'Anne of Avonlea” features a cast of 26 young actors in the sequel to the classic novel and play “Anne of Green Gables.” Most of the members of the cast are from the Academy of Creative Theatre, San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s teaching project. Shelagh Garren directs the show, which includes youth from 8 to 21 years old.
“Everyone involved with last summer’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ had such a great time that we decided to continue with Anne’s story this summer,” Garren said.
The play, adapted from the novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery, takes place at the turn of the 20th century on Prince Edward Island in Canada. In this one, Anne Shirley, now a young woman, begins teaching at the school she formerly attended. Her students are of various ages and from all walks of life, Garren explained.
The story includes an array of incidents, both humorous and poignant, and follows Anne’s own off-and-on romance with Gilbert Blythe. It has been both a challenge and a pleasure to take these modern young actors back in time to an era when there were no TVs, cell phones or computers, Garren said.
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“I had to hook them in with something personal in their own lives to remind them that no matter what the time, people have similar experiences and the same emotions. We really delved into relationships with people and how people feel. I asked, ‘How would you feel if this happened to you?’ ”
Garren said she approached the actors as a production class, teaching drama technique, character development, diction and projection, and how to take stage directions.
“Some of them are into research and have read the books or seen the films.”
The cast is selected by open auditions. Although most of them have been in ACT classes, some kids who have performed in other Central Coast productions also auditioned. Preparation for auditions includes memorizing a one-minute monologue, then presenting the monologue as though being spoken by different characters. If they get a call back, they read from the script interacting with other kids.
The first rehearsal is an icebreaker, with games and getting acquainted, the director explained.
“We work on focus, the use of energy, a summary of the play,” she said. Then they practice blocking, scene-by-scene, speaking lines over and over, memorizing, and then putting it all together.
“From our first rehearsal to opening night my assistant director, Sophie Guthrie (who plays Anne), and I will have put in 83 hours of rehearsal. The amount of rehearsal time varies for the other students depending on their parts and how many scenes they are in. Everyone has been at the theater for the put-together/cleaning rehearsals for 50 hours. Lots of dedication, commitment and fun!”
One reason for choosing this play was the number of roles and parts for different ages, from young kids to teens, Garren said. Usually there are more girls than boys in the acting classes. Three girls play little boys in this one. This is a family show, and seeing the ensemble of young actors may inspire kids in the audience to take to the stage.
The period costumes for so many shapes and sizes were assembled by Sharon Woodside.
“Sharon is able to create on a shoestring, and she has a warehouse of clothes from past shows. The boys wear knickers, but finding shoes that would suit the period was the hardest.”
Garren pointed out that a number of ACT students have gone on to pursue theater careers. Most recently two former students were accepted into the NYU Drama Department. Three others are graduates from PCPA (Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts), and one has been accepted into the PCPA Conservatory for this fall.
“Most of these students started fairly young with us taking classes and performing in many of our productions,” she said. “We are so proud of what they are accomplishing.”