Children take to the SCR stage

Hal Landon Jr.'s yearly portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge has become as constant and cozy a yuletide apparition in Orange County as re-runs of "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV.

For the 32nd time since 1980, the veteran actor is incarnating the lead role in South Coast Repertory Theatre's annual holiday season run of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Regular performances open at 7:30 p.m. Friday and continue through Christmas Eve.

Landon needs not worry anymore about having to audition for the part. But for the 16 children who play multiple supporting roles in the SCR adaptation of Dickens' short story, being cast is no sure thing.

After all, the SCR experience isn't anything like their grade-school's Thanksgiving pageant.

"As a 10-year-old, it's truly amazing because most 10-year-olds don't have this opportunity in life — I'm very lucky to have it," said Chaney Lieberman, an Aliso Viejo girl and fifth-grader who plays the impoverished Belinda Cratchit, the Rich Girl and other parts in Dickens' tale about a miser who is reborn as a benevolent man on Christmas Day.

Many of these child actors are making their first professional appearance in a theatrical production played out on SCR's main stage. To land the parts, the children must compete for 16 slots out of a pool of as many as 80 who audition for the show. These boys and girls are all enrolled in the Tony Award-winning company's in-house Theatre Conservatory program of acting classes for ages 8 to 18.

The 16 kids are divided into two supporting children's casts of eight — dubbed the Red Team and Green Team — who play in an equal number of shows on alternating days and nights. So, the Red Team appears with Landon and the other adults who are professional actors on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights, as well as in the Sunday matinees, while members of the Green Team will play on the days in between.

The idea is to give these children some flexibility, so they can fit the rigors of appearing in the production into their regular school day routines, SCR officials said. The kids can also fill in as understudies for their counterparts on the other team should one of them become sick.

"I think this is a really great experience," said Emme O'Toole, 10, of Irvine, who is Lieberman's counterpart on the Red Team in the Belinda Cratchit and Rich Girl roles. "It's a great honor to be picked out of all the kids who auditioned for it. "

The SCR Theatre Conservancy began in 1974 and now enrolls up to 450 children in acting classes during the year. Students can enroll for classes in the fall semester and return for classes given in the winter and spring.

The conservatory's four-year program of Kids Acting Classes is geared for children enrolled in the third through sixth grades. Its four- to six-year Teen Acting Classes program is geared for older boys and girls in middle and high school. It costs $270 per 10-week session (siblings can sign up for $240) to enroll a child in either program for the Winter 2012 term.

Those who are new to acting usually enroll in SCR's Summer Acting Workshop, a two-week introductory class. The conservatory also offers Adult Acting classes for people 18 or older who are considering acting careers, or inexperienced older adults interested in exploring the craft.

If they don't make it onto the cast of "A Christmas Carol," the children being trained as thespians have the opportunity to appear in productions played on the smaller Julianne Argyros Stage — such as Stephen Sondheim's "Into The Woods," which played there in August — or three student productions staged in SCR's smallest venue, the Nicholas Studio.

The program can be demanding. Since early November, for example, the kids acting in "A Christmas Carol" have had to juggle regular school days with having to rehearse for hours after school on weekdays and on weekends.

Hisa Takakuwa directs the conservatory and SCR's educational programs, and is the assistant director on "A Christmas Carol."

She said the pre-teen children whom she trains in the rudiments of acting, more often than not, are less inhibited or self-conscious than their older peers. Parents enroll their children in acting classes either because they hope that the experience of stepping onto a stage in front of hundreds of strangers will help them gain confidence at a young age, or mom and dad are serious about putting them on a professional artistic track, Takakuwa said.

Some of the conservatory's graduates have gone on to pursue acting careers. These include Jordan Bellow, who plays Jacob Marley as a Young Man and the Constable in this holiday season's rendition of "A Christmas Carol."

"We have everything from a child who is so shy that they can't speak to a child who is ready to go on 'Glee,'" Takakuwa said.

She said she was particularly proud of how one of her students, Jennifer Frazin, a 16-year-old from Fountain Valley who plays Martha Cratchit, has grown as an actor during her four years at the conservatory.

Jennifer said she lacked confidence as an actor when she first enrolled at SCR, but is now considering a possible career in acting.

"Ever since I was little I've always loved putting myself in another character's shoes," Jennifer said.

And while the odds are slim that a child will land a role in SCR's annual rendition of the Dickens classic — a favorite holiday outing for many families around Orange County — odds are even tougher that a child will get to play the role of the most beloved of the children in Dickens' tale, "Tiny" Tim Cratchit, the youngest member of the Cratchit family who has a disability.

Over the decades, 64 children have played the coveted part at SCR. This year, Tiny Tim is played by a girl on the Green Team, Kylee Aitken, and by a boy on the Red Team, Nick Charles Currie.

Most of the students interviewed said they were nervous when they first stepped onto the stage for this production, but they have since tamed their jitters and now look forward to acting in front of packed audiences.

"I tend to get excited about doing it because it's really fun to go on stage overall," said Nick, 10, a student at Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach. "I like playing someone I would never have thought of being. It's really neat."

Because he is relatively small for his age — he stands 4 feet, 2 inches — the boy was invited to audition for the part of Tiny Tim, said his father, Victor Currie.

"When I saw him up on the stage hitting his lines, I was tearing up," the older Currie said. "I'm so proud of him. He's just a great little guy."

Twitter: @ImranVittachi

If You Go:

What: "A Christmas Carol," adapted by Jerry Patch from the short story by Charles Dickens and directed by John-David Keller

Where: South Coast Repertory Theatre, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Performances run through Dec. 24. For showtimes and ticket information, call (714) 708-5555 or go to

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World