Aspiring actor set to take on Broadway

September 27, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like ...

Rodney Keener

Age: 22

Hometown: Hagerstown

Where would you see Keener? This summer, Keener was one of the cast members of the seasonal shows at Hersheypark. The 2002 North Hagerstown High School graduate was part of a four-person ensemble as part of the "In Your Own Backyard" program, an interactive musical production that included puppets.

Keener said they performed the show, geared to preschool and elementary-school age children, four to five times a day, seven days a week. The show's focus was on animals and plants found in the backyard, and included singalongs of familiar folk-rock songs originally sung by musicians such as The Turtles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley.

The connection between the performers and the audience appealed to Keener, and he said that's why he wants to go into live theater.


Performances were held outside, which meant dealing with the heat and occasional rain. Keener said the performers cooled off in the air-conditioned break room and drank lots of water.

"If the audience could stick it out, we could, too," said Keener, who was raised on a farm near Cearfoss.

Keener's experience in productions at North High, Washington County Playhouse and Potomac Playmakers, and as a puppeteer with Hagerstown Lighthouse Puppeteers provided the training he needed for his job at Hersheypark. He had auditioned at a regional audition in Boston at the New England Theatre Conference and was selected by Hersheypark.

Kathy Burrows, public relations manager at Hershey, said about 70 performers are hired each summer and work from May through Labor Day.

"It's fairly competitive," Burrows said.

Keener, the son of Wilmer and Lois Keener, graduated from Shenandoah University in 2006 with a degree in music theater. He said he enjoyed working for a respected company such as Hershey, as well as being near his brother, who is in his last year of residency at Hershey Medical Center.

The demanding performance schedule was good preparation as Keener moves to the next phase in his career. He has moved to Manhattan, and hopes to audition for stage theater, with performing on Broadway his ultimate goal.

"You have to have inner motivation - you get rejected 90 percent of the time. My job is not to be an actor, but to audition," Keener said. "I'm excited about New York. It'll be a lot different from Hagerstown."

Hobbies: The Washington County native said he likes to watch movies, stay in touch with college friends through the Internet and enjoys cooking. He said chocolate chip cookies are his specialty.

What does Keener like best about Washington County? Keener said his parents always were good to him, taking him to the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and live theater performances when he was young. He credits them for encouraging their children to pursue their passions.

Keener likes that Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are close to Washington County, and that it's not too far from New York City. He also likes the beauty of the area.

"I'll miss Maryland," Keener said. "It's going to be a long journey."

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, call Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024, or send an e-mail to

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