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:
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.
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.