Performer Spotlight: Khari Neal

I know Kathy Gibson is one of your former professors from Cornerstone. How did she bring you into the Circle family?

Kathy introduced me into the Circle family through the Summer Concert Series. Made in the Mitten was the first concert I took part in and it is one I definitely will not forget. 

What were you the most nervous about as a newcomer to Circle?

Reflecting on it, what I was most nervous about was entering the facility. It was a new and uncharted territory for me. I have always had a desire to perform/entertain. Yet as a growing performer, I have realized both the audience and space offer something different while performing; it’s imperative as an artist to be sensitive to that. 

You have an undeniable contagious energy both on and off stage. Where does that come from?

That energy comes from experience, I suppose. Life is a wonderful teacher and thus far it’s taught me to value my life and the lives of others. Growing up, there were days when my self-esteem was challenged relentlessly; It caused my confidence to waver. But in the midst of that, I still understood as a person I have the ability to impact those around me. Knowing that, I then chose to give and be what in essence what I wanted reciprocated. I wanted to show love and appreciation for one’s self. That your differences, whatever they may be, make you who you are…make you beautiful. Life is too precious to spend it not loving yourself. Granted it is easier said than done at times, BUT I’m a firm believer that what you put into the world, you receive back.

Made in the Mitten (2016)
Saturday Night Fever (2019)

Who in the GR theatre community inspires you? 

Although there are many wonderful people that come to mind, I cannot list them all. To an extent, all of the theatre community inspires me. Specifically, inspiration that comes from those not expected. I think about those that aren’t onstage performing. Those people that are such a vital part, but not always acknowledged or recognized. To the costume designers, tailors, seamstress, lighting and sound technicians; the scenic and set designers, crew, stage and house managers; to the directors, music directors, pit, choreographers and assistant choreographers. To the volunteers that usher and sell concessions; to those in publicity and marketing. To parents that believe AND invest in these future award winners, creators and educators. And to anyone I have missed (I apologize). You all are inspirational in one way or another and I’m inspired by you. 

One of our favorite moments of you on stage at Circle is performing Eminem’s rap from 8 Mile, “Lose Yourself” in not just one, but two different concerts. Rap isn’t a well-known genre to a lot of our patrons – so how did it feel performing that song and then slowly seeing our audience get on board and really enjoy it along with you? 

The first time was somewhat nerve-racking. I presumed it was a genre that may not be customary to the audience, so I was very concerned. But as a performer and artist, I believe I am obligated to make the audience feel; whether that be comfortable or uncomfortable (emotionally and mentally of course!). I believe performing is meant to be enjoyed but also can be a method to educate and experience something different. After rending it both times, it was comforting to see it well-received by the audience.

What are some other experiences where you’ve felt like Circle has allowed for opportunities for self-expression and to explore the kind of artist that you’d like to become?

In the concert “21st Century Broadway”, I took a leap into something I’ve thought about; I wore heels to perform in. I have never done it before and have not seen it done by a male in a concern setting at Circle. I believe that show (opportunity) in particular struck a nerve for me as a performer. It challenged me to embrace a part of me that does not get to shine or be acknowledged (often). After doing it, I must say, it was both liberating and empowering. And I will not be suppressing that part of me any longer because of it. 

Now that you know one of OUR favorite moments of you on stage… what’s one of yours? 

See above response to previous question; totally a favorite moment for sure.

Are there any other Circle experiences you’d like to relive once again? 

There are two moments. The first is performing Lose Yourself in the “Made in the Mitten” concert. The second would be Yorktown in “21st Century Broadway” concert. I selected those two because I reflect back on them both and see growth as in artist in many ways. Close runner-ups are the Season Announcement parties and the Season Kickoff. 

21st Century Broadway (2019)
Saturday Night Fever (2019)

You auditioned/performed in/helped music direct a few different concerts before you started auditioning for Circle’s Main Stage season. What was that transition like? 

The transition felt seamless. By this time, I was acclimated to my surroundings and felt apart of the Circle community. 

Do you have a dream role or a dream show to perform in? 

Currently, My dream show is Kinky Boots. Ones following are: The Lion King, and RENT.

In our theatre community, we’re seeing incredible roles written for people of color or shows that feature larger casts that aren’t just made up of people of color but those that require them. What kind of advice do you have for those who  don’t know how to get involved or those that feel apprehensive about being a newcomer in our theatre community?

The advice I have is simply this: communication. There needs to be space to have dialogue from both parties (between POCs and the theatres that are putting on the productions). It is recognizing that the desire from a person is there, but the connection to the community/place/tools might not be. I would encourage those in production to actively seek out talent from other communities genuinely and have meaningful conversations with those that differ. To those that may feel apprehensive, I empathize. But if you’re looking for a community to care for you, accept you for all of who you are, and gain experience in a theatrical setting, I would encourage you to audition or at most give it serious consideration. Some of the best moments I have had and people I have met are in this very community.  

What have you gained from being a part of Circle? 

Experience and a heightened sense of self-awareness of who I am and where I am. I have gained knowledge that’s both applicable on and off stage. I have also gained memories and friendship that mean a great deal to me.

A lot of people feel like Circle is a family. In what ways do you relate to that? 

Theatre itself is a place where family initially is not expected, but is definitely cultivated and felt long after. You come into a space full of people, all sharing a common goal of sorts, and leave feeling like you have found an extended family (most certainly during a run of a holiday show). You form bonds that–even when the show is over and the curtain has closed–supersede the final bow you’ve all taken together. You don’t seek out family, but it seeks and finds you anyway; especially when you’re in a community/company that understands and practices that ethic. 

What’s next for you? 

Currently, I am entertaining more than one path, performing still being one of them. I definitely desire to be on stage, but my desire to inspire and impact my communities is taking a precedent and manifesting itself in other ways.


Thank you, Khari, for taking the time to answer our questions and share your story! If you are interested in performing in our Concert Series like Khari, find more information about auditions here. Don’t forget to keep up with our blog for future spotlight posts!

21st Century Broadway (2019)