Jim Neal represents yet another realm of the art world. Theatre. Jim’s skill set lives in the background of a life filled with openings and closings. Jim’s newest opening is with the one-year-old Three Brother’s Theatre in downtown Waukegan.
Three Brothers Theatre is devoted to three concepts: brash, brave and bare. Brash artists, brave words and bare performances. Their vision is to grow into a sustainable non-profit theatre company and to become an anchor in Waukegan’s growing Arts District.
Three Brothers Theatre was founded in 2012 in Iowa City by Josh Beadle and “The Brothers”–Rick Adams and Nick Ostrem. After moving to Lake County, Josh and his wife Caroline, along with “The Brothers” decided to try out producing a play in Waukegan’s newly revitalized arts district. Their first show, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, was produced and performed at Clockwise Theatre. Based on the show’s success, Three Brothers Theatre began looking for their own space to create a home base in Waukegan. Luckily they fell into a wonderful space at 115 N. Genesee Street.
With love, affection and hard labor, The Three Brothers and the newest brother, Jim Neal, have created a warm and intimate venue for live theatre. Jim Neal is a local community member, theatre guru and now serves as technical director at Three Brothers Theatre. “We are so lucky to have such a dedicated and enthusiastic new member of our ensemble,” says founder Josh Beadle.
“We believe Waukegan is in a unique position to become the theatrical destination in Lake County,” adds Beadle. “We are thrilled to be part of such a welcoming community and feel honored to call Waukegan our home.”
Three Brothers Theatre’s 2014 season kicks off March 7th with Sleepwalk With Me by Mike Birbiglia and runs through March 22nd. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. This season includes seven main stage productions, three children’s productions, the Waukegan Theatre Festival, sketch comedy, and theatre and improv classes for youth and adults. Their jam-packed season has something for everyone to enjoy!
The Magic of Theatre
Jim describes his approach to work as a quest to bring theatre to those who don’t know it exists. He will also be the first to say that theatre work is the most illusive of all the arts. “Theatre exists as a living relationship between artist and audience only for the moment of performance,” explains Jim. “When the lights go down, it disappears never to be seen or experienced the same way again.” Jim says that the work of theatre is magical and the process is where the magic begins.
To better grasp this art, Jim outlines five things that make theatre unique from other arts. Theatre is:
- Acted: It involves actors using body, mind and voice to portray characters in conflict in an imagined world.
- Collaborative: It depends on cooperation among a group of creators.
- Temporal: The event occurs within a specific time frame. A performance exists only in the here and now; no two performances are alike.
- Interactive: It involves the shared presence and interaction of actors and audience to exist.
- A Composite Art: It allows for the linking of all art forms–literature, visual arts, music and dance.
Since theatre only really exists when performed before an audience, it is only its bare essence that can be contained in a few pictures of performances and people involved. Theatre work has so many aspects that our description here can only scratch the surface.
The Journey Begins
Jim earned a BSE degree from NIU in speech and theatre and an MA in technical theatre also from NIU.
Talking with Jim about his life journey, he says “My quest actually began while still in college. At the time, of course, I didn’t realize that it was to become my quest. That my life path would become a series of windmills one behind the other into the future. It began simply as a simple question during my first months on campus. ‘Where are the girls?’ The response was auditions for the fall play were taking place and that was most likely the answer to my question. I went to the theatre building and auditioned. I didn’t get a part as an actor in the show, but what I did find was a home.
My discovery of theatre prompted an angry response to my education up to that point. My elementary school had never mentioned theatre. My high school career had never included it in my program. Why was this hidden from me for all those years? I found in theatre a fulfillment, a gratification of a hunger, the treasure I had not known I had been seeking because for me up to that point, theatre did not exist.
Bringing theatre into the lives of people who were unaware of it became my quest. Logically, I thought that since my first missed opportunity to learn of this wondrous thing called theatre was during my younger school years, it was there that I would begin tilting at my first windmill.”
The Viking Drama Club, Viking School, Gurnee.
The Viking Drama Club is now 41 years old and was formed by Jim and a group of students with whom he had been working. He was their substitute teacher and had taken over for a teacher who was on maternity leave. Together they decided to take the small drama offerings and make them into something larger. Their first show, The Ugly Duckling, a one-act comedy by A.A. Milne, was produced with the help of a loan from the student council. The Principal, Verna Rocheleau, was enthusiastic in her support and provided the fertile ground from which the club has grown.
From the beginning, Jim shaped the club to empower young adolescents. All of the work was placed in the hands of young people to complete. The club philosophy is based on strong ensemble traditions. No one person is more important than any other. Hard work and taking care of the details will produce quality results. With each new theatrical project they would attempt something untried and challenge themselves to raise the bar on expectations. “Our search to fulfill the demands of the theatre muses continues to be our goal” said Jim.
As a theatre director working with young artists, Jim says “Adults must learn when to stand back and know when to lend a hand, to know when to jump in with aid and to know when to let failure be the teacher, to be there when a question is asked and when it isn’t, to guide to a standard of quality and demand it in the work of the untrained, to make sure you show them the correct way to produce quality and make sure they follow your direction even if it means redoing, redoing, redoing. Be willing to let them run with a wild idea and follow behind. Have the courage to listen to their wisdom and guide their journey with understanding and love.”
Jim’s next quest began in 1979 when he was working with the City of Waukegan for a year as the Supervisor of Code Enforcement. The mayor, Bill Morris, was convinced that shows at the Genesee Theatre would serve as an economic engine to drive the revitalization of downtown Waukegan. Knowing that Jim had a background in theatre, the mayor tasked Jim with the mission to bring shows to the theatre. The theatre at the time was still a movie venue run by Plitt Theatres but still owned by the original owners family Buster Brummond.
Through numerous negotiations with the Plitt organization and an enthusiastic Mr. Brummond, the door was opened to clean up the dressing rooms, replace plumbing, install showers, repair needed stage equipment and generally make the theatre ready to receive a production. As this place was set to spinning, another had to be started. Locating an appropriate national touring show to bring in to re-open the Genesee.
After a lengthy national search, it was decided that Show Boat with Forrest Tucker would be the first production. The show was standing room only at the then 1800-seat venue. The journey was exciting but after about ten years, in 1990, the theatre closed.
Several years later, the efforts continued when Steve Kolber, Ray Shepardson, Jim Neal and a host of others joined forces to renovate the historic Genesee into the Waukegan showplace that it is today.
Set Design, Lighting Design, Theatre Design
Bowen Park Theatre
Scenic design, construction and lighting design for Royal Family.
Scenic design, lighting, sound and construction supervision of 14-18 year-old crew for Hairspray 2013.
Scenic design, lighting, sound, and construction supervision of 14-18 year-old crew for Aida.
Scenic design, lighting, sound and construction supervision of 12-14 year-old crew for Peter Pan.
Scenic design, lighting, sound and construction supervision of 12-14 year-old crew for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Scenic design, lighting, sound and construction supervision of 12-14 year-old crew for Honk!.
“In theatre, art is measured in the work. After 48 years of actively serving my muse of theatre, savoring the memories of past work and wonderful relationships formed enriches quiet moments in my life,” says Jim.”But theatre is an art of the now. Not ‘What did you do?, but ‘What will you do next?’.”