The Arthropologist

Kids on stage: Acting in-between homework in Houston

Kids on stage: Acting in-between homework in Houston

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Chance Bednorz as the young Herman Brood in Catastrophic Theatre's production of "BLUEFINGER," running through Dec. 17 at DiverseWorks. Photo by Anthony Rathbun
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Eleni McGee , left, and Christina McGee in the Houston Ballet's "The Nutcracker" Photo by Amitava Sarkar
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Real-life daughter and father, Caleigh Doran and Justin Doran, as onstage daughter and father, Anna and John, in Main Street Theater's production of "Breakfast at Eight" Courtesy of
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David Heaton stars as Patrick Dennis in "Auntie Mame" by Stages Repertory Theatre. Photo by Bruce Bennett
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From the Houston Grand Opera's production of "Madame Butterfly," Trevor Casey, left, as Sorrow and Ana Maria Martinez as Cio-Cio San Photo by Felix Sanchez
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Anthony Dean Griffey (Peter Grimes) and Parker Robertson (John the apprentice) in HGO's production of "Peter Grimes" Photo by Felix Sanchez
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Pinkerton has to be the world's worst opera cad. He fake marries Cio Cio San, then leaves her with his child. I wonder though, would Madame Butterfly be a three-hankie opera without 4-year-old Trevor Casey as Sorrow, tearing our hearts out?

Somehow, the presence of a real child on stage drives home the point that Cio Cio San stands at a gut wrenching threshold in her life. Casey's delicate presence framed against Christopher Oram's minimalist set amplifies the pathos. The young actor is on stage for the majority of Act II and III in the recent Houston Grand Opera (HGO) production, directed by Michael Grandage. It's simply a marvel to watch this tiny man run into his doomed mother's arms, evidence of a powerful chemistry with the glorious soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Cio Cio San.

Kids freak me out a bit. Kids on stage, even more so.

I worry about silly things. Are they aware that possibly 2,000 people are watching them? Is there time to do their homework? Do they understand the play? Is  mom stressing out in the wings? I even wonder what parts of their childhood they might be missing by taking part in a play when they could be off doing normal kid stuff.

On the other hand, watching 20-plus-year-olds play teens in Glee, Friday Night Lights and other television shows has its own silliness. As a former high school theater drama mama, I watched my own sons play characters from ages 20-75. No amount of gray hair spray and makeup can do the job.

The chameleon-like Elizabeth Bunch got away with playing Wendy in the Alley Theatre's production of Peter Pan because she can, but for the most part, theater works best when we get the age part right. 

Casey may have been the youngest, but he was just one of a slew of children on Houston's professional stages this season, each adding to the richness of theater in this city. I stopped in to visit with a few and found them a happy, confident and well-adjusted lot, enjoying the rigor and magic of a life on stage.

Caleigh Doran had a short scene at the very end of Thomas Hagemann's biting drama, Breakfast at Eight, at Main Street Theaterwhere she played opposite her father, Justin Doran. With themes of adultery and the fragility of marriage, it's hardly a play you would want your child to see, yet her scene gave closure to all the issues raised in the Hagemann's clever script. Without it and Caleigh's jubilant presence, the piece would suffer.

"They turn the speakers off back stage so I don't hear the bad words," Caleigh says, giggling. "My father explained the story to me though."

Caleigh also performed in the Alley's A Christmas Carol a number of times. "Acting with my dad at the Alley was my favorite experience so far," she adds.

Eleni and Christina McGee may be pocket-sized, but the sisters already have a wealth of experience behind them already, including performances in Marie, Pecos Bill, La Bayadere, La Sylphide, and numerous appearances in Ben Stevenson's The Nutcracker.  Right this minute they are probably backstage getting ready to emerge from Mother Ginger's colossal skirt.

The McGee sisters have all the discipline you might expect from budding ballerinas when it comes to schoolwork.

"I do my homework during study hall," says Christina, 11. "I bring my homework, and yes it can be challenging, but it teaches you to manage your time," says Eleni, 13.

As for their future, the siblings agree that it's way too soon to choose a career. The both have other interests like soccer. For now, they are enjoying the limelight, the cool costumes, and hanging out with their friends on stage and off. 

I did not get to visit with Chance Bednorz who plays the young Herman Brood in The Catastrophic Theatre's production of Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood, but I did get to see him twice. The rocker/junkie/artist Brood's complex character leaves us curious about his childhood. Bednorz's short, but potent, scenes ground us in a life that had a beginning, which was indeed charged with wonder, astonishment and a restless imagination. 

Parker Robertson played John in the HGO production of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. Since Grimes has a troubling habit of putting young boys in peril, John's character cuts to the heart of the opera's disturbing core. It's a physical role, intensely emotional and complicated by numerous stage directions. Our suspicions about Grimes deepen by Robertson's convincing performance, which adds to the opera's high anxiety atmosphere.

"It took a lot of rehearsal but the director helped me with a lot of the thinking involved in the role," Robertson says. "I also had to learn how to cry on demand. It was hard work."

Roberston is no newbie; he has appeared in many a HITS Theatre show, naming Captain Hook in Peter Pan as his favorite. 

David Heaton played Patrick Dennis, the legendary orphan, in the Stages Repertory Theatre's production of Auntie Mame, which opened their season. With a substantial part and a several week run, Heaton was one busy boy. He solidly held his ground with the likes of such Houston talents as Sally Edmundson and David Matranga. Heaton found a soul mate in the character of Patrick, who goes to live with his eccentric aunt.

"I have an Aunt Jackie who is adventurous and a lot of fun to spend time with," he says. "Also sometimes, Patrick is over the top and so am I."

The young actor has both chops and a serious resume to boot. 

Right now, you can find Heaton in the dual roles of Peter Cratchit and the teen Scrooge in the Alley Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol -A Ghost Story of Christmas, his fourth Alley Christmas Carol. He has also appeared in shows at Family Arts Center, Country Playhouse and Playhouse 1960.

"I like acting because I can be many different people that I can't be in real life," he says. "I would love to continue developing my acting skills through high school, college and even beyond if I can."

Heaton has some advice for other young actors considering the professional stage: "The first time can be a bit scary, but just take some deep breaths and enjoy yourself."


Catch a glimpse of Trevor Casey  in the HGO production of Madame Butterfly

Parker Roberston and Anthony Dean Griffey in HGO's Peter Grimes