Interview: Student Spotlight - Neely Hebert Directs Alice By Heart

Playing at The Stage at Burke Junction For Two Days Only

By: Apr. 08, 2024
Interview: Student Spotlight - Neely Hebert Directs Alice By Heart
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Interview: Student Spotlight - Neely Hebert Directs Alice By Heart

The future of theatre is in good hands. Neely Hebert, a senior at Rio Americano, is making a name for herself in the world of entertainment. While her focus is on film, she is also forging a path on the stage. In our first Sacramento Student Spotlight, BroadwayWorld talks to Neely about her new show and her upcoming journey beyond Sacramento.

You’re a senior about to embark on a journey into film. What is your background in theatre?

I got into theatre because both my parents have careers in theatre. Growing up around that, I actually wanted to stay away from it and instead put my time into film, which is what I’m majoring in in college. I was then drawn to theatre when I saw the community of it in Sacramento Theatre Company’s production of Carrie. It made me want to be a part of it in some way. I saw how the cast bonded and I really wanted to be a part of that. I did a production and realized I didn’t enjoy being on the stage as much I liked directing and seeing the finished product. I acted to be a better director to my actors in the future. Last summer I directed a production of a musical called Ride the Cyclone and that was my big step into realizing it’s something I really enjoy and want to do in the future.  I was drawn to the different music and the creative way it had of creating an ensemble. Everyone has one solo and then melds back into the ensemble.

How did you come to decide to direct a musical?

I kind of just realized it was something I was interested in. My mom told me it’s something she really enjoyed doing, maybe even more than acting, and I realized my stage fright got in the way of my ability to act and create. I love theatre so I thought directing would be the best choice. The production that I did last summer, I just hopped right into it with no knowledge and had some help along the way. I created a very hands-on creative team for that show and it was very collaborative.

 What do you like about film vs. theatre?

I think that I’m more drawn to film because I’ve enjoyed it my whole life. So much goes into film in the editing process, how long it takes to create, and also how short of a time it can take. I’ve created a lot of short films and made a documentary recently. I really love the process and pride myself in being a part of every aspect of it. With theatre, I feel that something I enjoy about it is it’s more immediate gratification. You can see how well it’s doing or how things are changing in real time. In film you have to wait to see how it does.

What gave you the impetus to do a show so close to graduation when I’m sure you’ve got so many other things happening?

I found a production that I loved in August and seriously started thinking about producing it when the rights were released in September. I saw it as a sign that I needed to do it in some way. I’m constantly thinking about it but it can be difficult because of other productions I’m in and stuff with school. In January I did a fundraiser for the money to the rights. All of that culminated in it actually taking place in April. For myself and other seniors it has been a little bit of a hindrance with school and schedules. I’ve had actors with conflicts with other shows, and a girl with a prominent role could only come for 3 rehearsals. I feel that even if there are conflicts, people will still be able to be a part of it. We’ve been working on it for so long. A big reason I wanted to do it now is that I wanted to leave some kind of mark before I go away to college. I want to be able to work on a project that means a lot to me theatre-wise and work with people that I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. This was the most convenient time before everyone leaves for college.

You’re doing a contemporary work, Alice by Heart. What drew you to this show?

It has a very poignant and relevant message. Aging and growing up and wanting to stay in one place and hide behind a kind of childlike façade. A very timely reason I wanted to do this show is because I am growing up and going to college and making that journey. A very big theme in the show is the process of coming of age. I watched a really bad bootleg and that made me see how much I wanted to do it. I’m a really big fan of Duncan Sheik and I was able to speak to the writer, Steven, about how much I wanted to do it, and that made me more confident in the decision to do this project. The thematic relevance and how much I love the soundtrack contributed to that, too. I love the solos to ensemble pipeline that show the talents of everyone involved. Everybody is pulling their weight.

Undertaking a musical is a huge endeavor. How did you find a music director and go about casting? Is it all students?

The casting was in January and I put out a bit of a casting call through Instagram. The only person I pre-cast was my lead actress, who I spoke to in September. We went through the casting process together. Throughout that month, people were sending in videos and I reviewed them and then cast through January. The last time I did a show, I typecast. This time, I envisioned them as a character. I did a fundraiser in which I had the whole cast do a read-through and sing-through. It was fun to have people who were paying for the rights see what the show could be. It also helped me to see everyone’s vocal range, so I did end up switching some people around, which I think led to a better cast where everyone is in the correct space.

You raised the money to put this on independently. What made you decide to start from scratch? How would you advise another student to go about this? Did you learn any dos and don’ts along the way?

Starting with a Go Fund Me, I would advertise it better. I went with my first instinct, which was to text everyone and then go on Instagram and tell people about my cause and ask if they wanted to help a young director. I’d advise the cast to advertise more and ask people to share the link. I was trying to do everything on my own and should have made it more of a group effort, but we did raise all the money we needed in two days. We raised even more than we needed and I was very proud of that. The rights were pay-what-you-can and that’s also how I am doing my ticket sales because I want students to be able to come see it. I want everyone to be able to come see it and I know theatre can be expensive. Most of the rest of the money went to costuming and theatre rental and we’re doing some avant-garde costuming due to the vision of our costumer.

Do you have a student costumer?

Yes, everyone involved is a student which I think is a fun atmosphere. You’re hanging out with friends and also putting on a show. It’s also fun because I can see them every day at school and brainstorm ideas with them.

Are you in drama at your high school?

I’m in a theatre class at school and we’re currently doing a production called Cinderelly. Four people in that cast are also in my cast. My teacher created a role for me called Princess Penelope. I sing two solos and have ten lines. I’m in most of the dances even though I’m very uncoordinated. I took a lot of dance classes growing up and I can’t do any of it now. When we were in Heathers, I had to cut down some of my dancing. There was a part where we had to twerk and I could not do it so they had to cut that.

Do you think teens in theatre are taken seriously or ignored because of their age? This is our next generation of creative minds, so I’m hoping that instructors are listening to the kids’ ideas.

It’s been a pretty supportive system throughout this. I’ve had a lot of adults helping me. I’ve surrounded myself with adults that are actors because of my parents so there’s a great support group. I had my friend’s dad create a set for me and my dad’s friend let me use their theatre. They put money in and come see the shows that I’ve done. People are very interested in seeing a person who has ambitions succeed and want to support them and see it through. It’s been a big help to me in realizing that this is something I’m very interested in. All of these people have so much faith in me.

What is your favorite musical?

I think because I got to work on the show, Ride the Cyclone is my favorite. Being able to put it on as the first thing I’ve done was amazing. I think that’s probably my favorite because it means so much to me and the story is so pretty and it holds an even bigger place in my heart right now that I’ve been able to put it on with people I love.

How can the community come see Alice by Heart?

It’s at the Stage at Burke Junction. There will be three performances. Saturday night, April 20, and Sunday, April 21, is a two-show day.

What do you plan on doing in film?

I plan on creating movies I’ve always wanted to see. I want to create something I’ve been interested in. I’ve had roadblocks, so I’m hoping that by going to this college I can better latch onto that and create better ideas and things I really enjoy. I’ve had this idea for a very long time and I created a short film around it that involves a Serial Killer Recovery Group. A bunch of made-up serial killers in a recovery group discussing why what they did was bad and why they wouldn’t do it again. I have ideas that I want to see come to fruition and I’m very excited about it.

Any projects planned for Sacramento when you come back on break?

If there are people here that I know, I might figure out a musical that I want to do. I’m minoring in theatre because I want to keep this going. I enjoy seeing everyone’s reactions to a piece I’ve worked on. I’m very excited to continue that and I want to make it happen again. Wherever I am, I want to make more theatre. I would love to be in Into the Woods. The music is insane and I think it would be really fun. I would love to put on Spring Awakening. There are so many that I love a lot that I’d like to see happen.

Alice by Heart will be playing at The Stage at Burke Junction on April 20th and 21st. Tickets may be found at the Eventbrite link attached.

Photo credit: Tory Scroggins


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