Kids share roles in Vail’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – For the young, Vail Valley actors in the Children’s Theater School’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” it’s all about finding their ‘green umbrellas.’
The green umbrella – theater lingo for the key to a character – can come in the form of a prop, a gesture, a saying or an idea. The 50-plus performers in the play have been searching for this key ingredient since June.
Celia Smith, 13, plays the white rabbit on opening night. She says she’s always reminding herself to think like a bunny.
“Being a rabbit, you have to think about it. You always have to be in character… You always have to be thinking, hopping, ‘Am I late?’, ‘Are my ears OK? No, that’s too girly-girl. I’m a rabbit.'”
Most of the actors share Smith’s dedication. Carol Johnson, an employee at Slifer Designs, has had ample opportunity to see the passion her daughters, –who play the French mouse and an oyster/dormouse/lady-in-court combination – bring back from rehearsals.
“I love seeing it through their eyes,” Johnson said. “They’re so enthusiastic.”
Her hands folded across the striped belly of her oyster costume and her eyes shining, Isabella Rubris, 9, says that she loves the play because it lets her spend so much time with kids her own age.
“We get to be with all our friends. It’s a huge play date,” Rubris said. “It goes by really fast. It’s a lot more fun than just being at home and sitting there.”
The rehearsal schedule demands the high-level of dedication. The young actors, most of whom range in age from 8 to 14 years old, practice five days a week, four to six hours a day.
Gretta Assaly, the director, is in large part responsible for the children’s enthusiasm.
“I think what Gretta offers is really special. It builds self-esteem and enthusiasm. And it’s a lot of fun,” says Johnson. “It’s a big commitment, but a fun one with a lot of rewards.”
Diana Donovan, who sews, manufactures and repairs the costumes, also spoke of Assaly’s ability to draw people into the play.
“Gretta has the ability to make everyone get really into it,” said Donovan.
Indeed, the adults seem just as enthusiastic as the kids. “Alice in Wonderland” marks Diana Donovan’s fourth year volunteering for Assaly’s show. A retired Vail council woman, Donovan said she enjoys seeing the young actors adopt a whole new persona in their costumes.
“They really get into it. They change their personalities. They get a lot of confidence,” said Donovan, as Luke McKeever, 10, proudly strutted by in the yellow and green feathered dodo costume -the “best costume ever” as he termed it.
Cooter Overcash, a Vail firefighter and another dedicated parent, not only plays the caterpillar, but also gives improvisation lessons to the actors.
“He’s the best improv teacher I’ve ever had,” said Smith.
Makena Burner, a 17-year-old Vail Christian High School student, also volunteers her time by painting, designing and building sets.
“The hardest part with anything art related is getting what you see in your head on canvas,” said Burner.
The actors are charged with the same task. The search for the key to a character’s persona, the ‘green umbrella,’ is ultimately a quest to bring the imaginary onto a public stage. And the children look to their fellows in large part for inspiration.
For many of her plays, Assaly also casts kids in multiple roles and has the kids share certain roles.
“We get to move up to a whole new level of acting. It’s kinda really fun,” said Rubris.
Sharing roles imparts an important life lesson as well.
“[The children] were completely selfless. They had a wonderful sense of, ‘We’re all in this together. We’re a community,'” said Assaly.
The sense of unity is stressed as the show’s opening night approaches. Individually, the actors have found their ‘green umbrellas.’ Now the only task left is to bring each separate component together, says Assaly.
“It’s this patchwork,” she said. “It’s gradually bringing all these parts into a quilt.”