Accent on Youth

This past weekend two local productions were aimed directly at youngsters. One was performed by a mix of older (college grads) and younger actors and the other, by a definitely young cast. Garbed in tee-shirts, overalls and (literally) dog-eared caps in primary colors, Red Dog (Brian Wells), Blue Dog (Diana Meidan Zhao), Green Dog (Anna Harris) and Yellow Dog (Regina Warren) joined two spotted “dalmatians”, M.C. Dog (Kyle Curtis) and Hattie (Breanna Kelly),  in a day and a night of non-stop (excepting intermission) doggie adventures. There was no doubt that this was aimed strictly at the pre-teen audience members, but that didn’t stop their accompanying adults in sharing the many laughs as the lop-eared canines played and slept (“Dogs sleep at night” except these didn’t) through a series of extremely physical anticshart  The best for me was watching the very young viewers watch the on-stage action. It was in the Warner Studio Theatre where the audience was only an arms-length away from the actors and many in the front row reached out to greet the “dogs” throughout the performance. They was no need to suspend disbelief. They absolutely believed! It was an object lesson of how to prepare the audience of tomorrow through a thoroughly entertaining performance today. And, at an hour and 15 minutes, was definitely within their attention span. “Go, Dog,Go!” coninues Wednesday through Sunday. At the Bristol Opera House, the newly-named E.C. Team (replacing the redundant Elkhart Civic Theatre Youth Theatre) offered “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” for one weekend only. The cast was made up of all young people, the oldest one or two in high school but, although there were no program listings, it was obvious that most were from area middle schools.  Directed by Karen Johnson, the two dozen cast members acquitted themselves and their director admirably. In the title role, Joel Lininger made every line distinguishable, even to the rear of the house, and never lost a bit of dialogue.  He was on stage in every scene and carried off this formidable assignment with ease, whether he was fighting (or getting “engaged”), he took it all in stride. Undoubtedly a leading man in the making. The surrounding cast also paid attention to the basics of stage craft: How to stand, how to deliver dialogue and how to create a character. This was most obvious in the featured players, notably Dakota Miller who played Aunt Polly, Andrew Scott as Tom’s smug, tattle-tale brother Sid, and Ted Field as Tom’s partner-in-crime Huckleberry Finn. The group of Tom’s peers, both male and female,  (with special notice to the “smallest,” McKenna Kaczanowski, who was a clear as a bell) handled their roles well. Not only did this group deliver the lines without stumbling, they also served as the stage crew to shift the set pieces from one of the many required locations to the other and did so swiftly and quite silently, allowing the many scenes of the two-act production to flow easily. To those of us who wonder about the casts and crews of the coming seasons, it was a real shot in the arm .. or the program. Only wish some brief bios could have identified the ages, schools and — even at their ages — possible “theatrical experience.” Maybe for the next E.C. Team production, which will be a musical, “Willie Wonka Jr.” to be presented Feb. 13-15 at the Opera. A cast of 50 is planned to include ages 8 to 18. Auditions at 10 a.m. Dec. 6 at the BOH. I do encourage all young people with any interest in being on or off-stage to give it a try!

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