WOOD RIVER JUNCTION – “They were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty,” wrote Charles Dickens in his 1843 Novella “A Christmas Carol.” The description perfectly sums up the group of Chariho students who refer to themselves as “the theater kids.”
Currently, they are rehearsing for a presentation of Dickens’ classic tale, wandering on and off the stage in all manner of 19th-Century gowns, caps and knickers. The professionalism of this high school theater company runs high, but they occasionally come out of character to be the kids they are.
“Oh, my God, you really look like the KFC guy,” laughs one actress as a statuesque boy enters the auditorium clad in a crisp white suit, ready to read his lines.
On Dec. 6 and 7 at 7 p.m., and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m., they will bring to life the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser who is visited by three ghosts warning him of his future if he fails to change his ways. Tickets, which can be purchased at the door of the Chariho Middle School auditorium, are $8 for general admission and $5 for students and seniors.
Scrooge is played by senior Andrew Ackroyd who says he is focusing on the emotional path his character takes.
“He goes through this beautiful journey through each of the spirits and learns something very important from each of them,” he said.
While some of the actors learn more about their characters as rehearsals go on, others learn more about themselves through the roles they are playing. “I can’t technically relate to my character,” said sophomore Christian Sullivan, who plays Bob Cratchit. “He’s a father and an adult. But I like his kindness and his heart. It helps me find that in myself. There’s a lot to learn from the characters you’re given an opportunity to play.”
Another sophomore, Alex Celico, who is playing Fred, said that his family moved to the Chariho district this year specifically so he could join the school’s theater company.
“I try to stay original to myself even when I’m playing a well-known character,” he said.
A good portion of the students plan on careers in the arts. Others have become part of the company for different reasons. Senior Conner Pierce, cast as Mr. Wallace, said that he loves the social aspect of the company. “And Miss Burns is the most wonderful person I have ever met,” he added.
Performing arts instructor Rebecca Burns has left a mark on these theater kids that can’t be denied. Junior Madison Lawing, who is playing a charity collector and the ghost of Christmas present, plans to pursue acting or directing.
“Miss Burns is my inspiration,” she said.
That sentiment of inspiration is echoed by every actor in the production.
“She’s perfect. It’s bizarre,” laughed sophomore Tatiana Pezza, who plays the ghost of Christmas future. “She has such a passion for theater and she’s able to pass it on to her students just by being around them. It’s weird, we see her as a teacher and respect her as such but at the same time it’s like she’s everyone’s mom.”
Just by watching the rehearsal, it’s clear that Burns is a perfectionist.
“Where’s the table? Where’s Toby? Just because Toby isn’t here doesn’t mean we don’t bring the table out. Crattchits, we need to semi-hustle! If you forget to give him the pen during the show, you’re not gonna chase him down and throw it at him,” are words that can be heard throughout the auditorium.
But she gives her directions with what the kids clearly see as divine guidance.
“Is that the most logical way to bring that table out? I’m not yelling at you, I’m genuinely curious,” said Burns.
Burns encourages her actors to strive for perfection, but not by taking the easy route.
“I don’t know why I got cast as Jacob Marley,” said senior Hunter Humeston. “I’m a joyful person.”
But Burns said that is precisely why she cast him in such an angry role, for the challenge it afforded him.
Junior Sarah Frost said she is totally comfortable in the role of Mrs. Cratchit.
“She has a crying scene and I’m very good at working my emotions to my advantage,” she laughed.
Nine-year-old Kaylee Lewis of Hope Valley is playing Tiny Tim.
“I’ve done school plays but I’ve never done one that’s this important,” she said.
In the auditorium, the cast has split itself into small groups; rehearsing lines, checking costumes, moving sets. But regardless of where they stand, there is a sense of constant unity.
“I keep joining because of how much I love everyone here,” Humeston said, adding with a smile, “We’re like a dysfunctional family.”
“Everyone here is always cheering each other on,” Pezza echoed. “Theater spreads positivity and I want to be a part of that. It’s an opportunity for everyone to come together through art.”
They gather side by side on the stage to rehearse their curtain calls. “Move with purpose, people!” Burns yells out. And she can be sure they will.