fill: Resident Actor Raymond Cronley on Playing John F. Kennedy in “JFK AND INGA BINGA”

Raymond Cronley, one of our talented Season 45 Resident Actors, has been bringing JFK’s legacy and charming Boston accent to the Dock Street Theatre stage night after night as we perform JFK AND INGA BINGA this February. Hear from him about his preparation for the iconic role below:

Resident Actors Raymond Cronley and Eliza Knode as Jack Kennedy and Inga Arvad Fejos in Charleston Stage’s February 2023 production of JFK AND INGA BINGA.

How is this show unique from others you’ve performed in before?

What’s most unique about this show is that it’s a completely original work, written by our very own Director, Julian Wiles, and set right here in Charleston! I’ve never before had the opportunity to work on a show quite like this. It’s inspiring to live and work right alongside the setting of the play, being able to go to the parks and shopping centers mentioned. Additionally, having the playwright as a director means that lines can be altered much more freely. During the rehearsal process, Julian would take how we performed our characters into account and was able to make some adjustments to make certain moments work better! That is certainly an exciting process to be a part of.

How have you prepared for this role? 

I read a lot about JFK — specifically his early life and upbringing. Kennedy has to be one of the best documented politicians of the last 100 years, so I had a bounty of information to draw upon. Additionally, I studied the mid-20th century upper crust Bostonian accent he used, and listened to as many candid recordings of his voice as I could!

Resident Actors Cedar Valdez and Raymond Cronley as Lem Billings and Jack Kennedy in Charleston Stage’s February 2023 production of JFK AND INGA BINGA.

What are the easiest and most difficult aspects of playing this role and doing this show?

What’s easy for me is the comedy in this show! It rises very naturally out of the situation these characters find themselves in. Making the comedy happen is probably easier overall for me than it is for the roles some of my fellow cast mates are playing, as most of it comes from Kennedy being blissfully unaware of the crazy lengths the other characters are going through to keep their surveillance a secret.

One of the more difficult, yet satisfying aspects of this role to nail down was Kennedy’s character arc. At the top of the curtain he’s as brash and cocky a young lover as you might expect. But over the course of the show, he realizes his feelings for Inga are much deeper than he had previously thought. It’s the kind of arc you would expect from a young man of 24. I myself am 23, so I find that kind of emotion very accessible and fun to tap into. Still, it’s a challenge to take the audience from their preconceived notions of Kennedy as a womanizer to someone who’s feelings are genuine.

Do you prefer plays or musicals? Why?

I was a musician long before I was an actor! I started playing trumpet at the age of nine, and didn’t find out that I could sing and act until five years after that! Though I adore acting in straight plays — especially comedies — musicals are my home. There’s something about music which seems to stir the soul. It has always roused a deeper emotion in me than most non-musical media.

What’s your favorite show of all time?

My favorite show I’ve ever seen is Hadestown, hands down! It’s the definition of a classic story brought to life by incredible music and lyricism that’s poetic, yet accessible. My favorite production I’ve ever been a part of is Rumors by Neil Simon. Specifically, it was a high school production where we were required to censor any foul language. Sounds unfortunate, but as it turned out, the cast included all of my closest friends at the time, and as the ensemble we came up with a host of zany euphemistic phrases to replace the curse words. The resulting performance had our director nearly peeing herself with laughter every night at rehearsals, and so it remains my all time favorite productions to have been a part of!

Resident Actors Raymond Cronley and Eliza Knode as Jack Kennedy and Inga Arvad Fejos in Charleston Stage’s February 2023 production of JFK AND INGA BINGA.

Raymond is incredibly jazzed to be joining Charleston Stage as a Resident Actor for their 45th season! Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Raymond graduated in May of 2021 from Ohio Northern University with a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre. Previous credits include Jack in Into the Woods, Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein and George in Sunday in the Park with George. He would like to thank his family and friends for their wholehearted support and encouragement! / @raymonley

On Playing a Real-Life Character: Eliza Knode as Inga Arvad Fejos in “JFK AND INGA BINGA”

We sat down with Eliza Knode, Season 45 Resident Actor and our Inga Arvad Fejos in JFK AND INGA BINGA, to hear about her development of a character who existed in real-life — a unique challenge for actors that also reaps unique rewards. Hear from her below:

Resident Actors Raymond Cronley and Eliza Knode as Jack Kennedy and Inga Arvad Fejos in JFK AND INGA BINGA, February 2023 at Charleston Stage.

JFK AND INGA BINGA is a really interesting, special play given it’s little-known history, Charleston locale, and celebrity interest. How is this show unique from others you’ve performed in before?

This is the first show I’ve done based on true history. I’m very glad to have this experience because I think biopics are growing in popularity in theatre and cinema. Now I know what it’s like playing a real person and have established a process, so if I were ever asked to do something like this again, I confidently could!

How have you prepared for this role? 

One of the ways I prepared to play Inga Arvad was reading a biography about her called Inga: Kennedy’s Great Love, Hitler’s Perfect Beauty, and J. Edgar Hoover’s Prime Suspect by Scott Farris. It was a great resource because I got to learn about her life and what kind of person she was socially and personally, which I was then able to translate to the stage. Knowing her background helped greatly to inform my acting choices. For example, I learned that she studied ballet when she was younger, so the physicality I’ve developed for Inga is very graceful and poised. Also, by knowing what happened in her life before the moment of the play, it makes the circumstances within the play more meaningful and interesting. 

Another way I needed to prepare to play Inga was to learn her Danish accent! I’m very lucky to have a Danish friend who helped me with some pronunciations. I also listened to Danish people speaking English on a website called IDEA (International Dialects of English Archive) and watched a Danish comedian named Sofie Hagen on TikTok. From listening to these people, I made a chart of the sounds that change from the way I speak English. For example, I noticed that “w” sounds often turn into “v” annunciations in the Danish accent. I then went through the script and marked where these changes occurred so that I could memorize them right away.

Resident Actor Eliza Knode as Inga Arvad Fejos in JFK AND INGA BINGA, February 2023 at Charleston Stage.

What are the easiest and most difficult aspects of playing this role and doing this show?

The easiest part about playing this role is that I have an amazing cast to respond to. Everyone has made really fun character choices that engage me, even when I’m not on stage with them! The most difficult aspect of this role is putting on/taking off costumes pieces onstage. It seems really simple, but there’s a certain timing in the lines when items need to be on or off, so the pressure of getting it done before that point can be surprisingly stressful! 

Do you prefer plays or musicals? Why?

I grew up doing choir and being really involved in music, so I have to say I prefer musicals. However, I’m an avid reader and I love reading plays — I am enjoying my experience being in a new play!

What’s your favorite show of all time?

My favorite show is constantly rotating…right now my favorite is Big Fish: The Musical. It explores a strained relationship between father and son, the power of imagination, and the strength of love. The music is epic and fun-it has similar vibes to the score of Wicked. Also, I would love to play Sandra Bloom someday! 

Resident Actor Eliza Knode as Inga Arvad Fejos in JFK AND INGA BINGA, February 2023 at Charleston Stage.

Eliza is a recent graduate of the University of Miami with a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre. Some of her previous credits include Into the Woods (Witch), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Helena), and 9 to 5 (Roz). Eliza has lived in Malaysia, Japan, Hungary, and Brazil and is very excited to make Charleston her next home! She would like to extend gratitude to her teachers, friends, and family around the globe who support her. Website: || Instagram: @eliza.knode