A Director's Theatrical Journey Includes Many 'Good People'
After more than three years of acting, directing and teaching in the Penn State community, Rob Schneider is heading back to Los Angeles where his theatrical career began.
Originally from Brooklyn, Schneider (not to be confused with the comedy actor) was immersed in the theater from the age of three when his parents took him to his first Broadway show.
“I’ve been spinning ever since,” he says.
His family moved to LA when he was seven and they continued to take him to performances. By age 11, Schneider had acted in an episode of “The X-Files,” a movie titled “Silk Hope” with Farrah Fawcett, some music videos and a Levi’s Jeans commercial campaign that “thankfully only aired in Europe.”
“But it put me through college, so that’s pretty good,” he jokes.
Schneider’s last directorial effort with Penn State’s Centre Stage, “Good People,” opens Wednesday with a preview performance at the Downtown Theatre Center at 7:30. The play takes place in South Boston and follows protagonist Margie Walsh, a single mother struggling to care for her developmentally-challenged daughter. Margie lost her job at a dollar store and is facing eviction before she gets the opportunity to contact her wealthy ex-boyfriend for work. Without giving too much more plot information, Schneider says the play begins to twist and turn from there.
“What the story is really about is the idea that if you succeed in life, is it because of luck or choices that you’ve made?” he says.
Rehearsals began three weeks ago with a cast that features two Tony-nominated actresses. Other cast members have performed at major regional theatres across the country.
“It’s a broadway-caliber performance, which you don’t really get a lot in a university town,” he says. “This is really, really extraordinary.”
Schneider made the move from the stage to behind the scenes in high school where he fell in love with directing. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree for Direction in the Musical Theatre in 2009 from Penn State – the only university in the country that offers the program, accepting only one or two applicants a year.
That’s when Schneider was approached about staying at the university to teach.
“I ended up substituting for a teacher at the university,” he says. “She had to leave for a month and a half, so I took over her class and I really enjoyed it. I had no idea that passion was inside of me. I love teaching, but it was never on the radar. It was never one of the goals of my life, but I ended up doing it and I ended up loving it.”
In addition to teaching multiple theater classes on campus and online, Schneider directed a total of eight plays for Penn State and four plays at the State Theatre. He also appeared on stage in five performances.
Even though he will be more than 2,000 miles away, Schneider will continue to teach and develop online theatre classes for Penn State. As he prepares to leave, Schneider says he learned many lessons from teaching and directing in the State College area, such as the importance of community.
“There’s so much pride about Penn State,” he says. “And since I’ve been here, I’ve traveled all over the world, and if you see another person wearing a Penn State jacket or hat, no matter where you are in the world, they become your best friend because you’re all part of this shared organization and community.”
Schneider says he was also fortunate enough to learn from his mentor, Susan Schulman - one of the first female directors on Broadway and head of the graduate directing program at Penn State. Schneider was able to watch Schulman in action and learn more about the art of directing, which is what he wants to do no matter where he ends up in the world.
“Whether it’s LA or New York, my dream job is to be an artistic director of a theatre company,” he says. “And hopefully that will happen at some point.”
“Good People” runs from June 12 through June 22 at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center. Click HERE for more information or to buy tickets online.
Video: Rob Schneider and "Good People" cast members talk about the play.
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