Young Parkites add flavor to ‘Oliver!’ |

Young Parkites add flavor to ‘Oliver!’

J.T. and Ava love live theater

In addition to Christian Labertew, two more young Park City actors will share their talents in Pioneer Theatre Company's "Oliver!"

Ecker Hill Middle School sixth-graders J.T. O'Reilly and Ava Hoekstra, both 11, have been cast as orphans and part of Fagin's gang.

The actors wasted little time telling The Park Record in two separate interviews how much the experience means to them.

"It's the best thing in the world," J.T. said. "It's so much fun, but a lot of work. But if you pay attention, you get to learn a lot."

Ava especially liked learning an English accent.

"We had this dialect person come and she taught us everything about the Cockney language," she said. "Sometimes I can just speak it fluently when I'm bored. It's so fun to play around with."

Recommended Stories For You

J.T. and Ava are not strangers to the stage.

Both participated locally in the Egyptian Theatre's YouTheatre program and performed in the play, "Junie B. Jones."

They also appeared in other Pioneer Theatre Company productions such as "Fiddler on the Roof" and "It Happened One Christmas."

Ava was also in "Elf Junior" at CounterPoint Theater in Ogden and took singing lessons from the Utah Conservatory.

All of those experiences helped J.T. and Ava work on their acting and performance skills.

"In YouTheatre, I learned how to remember my notes I took," J.T. said. "I had to write down the choreography and I needed to listen to the director. That's what I needed to get into the Pioneer Theatre productions, where I learned more."

For Ava, it was more about learning to work with the sets and other actors.

"We have a turntable on stage and that's hard to dance on," she said. "Also, there are so many kids in the show, and this is the most that I have ever acted with. So we had a child wrangler who told us if we're not in the right place. She also helped us when we needed help."

J.T.'s favorite number in "Oliver!" is "Consider Yourself," the scene where the Artful Dodger introduces Oliver to Fagin and his gang of pickpockets.

"Everyone is on the stage and they are all doing different things — dancing and interacting," he said. "Someone would pickpocket someone else and there is a cool chain of events, and there are also other little scenes that make it really cool."

Ava enjoys "Food, Glorious Food," which is sung in the orphanage.

"I knew the songs and scenes would be complex because I knew the director would make them look amazing," Ava said. "I love 'Food Glorious Food' because I get to jump off a table and that's pretty fun."

When speaking of the director, J.T. and Ava are happy to work with Karen Azenberg again.

Azenberg is not only the director of the musical, but also the artistic director of Pioneer Theatre Company.

"I was so excited when I got into this show because I love Karen," Ava said. "She's the best director ever. "

J.T. and Ava also wanted to thank their mothers, Kristy O'Reilly and Amy Hoekstra, respectively, who served as their strongest supporters as well as their taxi drivers.

"I really need to thank my mom because she does everything," J.T. said. "She will drive through the weirdest weather conditions and basically do anything to get me to rehearsals. That's so great."

"I love my mom," Ava said. "She drives me to rehearsals in Salt Lake City at [noon], which is not fun on weekends, and then she has to stay up and pick me up at [midnight]."

Still, the actors know they have some responsibilities as well, such as school work.

"Balancing school is, oh, my gosh, so hard," J.T. said. "I do my homework in the car and it's chaotic and not very fun."

Ava is in the same boat.

"This is kind of hard this year because I'm in choir, and I'm missing a choir concert," she said. "So, I have to make that up by writing a three-page essay."

Pioneer Theatre Company will present "Oliver!" from Dec. 2-17 at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, in Salt Lake City. Showtime for Monday through Wednesday is 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday performances start at 7:30 p.m. Saturdaymatinees start at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $40 to $62 and can be purchased by calling 801-581-6961 or by visiting