For VCU students looking for a study break during pre-exam week preparation that will not bust their budget, a student-directed play at Shafer Street Playhouse should provide plenty of laughs.
Theatre students involved in the Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre lab select the plays they want to direct each semester. Brandon Butts, senior performance major, chose “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.”
“I wanted to do a show that I knew a lot of people, especially in the theatre department, would feel passionate about,” Butts said.
The play is based on the teenage versions of Charlie Brown and his “Peanuts” gang. After premiering in 2004, the play won awards at the New York International Fringe Festival and from Broadway.com. Because the play is a parody of “Peanuts,” Butts said, the characters have new aliases and new problems to deal with.
“There a tangible (issues) like drugs, alcohol and sex,” Butts said. “But there are also emotional things like self-esteem and identity.”
Butts held auditions for each character and hand-picked technicians to work with. Taking a few director’s liberties, Butts added a few characters and made changes to the script. With nearly 20 people involved in the play, Butts said the biggest challenge was creating a solid rehearsal schedule.
“Making sure everybody was where they needed to be, when they should be, was definitely my biggest struggle,” he said.
Tyler Stevens, second-year theatre performance major, plays CB (Charlie Brown). Stevens said the rehearsal schedule was a new experience, as most scenes were isolated from each other. Feeling more like an audience member, Stevens said he looks forward to the final production.
“It’s cool to see these pieces we’ve been working on separately fall into place,” Stevens said.
To prepare for his role as CB, Stevens said he watched earlier “Charlie Brown” movies. Even though his character has grown up, Stevens wanted to better understand Charlie Brown’s past.
“CB goes through this journey where he struggles with thinking about death, afterlife and his own identity,” Stevens said. “Everybody goes through that at one point.”
Lauren Davis, a senior theatre performance major, plays the role of CB’s sister, Sally. Davis said she was familiar with the younger Sally from reading “Peanuts” comic strips throughout her life. However, the older version of Sally goes through many changes, Davis said.
“At this point it’s a snapshot of her when she goes through a goth phase,” Davis said. “It’s that need to be seen I’m trying to focus on, the desire to matter.”
During the majority of the play, Brown’s sister struggles with growing up mentally. Still, Davis said she enjoys the physical shift of Brown’s sister.
“My favorite part is ‘Metamorphosis,’” Davis said. “My character (has) a one-woman show about transforming into a platypus.”
For students needing a healthy study break, Davis said this play keeps the brain working.
“I think the audience will be left questioning the way we look at who we are and how we define ourselves,” Davis said. “(The audience will ask) ‘Are we stuck as one thing, or can we change, can we break out of the mold, is our path already written for us.’”
Some people reminisce about their high school years, others put all their efforts into forgetting the experience. Most VCU students are growing out of their teens, but Butts said the themes of the play relate to everyday adult life.
“We all deal with the same things teenagers deal with,” he said. “It just starts in your teen years and travels with you.”
While the play involves a few somber realities, Stevens said there are many lighthearted moments.
“It’s actually a comedy for the most part,” Stevens said. “There’s these kids with messed-up problems, and it’s funny, but at the same time very real.”
“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” premieres Dec. 6 at 8 p.m., and runs Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Shafer Street Playhouse is located at 221 N. Shafer St. The play is free for anyone to attend.