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Coming of age on the stage

In this Arts and Culture feature we hang out with the young cast and crew at Guelph Little Theatre as they rehearse for the season opener 13 The Musical running Sept. 26 to Oct. 6

Author Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “Life is a theatrical set in which there are but few practicable entrances.”

No one gets to practice their entrance into adulthood unless, of course, they are an actor such as 16-year-old Matt Verdon playing the lead role in Guelph Little Theatre’s production of 13 The Musical.

“My character’s name is Evan Goldman,” said Verdon. “He is a 12-year-old turning 13 and he is just discovering now what it means to become a man.”

The play is based on a book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn and features the lyrics and music of Jason Robert Brown.

The 2008 Broadway production helped to launch the careers of teen stars Graham Phillips, Allie Trimm, Eric Neilsen, Elizabeth Gillies and Ariana Grande.

It is a coming of age, musical comedy of errors that follows the antics of Evan Goldman played by Verdon as he tries to get the coolest kids in his new hometown to go to his bar mitzvah.

“It’s about his journey moving from New York City to Appleton Indiana, having to find new friends and trying to fit in the best he can,” said Verdon. “He wants all the coolest people to come to his bar mitzvah because the bar mitzvah for him is the one day everything is supposed to be happy and perfect.”

Verdon, is a bit of a veteran of the stage with 14 productions behind him including a role as Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz and Kurt in Sound of Music. He said he is drawing from personal experience to get inside the head of Evan Goldman.

“I thought of my experience switching schools,” he said. “I grew up in Guelph until I was eight then moved to Georgetown to go to a French school.”

Just as he was entering puberty he moved again to a middle school where he didn’t know anyone.

“I just wanted to be accepted and stuff was happening to my body,” he said. “I didn’t know what was happening. I was stressed and it is exactly what Evan goes through while he is switching from a city to a town.”

Verdon said he experienced a similar social dynamic in the early stages of the Guelph Little Theatre production when cast members were first brought together.

“At first, we were a little apart because we were Georgetown kids with Guelph people and we were just trying to come together,” he said. “About a month ago it finally felt like we were connecting and had chemistry. We could finally do scenes without it being awkward.”

It was a clique dynamic, 21-year-old, first-time director Thea Lale was all too familiar with having spent most of her life in the theatre shadowing her father director, Scott Lale.

“It is turned up to 11 when you are working with that age group but there is always a bit of cliquing that happens with casts,” she said. “It’s my role to help them feel a connection or at least act out a connection while on stage.”

Lale said she worked with the personalities of the actors to deliver a unique and authentic interpretation of the play.

“Matt is a cool kid, one of the wonder boy types of theatre and the Evan character is a geek so he has created the character with a cool-kid aspect who still isn’t part of the gang,” she said. “I appreciate how he has done that because a stereotypical geek is not what I need for this production.”

It is the same with the character Patrice played by 14-year-old Bishop Macdonell student Andrea Galvez in her first theatrical performance.

“Patrice is the girl next door that Evan meets when he moves to Indiana,” said Galvez. “She is basically the outcast of her school. She gets bullied by the insiders but has learned to cope with it and is definitely strong enough to get through it by herself.”

Lale said that Galvez, unlike her character Patrice, is very likeable so she had to create a reason why she is ostracized.

“She plays it as a girl who doesn’t follow the pack and that is why the other kids don’t like her,” said Lale. “That is where she naturally took that, and I like it more than the stereotype quirky girl.”

The role of Archie, Patrice’s only friend, is played by 20-year-old, University of Guelph, neuroscience student Michael Sharivker.

“This is my eighth musical and my third musical in Guelph,” he said. “I usually do it with the university’s musical theatre club, Curtain Call Productions.”

It is his second time playing Archie who has muscular dystrophy.

“I played it when I was 15 and last time I didn’t get any help,” he said. “People with disabilities aren’t typically shown on stage so, that is a very important aspect for me. This time I had a disability coach, which was really nice.”

He also got some help from 23-year-old choreographer Megan Brown who has been dancing since the age of 3.

“I am studying to be a behaviour analyst at Brock University so I do both things at the same time,” she said. “I work with people with disabilities so that has been a unique challenge for me because it’s been a cool way to mesh my work life with choreography.”

It is Brown’s second time choreographing a musical and her first time working with such a young cast.

“They are great because they all have their own little ideas that are often more relevant because they are 13 themselves,” she said. “They have been excellent learners and they have grown a lot since the beginning of the audition process until now. Seeing that kind of transformation has been really cool.”