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‘The Man Who Saved Christmas’ premieres Friday

We all hope for our children to find something they love to do which also will help them develop confidence, poise, responsibility and leadership. We introduce them to lots of sports and activities, hoping to find one which will put that sparkle in their eyes and make them want to work hard. 

We want them to learn the importance of making a commitment and sticking to it, the responsibilities and rewards of being a part of a team, and the great joy that comes from accomplishing something big.  

For many children in our community, participation in theater is just the right venue for all this growing up to take place. 

Halifax County Little Theatre’s season opener, “The Man Who Saved Christmas,” will take to the stage on Friday, but the cast and crew have been working together in rehearsal for about eight weeks. This cast includes many young actors who have already developed a passion for theater. Gracie Berneche, Easton Berry, Victoria Montes-Bradley, Mary McLaughlin, Katherine White and Jordan Carr are excitedly learning lines, staging, choreography and music and giving up their spare time to practice, practice, practice for this upcoming show. Actually, in theater it’s called rehearsal, not practice, but they are loving every minute of it. 

Berneche, a veteran at the age of 11 (who plays a precocious little girl whose only dream for Christmas is that her father will come home from the war), puts it this way, “It’s really not a commitment if you love doing it.” She is involved in theater, dance lessons, voice lessons, band, and SCA, and she also has homework, of course. 

“I usually get my homework done at school when I have extra time during class,” she explained.

 With rehearsals three or sometimes four nights per week, things can get hectic.  

“Sometimes dance gets cut short,” Berneche admitted, but “I seriously love the spotlight. I’m not a vain person, but I love to create another character and pour my heart into portraying her. It’s thrilling to me.” 

Berneche has had many opportunities to perform on stage, including the title role in The Prizery production of “Annie” several years ago. She embraces the hard work and teamwork involved, and said that “My mama is my biggest supporter. She’s always there for me and never gives up.”

Mary McLaughlin, who is part of an ensemble of kids in this production, is in sixth grade and has been involved in theater long enough to realize that the hard work comes with many benefits. Her favorite theater experience so far has been “A Christmas Carol” because it was a really big production with great music and dancing.” 

She especially likes “being with friends, meeting new people, dancing, and working hard to put on a great show.”  “Costumes are fun,” she continued, “so is being in different eras and places.”

McLaughlin has learned that “I have to be smart about my time.” She realizes that sometimes she has to give up free time with friends to be in plays. She has ACE practice four afternoons per week, as well as voice and trumpet practice, in addition to play rehearsal. She’s glad she doesn’t have much homework right now and admits that she has sometimes had to resort to doing homework in the car and has learned to focus so that she can complete assignments very quickly. 

McLaughlin is especially appreciative of fellow actor Gracie Berneche for her support.  According to McLaughlin, “There are many people who support me, but Gracie Berneche, even on days when my voice isn’t great, and my mind is going crazy, helps me to do well by saying encouraging things.” 

Both McLaughlin and Berneche have been inspired by young professional actors they worked alongside during The Prizery’s Summer Theatre, most notably Katie Finan, who played games with the younger cast members, gave them pointers and encouraged them all to pursue their dreams no matter what.

Easton Berry, another member of the ensemble of children in this production, already has learned how to manage his time at the very tender age of 9. 

“I’m not playing sports this fall, so I can do this show,” he explained.  “I do my homework before practice.” 

He loved being in the spotlight as Jeremy Jacob in last spring’s HCLT production of “How I Became a Pirate,” his first show for Little Theatre. 

“My sister, Micaela, encouraged me to try out acting last year,” he said. “She pushed me to sing and act. Then I started to like it.”

Berry’s family shares this love of theater. His mother, Kristin, is directing “The Man Who Saved Christmas,” his father and sister Micaela are part of the orchestra, his sister, Jaina, has had parts in several plays, and little brother Tyler, who’s 5, is anxiously awaiting his turn to be in a play. 

Berry said that his mama is his biggest supporter, and that she “gets me going by having fun with me while we work on lines.”

Victoria Montes-Bradley, another of this group who has caught the theater bug, puts it this way.  “Acting and singing is all I want to do.  I love being on stage, and I love to sing and act.” 

She credits her mom as being her biggest supporter and also “her biggest fan,” but says that she gets a lot of support from audiences who tell her how much they enjoy watching her. Montes-Bradley first discovered the joy of being on stage when she was just 4 years old, “when I didn’t know how to read yet,” and Chris Jones cast her in her first role in a play. 

“I had to learn a lot from all the other cast members,” she said, but added, “I was born to act. I love being on stage!”

Jordan Carr, 11, also a member of the children’s ensemble, puts it quite simply, “I do it for fun.” She realizes that she has to give up her time to rehearse, learn lines and perform, but she enjoys it so much that it doesn’t seem like such a big sacrifice. 

As she explained, “really, theater is more for pleasure. For instance, there are lots of fun scenes in “The Man Who Saved Christmas.” I especially like it when we all run around making faces at Mr. Dixon.” 

Carr has high praise for director Kristin Berry. “She works very hard and has a great attitude; she’s always fun to be around.”  

The excitement these young people feel about being on stage is contagious. Their boundless energy and bright smiles are evidence of the passion they feel for what they are doing.  They may not even realize that they are learning teamwork, poise and how to speak effectively in front of people, but they do know that they are having fun.   

 “The Man Who Saved Christmas” opens Nov. 15 and runs through Dec. 1. The public is invited to come and join the fun as this family-oriented, heartwarming story comes to life on stage. Show dates are Nov 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 and 30 at 7:30, and Nov 17 and 24 at 3. Tickets are available at hclt.org or by calling 572-8339.