Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

The production runs January 19-21, 2024.

By: Jan. 15, 2024
Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Renee O’Connor is perhaps best known as Gabrielle from the popular TV Show Xena Warrior Princess. Along with her roles in many movies, she is now stepping into the role of director for Encore Production’s Matilda, a musical extravaganza featuring cast members of all ages and backgrounds at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday, January 19 at 7:30pm, Saturday, January 20 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm, and Sunday, January 21 at 2:00pm.

I decided to speak with Renee about directing Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical, her search for the young performers needed in it, and to find out more about her other Entertainment Ventures.

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Renee O'Connor. Photo courtesy of Encore Productions.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy rehearsal schedule to speak with me about Matilda. How did the opportunity to direct Matilda happen?

This is my second time directing a musical production for Encore, but it is my first time directing or being involved in the production of Matilda. Sharona Krinsky, the producer for Encore, asked me to bring in the more dramatic elements of the story, which I absolutely agreed to do. We have a phenomenal cast that brings depth, humor, and an emotional vulnerability to their roles.

Were you worried about taking on such a large production involving so many kids

Fortunately, we have a very strong production team that is facilitating this large production. The production administration is working together seamlessly, carrying the weight of the operations that are needed to keep a show of this size together.

Was it difficult to find the perfect young girl to play the leading part?  Or were there lots of choices during the auditions?

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Evie Legant (Matilda) in Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. Photo courtesy of Encore Productions.

We had several young girls auditioning for the role of Matilda. We found two girls who were age and height appropriate, who specifically brought in the acting chops and singing abilities needed to play the multi-dimensional aspect of the Matilda character. There were several other girls who were equally as talented, yet could not be cast based on their age or their height.

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Brooklyn Sosay (Matilda) in Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. Photo courtesy of Encore Productions.

Do the actors playing Matilda have a background appearing in other Encore productions and/or have you worked with her before?

The two young actresses who play Matilda are new to me, along with most of the cast. All the lead roles are played by two different performers, alternating throughout all the performances in the production run. This is necessary, because of a possibility of someone getting sick and being unable to perform, and it also provides additional opportunities for people to work more on their strengths, with a strong creative team.

Tell me about the younger performers in the show.  

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Rehearsal photo from Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. Photo courtesy of Encore Productions.

We have a very large cast for this production of Matilda. The two young girls play Matilda are doing a fantastic job.  I am really amazed at their level of focus and determination to bring this beautiful character Matilda, to life on the stage. And we have a large group of young actors, who are cast as the school group that runs around with Matilda. They have been truly enjoyable to work with, and to watch their focus improve, their natural curiosity and sense of humor develop within the context of the show.

We have about 60 teenagers in the range of between 11 to 17 years old cast in the production, and they are being asked to perform with very difficult choreography throughout the course of the show. I’m impressed with their determination to keep striving to achieve what the creative team is asking from each of them.

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Rehearsal photo from Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. Photo courtesy of Encore Productions.

How about the adult performers?

I’ve enjoyed working with all the adults as well. Honestly, I’ve just had such an incredible time watching their willingness to trust me and to develop their show with a sense of fun and joyfulness. It’s evident that they’re having a good time, and it’s a perfect way to start a New Year.

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

For this production in Matilda, we have an actor playing one of our Trunchbulls. His name is Steven L Sears (pictured) and he was one of the writers and producers on Xena warrior princess. He and I have had a long history as friends, and most recently as collaborators in the theater world. Once I developed my classical theater company called the House Bards Theatre Company, Steven was one of the first people that I called.

How is it working with so many kids/teens? And what are you learning about yourself while working with them?

Encore tries to offer an educational aspect to the production. I’ve given all of our cast members opportunities to grow as actors using a few tools that have been useful to me through my years of as an actress. It was very important to me that each person in the cast understood that their work as an actor, whether in the ensemble or as a lead, would develop the world where the story lives.

Are you working with a musical director and choreographer? Tell me about them.

In our creative team, we have Musical Director, Mike Walker, and Choreographer, Katelyn Martin (pictured).

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Fortunately, I have worked with Katelyn before with the House of Bards Theatre Company. It’s my first time working with Mike Walker. Both are professionals in their field, and they have a beautiful sense of being able to facilitate their specific material, in a way that is not intimidating for those who may not be classically trained. There’s a broad mix of experience levels and ultimately, we want everyone to have a joyful experience, while performing in a high caliber production. Mike is one the best in this area, and as an educator, he understands how to meet each person in their comfort zone. I really love working with Katelyn. She brings a sassy quality in her choreography, which makes me laugh! It allows the natural personalities of our performers to come to life through dance. 

How would compare/contrast directing live theatre as opposed to film productions?

So many people ask me if I prefer to direct over acting, and the truth is I love them equally. And I know I have definitely become a stronger creative artist from my work in the theater. Being an Actor/Director/Producer, I have the gift of learning through direct experiences, which enhance all the other hyphenates positions I can carry. I also love producing because I have a natural motherly quality, which thrives on supporting and cultivating great talent.

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Renee O'Connor in the role of Gabrielle on Xena Warrior Princess. Photo courtesy of the production.

I find directing in the theater very similar to how I direct in film productions. I’m able to utilize my background from my years on Xena Warrior Princess to really understand how to share the narrative, how to shift the point of view, and how to layer the staging so that the world we are creating feels complex. This training comes from my years and years of watching multiple cameras capture individual perspectives in epic proportions. I feel it’s important to have a sense of truthfulness, layered with characterization, as a core grounding elements of all productions. I’m very thankful for the Xena community, which follows me closely.

As the Founder and Artistic Director of House of Bards Theatre Company in Los Angeles, congratulations on the Broadway World Regional Theatre Awards won for the House of Bards productions of George Orwell's 1984 and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Cara Legant (Mrs Wormwood) in Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. Photo courtesy of Encore Productions.
 

I started the House of Bards Theater Company with a desire to present classical theater, based on adaptations of classical literature. Our Xena family and fans have been extremely supportive, and they have come to many of our shows. We were recently nominated for several Broadway World regional theater awards and fortunately we won favorite local theater company, best play for 1984, best sound design for 1984, best lighting design for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, best costume design for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and surprisingly, favorite theater for young audiences for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is my passion to create and share stories. I truly am an original bard.

And finally, what do you hope children and their parents will be talking about after seeing Matilda?

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Tess Rose (Ms Honey) in Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. Photo courtesy of Encore Productions.

I hope that children and their parents walk away from this specific production of Matilda understanding the importance of cultivating one’s own unique talents. Each of us have a purpose, a life’s legacy to share, and we can and shall write our own story.

Thanks so much, Renee. Continued success in all your artistic endeavors.

Interview: Renee O'Connor on Directing Roald Dahl's MATILDA the Musical for Encore Productions at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

The Tony Award-winning Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical with book by Dennis Kelly and original songs by Tim Minchin, is “packed with high-energy dance numbers and catchy songs” that will make this joyous girl power romp “spark the imagination of every audience member.” Tickets for the Encore production at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA 90278 are available in advance at https://www.encoresouthbay.org/tickets.html or at the box office. Please call (310) 896-6459 in advance to arrange accessible seating, hearing devices, or with questions about the production. Free onsite parking.  




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