Five young Parkites among the cast of ‘It Happened One Christmas’
The holiday season is a time to spread some cheer and give presents. Some go out and buy extravagant items such as jewelry and cars. Others give cards or hugs.
Next week, five young Park City residents — Ava Hoekstra, Zoe Heiden, J.T. O’Reilly and Maggie and Abigail Scott — will give a little bit of themselves to Utah when they perform in Pioneer Theatre Company’s new musical, "It Happened One Christmas," which will open on Dec. 4 and run through Dec. 19.
The production is an original work conceived by PTC’s Artistic Director Karen Azenberg, who collaborated with playwright Kenneth Jones to create the work.
The story takes place in an abandoned theater in Salt Lake City. Legend has it that the ghosts of Christmas productions from the past reappear on Christmas Eve to perform and petition Father Christmas to make it snow.
The actors spoke with The Park Record a week after rehearsals started and talked about their experiences.
J.T. O’Reilly, a 10-year-old student at Parley’s Park Elementary, is the only boy in the group, and said the production has so many good scenes that it’s hard to decide which one is his favorite.
"There are so many cool things," he said. "We have a Rudolph and we’re doing a rap version of ‘Joy to the World’ that is especially fun."
The most difficult part of the production for him is the dancing.
"It’s hard remember all the little stops and make sure you do them on the right count," he said. "But I love singing and dancing and expressing myself. I want to entertain people."
"It Happened One Christmas" isn’t the first Pioneer Theatre Production O’Reilly has been in. He was an ensemble member in "Fiddler on the Roof" just a couple of months ago.
"It was fun, but this one is really fun," he said. "I just like Christmas in general, because it has presents and Santa Claus and family."
O’Reilly looks forward to performing "It Happened One Christmas" in front of a live audience.
"I’m excited for everyone to see the show and I want my friends and family to come see and I want to have fun on stage," he said.
Ava Hoekstra, 10, a student at Jeremy Ranch Elementary, is one of the younger actors in the group. As with O’Reilly, Hoekstra was in "Fiddler on the Roof." She played Shprintze, the older of Tevye’s younger daughters.
While she loved that experience, she enjoys performing in Christmas and holiday-themed shows even more.
"The show is amazing and it’s important for people to see it because it will bring them some holiday joy," Hoekstra said. "I think the story is really good and my favorite parts are all the dances and the singing. I love all the acts and the cast members are amazing."
That is due to Azenberg, who is directing the production.
"She can be a little strict," Hoekstra confided. "But that makes rehearsals run well because we all have to listen to her. She’s an amazing choreographer as well. I really enjoy her work."
Azenberg’s directions have helped Hoekstra develop as a performer.
"I love just being myself," Hoekstra said. "I love to be on stage. It’s my favorite thing in the world and it’s the real me."
Hoekstra also likes working with her cousin, Matthew Rees, who is also in the production.
"I love him a lot," Hoekstra said. "I think he and my aunt (actress) Lori Rees are my biggest influences of becoming an actress. They are so inspiring."
Thinking of them helps her through the challenges.
"The hardest part for me is learning the dances, because I’m not really a dancer," Hoekstra said. "So, I work on the (routines) at home and it’s a struggle when I first have to learn a dance."
At 14, Zoe Heiden, who attends Treasure Mountain Junior High School, is one of the two oldest actors in the group. The other is Maggie Scott, who is also 14.
"It Happened One Christmas" is Heiden’s fourth show with Pioneer Theatre Company.
"This time, since I’m a little older, I know how it feels to really be in a performance," she said. "I feel like I can really enjoy the experience."
Being older also brings on heavier responsibilities, especially when it comes to balancing theater with homework.
"We all do homework when we can during our breaks from rehearsals, but I really need to keep up with mine because I’m in (the upper grades) and have to study hard for tests," she said. "It’s difficult to learn all the singing and dancing while memorizing the Periodic Table for biology or the continents for AP geography. But, it’s worth it."
While Heiden is part of the production’s ensemble like the others, she also performs a solo in the hip-hop version of "Joy to the World."
"This is actually my favorite part of the show," Heiden said. "I’m excited for it, because I get to do a big rap."
She’s also happy to bring joy to the audience.
"You get to experience the excitement of performing this show with the actors for the audience," Heiden said. "And you can see the joy on the audience’s faces. It’s great to know that if someone is having a bad day, they can go to the show and feel better."
The experience becomes more special when her family and friends come to see her perform.
"In one of the past shows, ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ my singing coach, Debra Cook, watched me," Heiden said. "That was so great, because she was one of the people who brought me into the opportunity to be in a professional show."
Maggie Scott and her younger sister Abigail are no strangers to Pioneer Theatre Company performances.
Maggie, 14, who attends Wasatch High School, has appeared in six and Abigail, at 12, has appeared in five. The sisters said enjoy working with each other.
"We do a lot of things together anyway," Maggie said. "So, it’s fun to share the stage with her."
Abigail, a student at Rocky Mountain Middle School, concurred.
"It’s so much fun performing with Maggie, because I love the fact that we can practice with each other at home," Abigail said. "She’s so much fun to be around, because she’s so creative."
The sisters also enjoy working with Azenberg.
"I absolutely love her," Maggie said. "I’m so glad I get to do another show with her, because she has the magic touch and brings so much life and fun to the production both onstage and backstage."
Abigail likes how Azenberg has helped her develop as an actress.
"She has this gift of seeing something in her mind and getting us to do it on stage," Abigail said. "She really knows how to pull each of our talents out of us."
Maggie found it an interesting challenge to be part of an original production.
"Karen wrote this just for Pioneer Theatre, so, it’s been fun to play around with it and experiment with the different parts and scenes of the show," she said. "The most interesting part of the story to me is that it is made up of different shows. So, I think it’s fun for audiences to go back and revisit past shows and bring them all together."
Abigail’s favorite scene in the production is titled "Yes, Virginia."
"We sing a song called ‘Count Your Blessings’ from ‘White Christmas’ and I play Virginia," Abigail said. "In this scene, my parents sing this lullaby while they tuck me in for bed. That really makes it like Christmas.
"I love a lot of things about Christmas," she said. "I love hot chocolate and I love performing. It wouldn’t be Christmas if I wasn’t performing because it adds to the Christmas joy of the season."
Pioneer Theatre Company’s "It Happened Once Christmas" will open on Friday, Dec. 4, and run through Saturday, Dec. 19. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.pioneertheatre.org.
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