SFA preparation provides win-win results for performers, audiences

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Patrons who visit the Stephen F. Austin State University campus to see the SummerStage Festival presentation of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” will experience far more than they expected. Not only will they see and hear about the enchanting “Peanuts” world and sing along with captivating, fun music, they will witness the best that SFA has to offer in fostering educational growth for its students in theatre, dance and music.

“I want to not only take our audience on a journey of the characters’ lives as the events unfold, I want to create a journey of growth for our students,” said Jennifer Malmberg, lecturer in the School of Theatre and Dance and director of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Malmberg, along with Jay Teamer, music director of the show, are collaborating for the second summer to present a high-energy, music-filled, sensationally-staged show for audiences of all ages. These directors rely on their educational backgrounds earned at SFA – hers in theatre and his in music – both preferring to approach summer repertory theatre more from an educational aspect than a performance one.

“I feel that because we share these perspectives of being fine arts educators trained at SFA,” Teamer said, “we use our knowledge and our experiences from being here as students to really make an impact on the journey of our students in the show, while putting on a fun, entertaining and thrilling production for the campus and the community.”

As such, it’s a win-win for student performers and audience members. This summer brings the first SummerStage Festival to be presented in the Flex Theatre with everyone’s favorite blockhead taking the stage. Based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz; book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner; additional dialogue by Michael Mayer; and additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, Charlie Brown and the entire “Peanuts” bunch explore life’s great questions as they play baseball, struggle with homework, sing songs, swoon over their crushes and celebrate the joys of friendship.

Malmberg is the only current School of Theatre and Dance faculty member who participated as a student in the SummerStage Festival. A 2014 SFA graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in stage management and a 2016 master’s in teaching from SFA’s James I. Perkins College of Education, Malmberg taught theatre in Dallas area public schools before returning to teach at her alma mater. Teamer graduated from SFA in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Music in Music Education, and he is currently a graduate student earning a Master of Music in Vocal Coaching from Oklahoma City University.

Last summer, Malmberg and Teamer worked well together to present an audience favorite in “The Wind in the Willows.” Malmberg said the two educators see each other “as equal partners in our work on shows.”

“That can be rare in a relationship between a director and musical director,” she said. “Our bond comes from both of us approaching the process as educators first. Our experience at SFA and the culture from the School of Theatre and Dance and the School of Music prepared us for that, which makes working together fun and happy instead of tedious and stressful. SFA has built our experience in knowing the village it takes to accomplish anything in life, and we should cherish the village that SFA provides.”

Both directors believe audiences will be impressed by the students’ work. From the actors and their singing, to the construction of the set, to the lighting and sounds, the talent of the students under the mentorship of faculty leaders will take audience members into Charlie Brown’s colorful world.

Guest costume designer Alexis Foster from The University of Maine has placed some specific details into the costumes that lovers of the “Peanuts” crew will immediately find endearing. Lighting and sound designer CC Conn has brought to life the fun and brightness that the loveable characters live in. And scenic designer Ben Kramer has flexed his creative muscles by adding animation throughout the production that is sure to be a spectacle for audiences.

It all flawlessly harmonizes as a testament to how SFA’s musical theatre program is growing at a quick and steady pace.

“More than anything, we want our students to walk away feeling as if they learned, grew and put forth their best in creating a wonderful production,” Malmberg said. “The summer is truly about process instead of product, and because we approach it this way, our product (the production) grows beyond what we ever thought it could be.”

All performances for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” are in the Flex Theatre. Show times are 10 a.m. Monday, July 1; 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, July 2 and 3; 7 p.m. Friday. July 5; and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 6. The July 1 presentation is a pay-what-you-can performance.

Tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for senior adults 62 and older; $8 for SFA faculty and staff; $8 for youth and non-SFA students; and $5 for SFA students. To purchase tickets, visit boxoffice.sfasu.edu or call (936) 468-6407.

For more information about “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” call the School of Theatre and Dance at (936) 468-4003 or visit sfasu.edu/theatre-dance.

“The audience will see a lot of color in the set and in the costumes,” Teamer said. “They’ll hear the kiddos living a day in the life of Charlie Brown with his friends. Everyone in the family is bound to have a great time watching this classic!”

In addition to all that is going on throughout the production, the SummerStage team encourages families to arrive early to take part in an immersive lobby display. When arriving to Griffith Fine Arts Building, audience members and their families will enjoy displays of design processes from concept to product displays, “Peanuts” photo booth stations, a coloring station for younger friends, and more!

“We cannot wait to welcome our SFA and Nacogdoches communities into our ‘Peanuts’ world this summer,” Malmberg said.