Is it Evan or Bryan? Who starred in “Cinderella” versus “Guys and Dolls”? Which twin is going to Alabama or Northeastern? Parents Michelle and Michael Penn can indeed tell them apart as they sought out the best programs and encouraged the twins to express themselves theatrically and parlay that into college choices.
Michelle recounts, “It is always a pleasure to see your children do what they love. As theater lovers ourselves, it was amazing to be able to watch them perform in high quality shows. We had wonderful drama teachers and great programs in their schools.” She added that being in drama programs teaches responsibility, timeliness and being part of an ensemble. “They had incredible experiences in a variety of shows, musicals, Shakespeare, dramas and comedies.”
Bryan and Evan recently graduated Johns Creek High School and shared their “Oscar winning” experiences.
AJT: How would you define talent?
Bryan: I believe it’s learned. Some people have a stronger genetic affinity for singing, and because they like it, they sing often and work harder to improve. There is no way to constantly work on something you love without getting better.
AJT: Have you been competitive in seeking parts?
Evan: Bryan and I definitely have our own strengths and weaknesses. Rarely has our high school director even considered us for the same roles. I am more comfortable singing higher notes, while Bryan is more of a baritone. I believe that Bryan is strong at archetypal comedic roles. We have participated in many shows together. If there were two shows in one season, our director would cast us separately to ensure that we had our own space to shine and not confuse the audience.
Bryan: We have both been in almost every show at my high school. Recently, Evan and I were double cast as the role of Frederick in “Noises Off.” It was the only time that happened, but we weren’t competitive about it, and we played the role differently, and well. … Also, we have different “types,” so we usually aren’t going for the same role.
AJT: Of which roles are you most proud?
Bryan: Often the most enjoyable roles are the most challenging. My three favorites are Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls,” Frederick in “Noises Off,” and Valere in “Tartuffe.” Nathan was my first lead role in a musical. It was definitely stressful and a lot to do and remember. My “dream roles” are Marius in “Les Miserables”, Evan Hansen in “Dear Evan Hansen,” and futuristically, Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda.”
Evan: I played Bert Berry in “42nd Street,” Tommy in “The Cover of Life,” and Rusty Charlie in “Guys and Dolls.” One of my most fun roles was Cleante in “Tartuffe,” which was unexpected, as the show is from the 1600s and oddly rhymed. We incorporated over-the-top, stylistic physicality and homemade masks. I basically waddled and squawked on stage, which was joyful. Another role I loved was Lord Pinkleton in “Cinderella,” which allowed me to showcase my singing.
Some dream roles would be Molina in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” or Jesse Tuck from “Tuck Everlasting.”
AJT: Was the college application process daunting?
Michelle: The college audition process was time-consuming, expensive and hectic during senior year. Bryan auditioned for BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in musical theater programs, which are highly selective and very small. His program has only 11 rising freshmen. He knew he had to work very hard to get into a program. Evan decided to look for a strong Bachelor of Arts programs in theater.
Bryan: The process, for me, was crazy. Because I was auditioning for musical theater programs, I applied to several schools. Then I submitted prescreened videos of me singing, acting and dancing. After passing the prescreens, I was invited to audition live. I traveled for six weekends in a row to auditions. It was extremely stressful, yet fun. Luckily, I had help from my voice teacher and acting coach. I plan to attend the University of Alabama for a BFA in musical theater and am super excited!
Evan: The college process was very long and confusing. I had to consider the role theater would play in my life to select a school with a strong BA program, plus the opportunity for other academics. I could not be more excited to continue my love for the arts at such a comprehensive school as Northeastern University and have the entirety of Boston right there.
AJT: What’s your take on being separated for the first time?
Evan: I’m a little nervous. It has been very nice having a companion by my side. However, it is also extremely exciting to be independent and cultivate an individual identity. I am excited to share experiences when we see each other during breaks.
This summer, the twins are volunteering at a drama minicamp for younger students involving dance, music, acting and improv. They are also going to Israel for the first time and working at “In the City” camp.
“Parents with talented kids should find ways for them to shine,” Michelle said. “We were lucky to have wonderful school programs, but not all schools have that. There are many extracurricular programs and camps to learn acting, dance and voice. Theater helps kids in so many ways to express themselves and be more confident!”