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Young Thespian Plays a Pawn

Fairfax Station’s Sean Brennan is acting in The Shakespeare Theater’s production of 'Lorenzaccio,' through March.

In three short years, Sean Brennan has made his way from a classroom production of “Romeo and Juliet” to the stage of The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Sean, 13, will have one of a handful of roles for children in The Shakespeare Theatre’s production of “Lorenzaccio,” which opens on Saturday, Jan. 22.

"I try not to get panicked about it, because that just makes it worse,” said Sean, a Fairfax Station resident and an eighth-grader at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria. “I try to be calm about everything, try not to think I’m not good enough to perform in the theater.”

Brennan auditioned for the part in October and learned he had gotten it later that month. Except for a read-through in December, the bulk of his rehearsals at the prestigious 18-year-old theater have been in the past two weeks. The play, a new translation and adaptation of Aldred de Musset’s classic, focuses on the complex political drama surrounding the famous de Medici family of 16th-century Florence, Italy. Sean plays Cosimo de Medici, a boy who is presented as a potential heir to the throne and is a puppet of the Cardinal Cibo.

"Sean is a hard-working and talented young actor. [Shakespeare Theatre artistic director] Michael Kahn needed to find a boy capable of delivering the final lines of 'Lorenzaccio,' and he is very happy to have found Sean," said David Muse, resident assistant director of The Shakespeare Theatre.

Watching a large-scale production from script to stage has been a new experience for Sean’s parents, too.

“What Michael Kahn does as a director, and how he shapes what’s happening, it’s like another script,” said Mary Ellen Brennan, Sean’s mother. “You can see the difference when you’ve seen just these words they started with.”

Sean attended Lane and Springfield Estates elementary schools and Twain Middle School in Springfield. His first on-stage appearance came in a fifth-grade production of the Shakespeare classic “Romeo and Juliet,” when he played Romeo’s pal Mercutio.

“I kind of liked it, so I thought maybe I’d do it,” said Sean, who attended the Burgundy Farm Summer Camp the following summer. That may have been where the proverbial acting bug bit, as he picked up a flier for the Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theater, which was conducting auditions for a musical adaptation of the Tolkien classic “The Hobbit.” He played a dwarf in that play and was in subsequent productions with the MVCCT, including “The Velveteen Rabbit” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

In September, he acted in the opera “Billy Budd" at The Kennedy Center.

SEAN'S GROWING involvement in community and professional theater has been a source of joy for his father, John, who acted for years during and after college. Nonetheless, his parents said they have been careful not to turn into “stage parents,” while their son learns the ropes on the stage.

“John has never been the kind of father who said, ‘Do this because I like it,’ He was very hands-off at first. It was Sean who wanted to get into it,” said Mary Ellen Brennan, Sean’s mother.

Both parents said one of the most exciting parts of their son’s involvement in “Lorenzaccio” was to see it put together by skilled artisans.

“It’s really exciting. It’s thrilling to see people put together a work like this and see it take shape,” said John Brennan. “It’s fascinating to watch people at this level put something together to work on something like this and incorporate all aspects into the final product.”

Sean said the most difficult part of the production has been the number of hours involved. He attended rehearsals three to five times a week over the past month, and once the play opens, he will be in eight productions a week through the play’s final performance on March 6.

“I hope I can get more things like this, but not where it’s too overtaxing. This is fine, because I could still do school,” he said.

Sean also hopes to appear more on-camera. He acted in a pair of small film productions over the summer and had the chance to see what making a movie was all about, albeit on a much smaller scale. He landed a part in a public service announcement, which was shot in Maryland, titled “Doc’s Eye for the Diet,” which emphasized healthy eating.

That one was an eye-opener in a different way, as Sean learned an interesting fact about doing multiple takes.

“I was surprised when I found out you actually had to eat and drink real stuff. I guess I thought you had to pretend,” he said, after going through multiple slices of pizza, pork rinds and other “unhealthy” foods.

Sean Brennan also acted in a Department of Education training video and hopes to find more work there, since it isn’t as time-consuming for his school schedule.

Despite the increasing visibility of his roles, Sean Brennan said what makes him most nervous still is the audition process.

“That’s probably the part that gets me nervous the most. It’s really tense, and you don’t know whether you’re going to get anything or not,” he said.