When the term ‘father and son bonding’ comes up in water cooler conversation, it is mostly regarding a common love of sports, fishing, or even hunting wild game. This has been the norm for hundreds of years, and is presented to us through cultural milestones in the form of novels, film, television, and theatre. It is within the form of theatre that one father and son are sharing a strong common bond for the arts here in Delaware County at The Media Theatre.

Sean O’ Neill, who made his stage debut at the tender age of three in Artistic Director Jesse Cline’s production of “The Who’s Tommy” is now six (soon to be seven) years old and has quite a list of stage credits. He has been in almost every youth production at The Media Theatre during the past two years, including Disney’s “101 Dalmatians”, “Pinkalicious”, and “The Wizard of OZ”. He is currently The Fox in “Rumpelstiltskin”, rehearsing now for performances each weekend in February.
Father and son: Henry O' Neill with Sean, his six year old who has been acting at The Media Theatre for over three years. Henry now follows in his son's footsteps with his stage debut in "Diary of Anne Frank" 
Now, after seeing his son’s love for the theatre, his father Henry is following in his son’s footsteps. Henry makes his acting debut in “The Diary of Anne Frank” at The Media Theatre January 29 to February 16.

“My son is who he is,” Henry O’ Neill said proudly. “We noticed he had a passion for singing and acting at a very early age. That’s what makes him tick. Before he became involved with shows I had honestly rarely ever set foot in a Broadway style theatre. It just wasn’t my thing. Of course I always loved rock music, particularly the oldies. But theatre? Heck I barely knew what it meant, let alone have a desire to become involved in it.”

Henry is a police officer in Prospect Park. “Being a policeman puts me in a lot of difficult situations,” he explained. “You see the best of people, and the worst that life can bring. You tend to bottle your emotions and wear as tough a demeanor as possible.”

However, his son’s venture into the world of live theatre helped to change that. “When I see my son on stage I light up,” Henry said. “It started to make me realize that everyone is different and everybody walks a different road in life. Some guys like sports, some become members of the police force, and some become actors or singers. My son Sean was born with the desire to constantly communicate through the arts, so my world opened up a lot.”

When director Cline invited Henry to portray one of the Nazi collaborators in “The Diary of Anne Frank”, it did not take Mr. O’ Neill very long to respond. “I checked my schedule and the rehearsal schedule,” he said. “Then I immediately said yes. It’s extremely important to me to find out more about my son’s world. There is no better way for me to support him than by doing what he does, even if it’s for a few minutes in a show. He is, after all, a part of me and I support him one hundred percent.”

Henry and his wife Karen have been involved in other ways at The Media Theatre for the past few years. “Whenever Sean is in a show here we do whatever we can to help out,” he said. “We help backstage, we usher, we assist the school busses that come to Sean’s shows—we do whatever we can. We enjoy being a part of what it is that our son loves.”

“Last Christmas when we asked Sean what he wanted Santa to bring him he said he wanted a piano,” Henry says with the beam of a proud father. “So we got him a keyboard. Now our family got into the act and his uncle, this year, got him a karaoke machine. He sings all the time, like constantly. Our oldest boy is into sports. So we have quite a household. The youngest boy is not quite old enough yet to be able to figure any of it out!”

The O’ Neill Family is very appreciative of The Media Theatre. “Everyone here is so supportive and works hard to make sure that children like Sean have a place that can become their second home,” he said. “For me, after working the beat in Delaware County, which I also love—coming here to the theatre helps me to relax and breathe easier.”

The other policemen in Henry’s district have also chipped in, in their own way, to support the theatre. “When “Spamalot” was here this past fall, we had a special night out for the force and their wives to support the Delaware County Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation and the theatre itself,” he explained. “We had a nice reception upstairs, relaxed with friends, and saw one of the funniest shows ever. We felt good about it because we were together for a purpose, to support our own cause and to bring people out to the theatre. It’s my son’s safe haven where he can be himself and have a great time. I’m forever connected to this theatre.”

Jesse Cline, who directed young Sean in “The Who’s Tommy” years ago and who now is working with his father in “The Diary of Anne Frank”, said, “This is the finest example of a father and son who share a common bond which is artistic rather than athletic. That’s what makes it unique. We’re happy to have the O’ Neill family as a part of The Media Theatre family.”

To see Henry O’ Neill make his stage debut in “The Diary of Anne Frank” which plays January 29 to February 16, call 610-891-0100 or visit mediatheatre.org. The play is based on the journal of a young girl who hid in an attic for two years with her family in Amsterdam to escape the Nazis.


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