Our Favorite Gentle Optimist - Petite Opera Speaks with Charlie Brown

Austin Illenberg Portrays the Gentle Optimist, Charlie Brown, in Petite Opera's upcoming production

Austin Illenberg
He always seems to get the wrong end of the stick, the psychiatrist's advice, or the football, and yet Charlie Brown remains gentle, optimistic, highly empathetic and a central link to his friends--even though they don't realize it.  Petite Opera's staff spoke with Austin Illenberg about his lovable, and deeply vulnerable character, Charlie Brown.

What roles have you performed in the Chicago area?  Which groups have you worked with?
Some of my previous roles have been Holmes from The Secret Garden, Ching Ho from Thoroughly Modern Mille, Dr. Einstine from Arsenic and Old Lace, and The Master of Ceremonies from Massenet’s Cendrillon.  Some of the companies I have worked for are Edge of the Wood, Glenview Theater Guild, Big Deal Productions, The Silhouette Players, and of course, Petite Opera Productions.

Which role have you most enjoyed portraying, or are you most proud of and why?
If I had to pick one role it would absolutely be Ching Ho.  I had to learn all of my dialog by ear because it was all in Chinese.  Everything I did in that show was Chinese, two dialects--Mandarin and Cantonese--to be precise.  It was also just such a fun experience to get to work off of two amazing performers in Marian Kaderbek as Mr. Meers and Steve Malone and Bun Foo.

What are your upcoming engagements?
I’m not currently slated to be performing in any shows at the moment however, I do want to promote Glenview Theater Guild’s upcoming production of Into The Woods.  They are an absolutely wonderful group and put on some of the best community theater around.

What fascinates you about the CHARLIE BROWN character in Snoopy?
I’ve always loved Charlie Brown for just never giving up no matter what happens, and sometimes I wish that I had that kind of fortitude.  It really does amaze me that such a depressing kind of character can be such an optimist at times.

What do you think the other SNOOPY characters feel towards CHARLIE BROWN?
Oh the list could go on and on for this one.  The rest of the gang can like Charlie Brown or they can hate him with a passion and there is very little wiggle room in between.  As Charlie Brown has said more than once, he’s either the hero or the goat.  Sadly for him, he is more often the goat.

What is the most enlightening thing CHARLIE BROWN learns through the course of the show?
I’m not quite sure how to answer this without really delving into the finale of the show, and I can’t do that--you'll just have to come see the show for the ending! But in broad strokes, the thing that Charlie Brown learns in this show is that no matter what, his friends are there, even if they can be a little bit crazy at times.

How are those characteristics embodied in you as a performer?
When you really look at him as a character, Charlie Brown can be rather complex since he shows quite a lot of contradiction.  If I’m being brutally honest about myself, I can be that wishy-washy blockhead at times.  But just like Charlie Brown, I am naturally an optimist despite how grim things appear.

What do you find most difficult about portraying CHARLIE BROWN?
The hardest thing about portraying Charlie Brown is to be natural about it.  It is very easy to simply turn Charlie Brown into a caricature of what I see in the cartoon specials because that is always the first thing I think of when I picture the Peanuts gang.  I grew up with these characters, became Charlie Brown for Halloween in second grade--you get the picture.  So it is very easy to get it into my head that that cartoon is how this character is supposed to be.

Why do you think patrons should come see this show over any other options they have for Apr 25-May 4, 2014?
This show is a little gem, but is not performed very frequently. For six performances, Petite Opera offers the unique opportunity to see it and share the lives of the characters. Not only that, but this cast is one of if not the most talented group of people I have ever had the privilege to work with.  And, honestly, this is the quality Petite Opera consistently produces; the company always put on amazing shows featuring amazingly talented people, and demonstrates just astounding quality.

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Petite Opera performs SNOOPY!!! the musical April 25-27, May 2-4, 2014 at Mary Wilson House Beyer Auditorium, part of St. Mary's Episcopal Church campus, 306 S Prospect Ave at Crescent Ave (enter on Crescent Ave), Park Ridge, IL.  Call 847-553-4442 to reserve tickets, or purchase tickets online via credit card (convenience charges apply to credit card orders). 
Petite Opera is a professional 501c3 opera company

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