As the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minn., presents its rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, area residents are fortunate to see four very talented local youth actors on stage along with seasoned veteran actors and actresses.
Siblings William and Vivienne Hoeltzle, children of Michelle Van Hee and Kevin Hoeltzle, both of Canton, Minn., play the children’s roles in the play on a rotating schedule with Daniel and Isabelle Ekstrom, children of Keith and Julie Ekstrom of Lanesboro, Minn.
All four of the children add their own special touch to their parts and although their roles are not the biggest of the cast members, their hearts certainly are as they become consumed in each and every role.
William Hoeltzle, 13, has previous acting experience in a fifth grade history play where he portrayed King George in the Revolutionary War. He states that his first actual “performance” was in a school play at Fillmore Central School which told of three separate fairytales. William was in two of the three productions playing Rumpelstiltskin in Rumpelstiltskin and the big bad wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.
During the summer of 2016, William had a great time playing Flounder in The Little Mermaid at Wit’s End Theatre in Chatfield, Minn. “It was fun” playing Flounder, states William.
Vivienne Hoeltzle, 9, says, “This is my first experience and I think it’s going pretty well,” which seems to be the case judging by the audience reactions and comments following performances.
Sometimes William and Vivienne practice their lines together and sometimes separately, depending on if they are both in that particular scene.
“I practice and then when I’m in the scene it just comes to me,” says Vivienne. William notes, “We have less lines to memorize” than the adult cast members, explaining, “we don’t have as big of roles,” as the children in the play are not in every scene.
Both William and Vivienne enjoy singing the song “Give Good Gifts” while on stage during A Christmas Carol at the Commonweal Theatre, which “all the cast members have been practicing since the first day,” states Vivienne.
William dreams of becoming famous, while Vivienne says “I don’t want to go to Hollywood or anything, I just want to go in plays, I don’t want to become famous or anything,” like her brother hopes to.
Michelle Van Hee states that her children love being in A Christmas Carol so much that they are asking when they can audition for the next play at Commonweal Theatre.
Isabelle Ekstrom, 11, who also plays the violin and piano says, “I like acting – it’s a lot of fun to play parts” such as Belinda Cratchit and others. “When I grow up, I would love to act, be a musician, teach music to children, and be a mother,” states Isabelle.
Daniel Ekstrom, 9, who loves to read books and write stories, says, “It’s fun” to play Tiny Tim and other roles. When asked if he would like to be an actor one day, Daniel replies, “Yes, I would like to act as well as write stories that actors want to tell” and share with an audience.
Isabelle and Daniel have prior acting experience, as they both appeared in the Lanesboro Community Theater’s productions of Fiddler on the Roof in 2014, Mary Poppins in 2015 and Seussical in 2016.
Daniel’s favorite part of being in A Christmas Carol at the Commonweal Theatre is “getting to know the actors,” he says. “I also like playing Tiny Tim because he’s so kind and thoughtful, and he teaches Scrooge there is joy in helping others,” he adds.
Isabelle says, “I don’t really have a favorite part – I have loved it all. It’s been especially fun to try new things. Megan (the director) has given me the freedom to add my own flare to the scenes.” She added, “I’ll be sad when it ends,” but she will forever have fond memories of this time spent with her brother and the rest of the cast and crew at the Commonweal.
Isabelle notes that the entire cast is “really fun and supportive” and Daniel has enjoyed getting to know the cast on a personal level.
Julie Ekstrom states, “This has been a magical experience for the kids. They have had an amazing time working with the Commonweal staff and learning about the many things that need to happen on and off the stage in order to tell a story to an audience,” which is an education in itself.
“When artists share the secrets of their craft, young people get inspired,” Julie says, adding, “the world of possibilities opens up for them, and they are motivated to experiment with their own abilities to tell a story. We are grateful to the Commonweal Theatre for this unique learning opportunity” the children are able to be a part of.
Megan K. Pence directs the classic holiday story but adds Commonweal Theatre’s own twist to the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Ben Gorman. Eric Lee portrays Jacob Marley and Bob Cratchit and other roles, Elizabeth Dunn plays the role of Ghost of Christmas Past and additional roles, Abby Cathcart is “Belle,” Scrooge’s former girlfriend and other characters, while Lewis Youngren plays Ghost of Christmas Present, Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.
A Christmas Carol is playing through December 20, 2016 at the Commonweal Theatre. Call the box office today at (800) 657-7025 or (507) 467-2525 for ticket information.