How does "Charlotte's Web," the beloved children's story, become something bigger? When 30 young cast members bring it to life onstage on April 15, 16, 22 and 23 in Oregon City Children's Theatre's first live, indoor production in two years.
The classic tale revolves around a small pig named Wilbur, his human best friend Fern and a clever, talented spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur's life is in danger, Charlotte comes up with an ingenious idea to save him.
The play will appeal to audiences of all ages who are sure "to love the characters, the animals, the costumes and the webs," said OCCT founder Michelle Lee, who is co-directing the production with her daughter Beth Dodge.
But there will be those who "understand the deeper meaning behind this story, about a pig and a determined spider that become friends. The two have such an impact on one another's lives; they realize that, regardless of the time they have here on earth, their lives were well lived," Lee said.
"The characters understand what it is to be unconditionally loved by another and see that their modeling of friendship and love has had an effect on everyone around them. The greatest miracle in life is that we have each other," she added.
Animals with a human side
Lee said she chose "Charlotte's Web" for two reasons: the challenge of producing a play that focuses on a web as a stage set, and the problem of creating animals that have a recognizable human side.
"Our set is a wonderful collaborative effort that has resulted in a truly fun and dazzling outcome that audiences will enjoy and be a little bit in awe of," Lee said.
As for developing believable and distinct characters, cast members participated in rehearsals dedicated to developing both the human and animal sides of their walk/sit/lay stances, she added.
One way to distinguish among characters is by costumes, and Lee said that costumer Becky Pentecost has created beautiful shows for OCCT in the past, and "Charlotte's Web" is no exception.
"She has taken on the challenge, once again, of creating animals without actually covering a child in a literal animal costume. With creativeness and ingenuity, she allows the costume to exemplify the characters, whether they be human or animal," Lee said.
OCCT has a cast-all policy, so that anyone who wants to be an actor or crew member can do so.
?"The way we have always auditioned never ceases to amaze me how casting works out; we go into the process with an open mind and allow the kids to guide where they land in the show," Lee said.
"This show is no different, as we have multiple leads who have done very few shows with us, but brought something to auditions that made it clear this is the part they should be in."
Kyle Archer-Masters plays the crucial role of Wilbur the pig in "Charlotte's Web," and this is his third production with OCCT.
"We have watched him grow a great deal since his first show and were surprised but certain that he could do it," Lee said.
She added that he has "a natural youthfulness and awe about life in general that he offered up at auditions. That is something that can't be taught, so having that be natural for him to begin Wilbur's early journey was great," Lee said.
Another key role is Charlotte, the title character; she will be played by Alyssa Colvin, who was in OCCT's previous production of "Peter Pan."
"To find Charlotte, we put those going after the role through line reads and movement challenges. She nailed both and convinced us she was the voice and mover for a role with about 160 lines," Lee noted.
And finally, there is the role of Fern, the little girl who befriends Wilbur; she will be played by Hazel Wharff, who was also in "Peter Pan."
Lee said that "Hazel's readings for Fern embodied all that Fern needed to have. Fern is a challenging role for a young performers, as she exhibits so many emotions and needs them to be relatable and real."
Lee said that OCCT has gone through many transformations since the pandemic started, most notably that she has retired after 21 years in nursing. This has allowed her to expand the group's programs the way she has wanted to for many years.
"This being our 18th year in production made it seem like a great time to start. We have been collaborating with both Oregon City middle schools and hope to do a combined middle school musical for the 2022-23 school year," Lee said.
She has also met with the Oregon City Community Education program and will be hosting three-week musical theater camps this summer at one of their sites. In addition, starting in the fall, OCCT will be offering classes through OCCE.
Lee added, "There is much happening, and we are beyond excited about it all."
Oregon City Children's Theatre presents "Charlotte's Web"
When: 7:30 p.m. on April 15, 16 and 22; and at 1:30 p.m. on April 16 and 23
Where: The Beavercreek Grange, 22041 Kamrath Road
Tickets: All tickets are $10 and may be purchased online at OCCTheatre.org
Visit the website for more information.
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