As Jane Banks in Olney Theatre Center’s recent holiday production of “Mary Poppins,” 11-year-old Katharine Ford could be seen singing, dancing and acting alongside the “practically perfect in every way” nanny.
“(Jane) is a really fun, bratty character to play,” Ford said. “She is in the show a lot. It is really fun to be her.” The role was double cast and was also played by Audrey Kilgore in alternating performances.
The show, which ran from early November to mid-January, is the fifth professional theater production for the New Market resident has also has been involved in community and camp shows.
“Kate brings so much heart to the role that one can’t help but relate to her,” said Jason King Jones, the show’s director. “Her Jane is earnest, inquisitive and deeply emotional. I loved working with her in rehearsals, and I’ve been enjoying watching her performance deepen throughout the run.”
Ford’s love of the stage began while watching her best friend’s sister in a production of “Annie.” “When I saw (the show), I knew that I wanted to be an actress when I grew up,” she said.
Her professional roles have included the role of Marta in “The Sound of Music” and Bielke in “Fiddler on the Roof,” both at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre and Children’s Theatre in Frederick. Yet Ford said her role as Jane is her favorite thus far in her budding acting career. “The nervous feeling that I get before the show disappears when I step on stage,” she said. “I like when the audience laughs and smiles because it makes me happy.”
Ford is one of several child performers in Metro region professional who balance the demands of the theater alongside adolescence and schoolwork. The commitments sometimes require them to leave school early and do additional assignments outside of education hours. “I get everything done sooner or later,” Ford said.
Henry Baratz, 13, played Colin Craven in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s recent take on “The Secret Garden.” Many times, he will bring his homework to the theater to do between scenes. “I have to do my work as my first priority, and then other fun things after that so that I can stay balanced yet not fall behind in school,” he said.
His mother, Karen Baratz, said she has been impressed with his work ethic. Plus “being in this show is such an education,” she said. “Working with a lot of these professional actors from Broadway and one from the West End in the U.K.–I think that is a whole other added education layer in and of itself. I feel so fortunate that he has this opportunity.”
The Chevy Chase resident was first enchanted by theater while in kindergarten when his class created their own production called “Opera Odyssey.” His passion was nurtured through camps and classes at Adventure Theatre.
While Baratz has been in multiple professional productions including “Carousel” at Olney Theatre, he counts his “Secret Garden” role as his favorite. “Colin, who I play, is different from all the other roles I have played because he is a really bratty kid, and he has fits and tantrums in the show and throws pillows. But I think it is fun to play that and convey a funny but also bratty side,” he said.
Imagination Stage’s holiday production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ featured two child actresses, Grace Bullard and Vivian Poe, in the role of Chip.
The show was Bullard’s first professional production. She has done multiple classes and summer camp shows at Imagination Stage. “I learned a lot from the cast and crew,” said the 12-year-old Chevy Chase resident. “They are really nice and everyone is so funny. They have been great to hang out with.”
In the past two years, Poe has done four other professional productions and a child soloist/little beggar child in “La Boheme” at Wolf Trap. Thus far, Chip is the role she has most enjoyed. “It is fun and challenging to play a boy in another time period and place,” the 11-year-old Bethesda resident said.
Every week, Poe’s parents send her schedule to her school’s counselor to distribute to her teachers who give her homework in advance that she does at night and during the weekend. She arranges with teachers to schedule make-up tests.
Most teachers have been supportive in helping the young actors stay on track with school. “My teachers have been really great about helping me by sending me the homework and telling me what we did in class,” Bullard said. “During rehearsals, I would try to do some of my homework while they were running other scenes. During the (run of the) shows, it is a lot easier because I am missing less of school; so, I just try to make up the classwork I’ve missed after school.”
A ballet dancer and singer, Poe decided to try acting after getting season tickets to Imagination Stage. “I found that musical theater had everything that I like to do like singing, dancing and performing for people,” she said. “…I love being on stage and getting energy from the audience. I also enjoy hearing feedback from the audience. It makes me work harder to improve my role.”
Bullard recalled her grandmother taking her to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for a performance of “Mary Poppins” when she was about 4 years old. “I remember looking at the actors and I just thought it was the coolest thing I have ever seen,” she said. “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved hearing stories and telling stories, and so, I think I really enjoy performing because it is essentially telling a story.”