Vernon junior actors reignite classic Christmas performance

Center Stage Performing Arts Academy presents Ebenezer Dec. 15 at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre

While few of the 140 actors were familiar with the production at the beginning, it’s a play they have all come to love.

Center Stage Performing Arts Academy’s junior company presents Ebenezer Dec. 15 at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre.

With a cast comprised of 140 kids, the Christmas carol follows Charles Dickens’ classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge set in 1875 London.

“When I first read it to the kids, they were like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” said Charity Van Gameren, instructor and owner. “And there’s something romantic about Christmas in London at that time.”

Scrooge, an elderly curmudgeon played by 12-year-old Kady Brandel, lives a financially rich but emotionally poor life, with no one to spend his days with other than his money and possessions. But, after a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past (Shayla Lindahl, 11) and Ghost of Christmas Present (Gracie Gilowski, 9) and having a glimpse into his future, Scrooge abandons his selfish ways and embraces the true meaning of Christmas.

“I think that people can connect with the fact that he was alone,” Van Gameren said. “The whole story is about who he was, who he is and where he was going.”

Other than Brandel, who Van Gameren brought in specifically for the role of the grouch, the cast is made up of the Academy’s junior company with actors ranging from kindergarten through Grade 6.

“It’s been fun trying to teach them a bit of a history lesson,” Van Gameren said, noting that roughly 70 per cent of the cast was unfamiliar with the story. “I grew up with that story and I watch it every year.”

And, after Van Gameren’s read through and nearly three months of practice, it’s an appreciation that has transferred to the cast as well.

“I love the movie — it’s awesome,” Gilowski said. “It actually feels really cool (to perform it). I’ve never gotten a huge part before so I’m really excited for the play.”

Gilowski’s character is a sassy ghost, complete with her own rap solo.

“I’ve always loved acting,” Gilowski said. “When I was little, I used to watch Rapunzel — I always used to sing those songs and my sister would record it. This is just who I want to be. It’s fun to be a new character and try new things. It’s just a fun experience.”

She isn’t alone in the cast of 140, with the principals all sharing their love of the art form.

“We would always put on plays for our parents and I always watched plays as a kid. I wanted to be backstage to be a part of that experience,” said Emmah Peterson, 11, who plays Belle — Scrooge’s former paramour. “I just love being a part of the experience and getting to perform on stage is cool. It can be intense but it’s worth it in the end.”

Haylee Fleck, 11, who portrays Bob Cratchit — Scrooge’s underpaid and abused clerk — agreed.

“It’s just really fun and I like being part of the experience,” Fleck said, adding that she has been performing since kindergarten.

Lindahl, who has been performing for three years, seconded Fleck’s notion.

“I really like working with other people and working on stage,” Lindahl said, adding that she revels in the challenge of portraying new characters.

And that challenge is part of the reason Van Gameren selected Ebenezer for the junior company performance.

“These kids are all working on three skills at a time,” Van Gameren said. “I wanted to give them something that made them work on their acting.”

But for Brandel, who had to memorize more than 220 lines for the titular character, the hardest part is becoming an elderly man.

“It’s kind of hard,” Brandel laughed. “I think of myself as a happy person, so getting in character is hard.”

Peterson, Fleck, Lindahl, Brandel, Gilowski and the 135 other cast members have worked hard, though, and the finished product is coming together.

“We did a quick run through and they’re looking really good,” Van Gameren said.

The heartwarming message found within the trials and tribulations of Scrooge have also passed down life lessons to the kids and, hopefully, the audience.

“The reason I love the story is because it’s a story of second chances,” Van Gameren said. “That’s one of the things that has always drawn me to the play.

“In the end, there was forgiveness, acceptance and family, and that’s what we all hope for.”

Center Stage Performing Arts Academy Presents Ebenezer, performed by the junior company, 7 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. Tickets are available for $22 from the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.

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