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A summer to meet the Bard

South Boston News
Joseph Grendahl
SoVaNow.com / March 27, 2013
Joseph Grendahl, the youngest member of the theatrical Grendahl family of Boydton, overcame shyness and found his passion, acting. This summer he will hone his art at the American Shakespeare Center summer camp in Staunton.

Grendahl said the camp is a three-week Shakespeare intensive study for young actors. He will gain theatre training, performing experience, and have a chance to perform Shakespeare on the Blackfriars stage — the world's only re-creation of the original Elizabethan indoor theatre.

This is more than summer acting camp, Grendahl explains — it is a Shakespearean history lesson where he also gets to act.

Before he departs, Grendahl has to raise the $2,000 in tuition. To accomplish his goal, he is holding a drama recital on April 28 at 4:00 p.m., at the Boydton United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall. "A friend and I will perform a short one-act play, and then I will also perform a monologue." His father Richard adds that, while admission to the recital is free, there will be a "love offering," where people are asked to give any amount they choose to help defray his tuition.

It is hard to believe that the poised young man who freely shares his hopes and expectations for the upcoming summer was once an introvert. "My dad talked me into performing, hoping it would help me make friends,” Grendahl said. At age 7, he played Munchkin Joe in the Wizard of Oz: "It was scary and nerve wracking, but eventually it got easier."

Still, the acting bug did not yet bite him, even though Grendahl admits that "being on stage got easier" by the end of the run of the Wizard of Oz.

It was during his next play — Scrooge the Musical, which again, he was encouraged to do by his father, Methodist minister Richard Grendahl — that Joseph realized that "acting will be my thing.” He explains: "I was an urchin, and on stage throughout most of the play. I got to dance. I made friends. At the same time I was relaxed, my time on stage didn't feel like acting, it felt natural."

Since then, Grendahl has performed on stage in Clarksville, in South Boston at The Prizery, and in South Hill on the Colonial Center stage. Among his many roles, he has been a dancing cowboy in Oklahoma, a shepherd in the Best Christmas Pageant Ever and the dogcatcher and a bum in Annie.

He wishes that Bluestone High School had a drama program, or even a club. At the same time, he enjoys the many friends he has made from South Boston to South Hill as he sought acting opportunities outside of school.

His first major role and first serious drama was in "On Golden Pond." He was the young boy Billy, the one who befriends the aging lead character. Perhaps his most challenging roles was as Eugene in “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” a young teenage Jewish boy, who recalls his youth, living with his parents, his aunt, two cousins, and his brother, Stanley, in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York.

Grendahl unabashedly admits that by the first cast meeting for “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” "I had the first act memorized and by the last week I had most of the play memorized. I have a good memory for play lines."

One skill he does not have, Grendahl says, is singing. He leaves that to his older brother, Eric, and his father Richard. For that reason, he also says he prefers dramas to musicals, but he likes his dramas mixed with a bit of comedy. "I like to make the audience laugh."

With some prodding, Grendahl shares that he has been called a graceful dancer, though he is untrained. My first dancing experience was for the play “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” staged in December at The Prizery in South Boston. "It was fun, but I learned that I was out of shape."

When asked what he hopes to gain from his time with the American Shakespeare Center, Grendahl says, "I want to get out and meet new people like my brother who has friends all over the country. I want to up my acting game by a whole lot and become a better actor. If you can perform Shakespeare, well, there's nothing you can't do."

Grendahl does not think he will become a professional actor, preferring to major in communications. "I know that theater will be in my future, even if it’s just community theater," Grendahl says.

The date of his upcoming drama recital is April 27 at 4:00 p.m. Grendahl adds that those who want to help him pursue his dream, but who cannot make it to the recital, can send a contribution to Joseph Grendahl at P.O. Box 38, Boydton, Virginia, 23917.


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