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'Stuart Little' set to delight audiences of all ages

Oregon City Children’s Theatre’s production of “Stuart Little,” the story of a tiny mouse and his adventures, is set to open on July 17, and audiences will find the show delightful, said director Michelle Leigh.

She fell in love with “Stuart Little,” when her daughter, Beth Dodge, was in the Oregon City High School production in 2013. And this is significant to Leigh, because now Dodge, 19, “is bringing a lot of energy to her role as assistant director.”

Stuart Little’by: PHOTO BY MICHELLE LEIGH - Double cast as Stuart Little are Jarrison Bolan, left, and Clayton Menta. The narrators behind them are: Azalinn Ennis, Jamaica Leland, Carmen Kamhoot, Ava Johnson, Alexis Davis and Kamryn Bolan.

“Stuart Little” will be the 23rd production for OCCT, which got its start 10 years ago, when Dodge, then 9, asked her mom to start a children’s theater company so she could be in plays.

The play is based on the famous children’s book of the same name by E.B White, and it is “very much a fantasy,” Leigh said.

The Little family lives in New York, and they decide to adopt a mouse, who is “immediately accepted and not seen as abnormal,” she said.

After facing a series of challenges, mostly involving cats and dogs, Stuart befriends a bird, who flies away. He decides to follow her, and for someone so small, that journey is quite an undertaking, Leigh said.

Because she wanted to “create a storybook world” for her production, Leigh contacted Mark Schwahn, the theater production manager at OCHS, and bought “a significant number of set pieces and props,” including the main set piece, an 8-foot by 10-foot book, with 10 illustrated pages, which the narrators turn as the play progresses.

Leigh likes to produce plays that challenge her actors, and “Stuart Little” gives all of her 39 actors at least one character to play.

“This show provides a solo moment for the actors and they have all risen to the occasion,” she said.

Lessons

Although the show is a comedy aimed at children, there are many lessons to be learned in “Stuart Little,” Leigh said.

Unlike the movie of the same name, the book and the play really have no neatly wrapped up ending, with Stuart pointing out that the “journey doesn’t end, and you should never let your physical attributes stop you.”

One of Stuart’s characteristics is that he loves to help people, Leigh said, noting that at one point in his journey he takes on the role of a substitute teacher.

His students “learn something; he teaches them life skills, like how to live and value human life and each other.”

It is that scene, in fact, that is Dodge’s favorite in the play, partly because she directed it, and partly because many of the young actors in the classroom scene were some of the shyest at first, and she loved “seeing them go over the top.”

Fast-paced show

Both Leigh and Dodge commented on the fact that they have enjoyed seeing their young actors, most between the ages of 7 to 15, embrace the process of performing and staging this non-stop show.

“This is a children’s storybook; you can’t be too animated. There is only one act, so once you go on there is no stopping — it moves really fast,” Leigh said.

“Some of those really shy kids have really stepped up. One girl, who is nearly 12, has got a part with two or three pages of lines. And she’s playing the role of a man with a Southern accent; she’s got the cutest character going on,” Dodge said.

Dodge and her mother had a difficult decision to make at auditions, when they had two exceptional young men audition for Stuart.

In the end, after consulting both of the boys and their families, it was decided to double cast the role, so that both Jarison Bolan, 13, and Clayton Menta, 12, could play Stuart.

“They were both ecstatic to be offered the part and they immediately bonded,” Leigh said, noting that each boy plays Stuart for three performances, and that both boys also have small roles on the nights when they aren’t playing the title character.

“It’s a slightly different show, because they are very different boys, but they both have the gentle demeanor of Stuart; their goal is to not be identical and the process has worked,” Leigh said.

Audiences will like “how sincere Stuart is; he is the most ‘normal’ character, while everyone else is in a fantasy world,” Dodge said, adding, “It is kind of like a Disney movie — there are jokes for kids and jokes for adults.”

Family affair

Although this is Dodge’s first actual stint as an assistant director, she has been choreographing OCCT shows since 2010 and on occasion filled in for her mom.

She was active in the OCHS drama program, has appeared onstage in Clackamas Community College productions this past year and can currently be seen as an extra in Clackamas Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Philadelphia Story.”

And, of course, she has been in every OCCT production since 2005.

She took on the challenge of assistant directing, because she has “been looking to understand more of the backstage elements,” and all aspects of theater work.

Her biggest challenge?

“It is so difficult to try to form something in my brain into words that small children can understand; I’ve got those words in my head, but they can’t see my vision,” Dodge said.

She is looking ahead to continuing to study theater in college, either at UCLA or Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

And she is already planning for the summer of 2015, when she will be the sole director of OCCT’s “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.”

Enjoy the journey!

What: Oregon City Children’s Theatre presents “Stuart Little”

When: July 17, 18, 19, 24 and 25 at 7 p.m. and July 26 at 1 p.m.

Where: Old Oregon City High School’s Jackson campus, 1302 12th St.

Tickets: Adults, $7, and students/seniors, $5.

Details: For more information or to purchase tickets, visit occtheatre.org.



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