Dreams really do come true
VAIL ” For 40 local kids, fairy tales are more than dressing up and dreaming. Once upon a time is becoming a dream come true for aspiring actors in a mini “Cinderella” musical.
Kids ranging in age from 8 to 15, some hailing all the way from Denver, spent their days onstage for the past four weeks. Juggling other summer engagements, they committed themselves to theater from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. every weekday. The two casts of main characters ” one for each performance ” rehearsed an additional two hours after dinner.
“It’s a learning process,” Vail Valley Children’s Theater director Gretta Assaly said. “They each have their own little journey.”
Theater gives kids an opportunity to make friends outside their age group. The directors said they’ve watched the older children take on mentor roles while the younger kids absorb advice from their older peers.
“I’ve had bigger roles in the past, but this year was my time to step down and help other kids,” said 13-year-old princess Susanna DeChant. “Even when I’m not a lead role, people look up to me. We have to be supportive of one another.”
Assistant director Leslie Randle Chapman said she sees children adapting in situations where even professionals sometimes struggle.
Chapman sits in the dim Battle Mountain High School auditorium ” the cast’s second rehearsal site after Brush Creek Elementary ” and shouts orders to stepsisters, godmothers and kings, “yelling over them, not at them.” Instead of hurt feelings, the result is a perfected twirl across stage, in-sync sneezes or a clearer delivery of lines.
“These kids are so willing to give,” she said. “It’s astounding to see how they’ve taken over leadership roles. They teach the younger kids rules for theater, and it’s more believable coming from a peer than from us.”
In many ways, Assaly said, the scripted tale of wish-granting and dream-making parallels the achievements of children pursuing their dreams onstage.
“Everyone has the opportunity to meet their individual goal, whether they dream of pursuing a life in theater or learning their lines to perform at the amphitheater,” she said.
Fairy godmother Maddie Pell, age 12, said her three years in children’s theater has helped her work toward her dream of becoming a movie star.
“My character grants wishes, and she’s granted mine,” she said. “It’s a story that helps you dream.”
Jessica Long, 9, and Anna Tedstrom, 11, share center stage as Cinderella. Acting lets them dress, act, feel, talk and walk like they usually can’t, they said.
“‘Cinderella’ gives kids the message to keep going for their dream no matter how hard it is,” said Long, who has Broadway aspirations.
But the best part about their lead role? The dress, without a doubt.
Some kids have already graced the stage for several years. Others have their talents honed by acting parents or take classes from Assaly. Still more are giving acting its first chance, like 15-year-old Sierra Murphy Pope, who nailed the part of the stepmother in spite of her self-described shyness.
“You can be really creative and colorful and exuberant with your character,” she said. “You can do things you’d never be able to do in real life when you’re acting.”
The one thing all the kids have in common is “a little ham,” associate director Dick Gustafson said. But he’s not interested in fostering celebrities.
“Whether they go on in theater is not important,” he said. “The kids learn to present themselves, make entrances, stand in front of an audience, develop character and confidence. That applies to everything.”
Three-year stage veteran Mark Siegel, who plays Prince Charming this year, said nerves are never an issue for him.
“When you have the presence, you feel like you can do anything. You’re not afraid to show who you are,” the 10-year-old said. “When you go outside of theater to something new, you can do it.” Acting has also given him confidence in the classroom, he said. He’s more likely now to volunteer to answer questions in class.
“Anybody is able to go up on stage,” Siegel said, just like a forlorn servant girl can transform into a glamorous princess. “It’s a dream come true. It really is a Cinderella story.”
Staff Writer Brooke Bates can be reached at email@example.com.
Children’s theater isn’t just an opportunity for actors. Kids also get a chance to become singers, dancers, directors, stage managers and costume designers.
Emma Ouimette, 13, loves to act, but her goal is to attend Parsons School of Fashion Design. In addition to playing Princess Isabella in “Cinderella,” she is in charge of costuming.
“You can see the show from one perspective onstage, but it’s different from back here. It’s fun to see people’s expressions when they put on a costume they love or hate. They get to be someone they’re not and wear something they wouldn’t.”
Although he has acted in Eagle Valley High School productions before, this is 11-year old Harry Cessna’s first year with the children’s theater. When he’s not on the ski slopes, football field or baseball diamond, he’s sneaking around backstage. You can see him in front of the curtain, too, but his biggest role is as the stage manager. When King Darling hobbles out on a cane or the fairy godmother waves her wand, Cessna played a part in getting the prop onstage.
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