“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
If a play is your work, and you are a cast member with the Knoxville Children’s Theatre, be prepared to work long and difficult hours. “If your child is working here, it can be a shock that we work as much as we do,” says Dennis Perkins, the theatre’s Resident Director.
“Auditions are a competitive process. No one is automatically cast. Trophies are not given to anyone who auditions,” says Perkins. Rehearsals are Monday through Thursday for 2 hours each night, and 3-4 hours on Sunday. We charge $10 per ticket, so we aim to give a studied performance. Once people see what goes on here during a live performance, it’s easier to trust in the company.”
Perkins adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, opens on Friday, August 16 and continues through Saturday, August 31. On average, the actors range in age from 8 to 17 years. “Sometimes a college student and adults will be cast in roles, but if we can cast a young person, we will. That’s always the goal,” says Perkins. “We have 20 in this cast. We have a good percentage of newcomers. We try to cast more than half 80% with some experience.” But prior experience is no guarantee for landing a role. Perkins says, “Some participants who have been around a theatre for a few years might begin to disrespect the process, and they need to be reminded of it. It’s a good life lesson.”
“He was not the Model Boy of the village. He knew the model boy very well though–and loathed him.” – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
“Our process…is hard. I have to explain this several times. I’m not the nicest guy. You have to work for this. I demand work from them. Until opening night I’m going to push and push. Returning actors make this easier because they know how it’s done,” says Perkins.
“They were missed; they were mourned; hearts were breaking on their account; tears were being shed…” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Some nights you can’t see it coming together, and then all of a sudden it does. And they start to get it. You can see that they now understand. You have some special moments and they [the actors] really come through. It was really thrilling and touching when the older girls in the Tom Sawyer parlor scene came to understand the seriousness of the discussion they were having about Tom and Huck’s ‘death’.”
“Tom was a glittering hero once more. There were some that believed he would be President yet, if he escaped hanging.”- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Knoxville Children’s Theatre offers classes all year long. Classes are divided by age and skills set. Perkins says, “A lot of kids stay with us. We have a core group who take classes and audition.”
Acting 1 (ages 8 to 11): Beginning acting through creative group exercises
Acting 2 (ages 10 to 14) Intermediate acting with voice work, stage movement and character study
Acting 3 (ages 10 to 17) Character building through Shakespeare and audition practice
“When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop–that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can.” – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Perkins read an adaptation of Tom Sawyer and he felt the script was pointless. “While we do use published plays, one thing we don’t do is use plays where the literature has been knocked down a notch. Perkins adapted this version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and he says it is very close to the book. “There will be whitewashing!”
Some previous productions have benefited from creative liberties with the original adaptations. A recent production of Heidi was set in 1976 Gatlinburg; it included appearances by a young Elvis Presley. “Zack Allen made it work. The adaptation stayed true to the story and it was beautiful. It was a lot of fun.” Perkins’ adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow added choral singing to enhance the spooky atmosphere.
The Knoxville Children’s Theatre recently moved to a large facility equipped with an auditorium, a spacious rehearsal room, a green room, and other amenities.
Ticket reservations are strongly encouraged. The play running time is usually 90 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
Upcoming plays include Walt Disney’s Mulan and Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.
© Debra Dylan, 2013.