Young Eagle River actors find new voices for “Fantastic Mr. Fox”

Sunday, July 30, 2017 - 16:33
  • Star photo by Kirsten Swann Eagle River’s Ashton Trevelyan, left, and Haylee Nunez, right, ride the Alaska Fine Arts Academy float in the 2017 Bear Paw Festival Grand Parade on July 15, 2017. Both are cast members in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
  • Star photo by Kirsten Swann Cast members from the Alaska Fine Arts Academy’s summer production of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” ride a float in the Bear Paw Festival grand parade on July 15, 2017.
  • Cast members from the Alaska Fine Arts Academy’s summer production of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” ride a float in the Bear Paw Festival grand parade on July 15, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Young Eagle River actors and actresses are learning to do more with less: The Alaska Fine Art Academy’s upcoming production of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” assembled over the course of five short weeks, features six cast members performing 20 separate characters, with dialogue delivered in four separate dialects.

“It’s a lot of practicing on one thing at a time – one day is one thing, the next day is another,” said 12-year-old Haylee Nunez. “I just hope everyone enjoys the show.”

The performance, based on the book by Roald Dahl, is a radio play involving a full cast of animal characters and plenty of suspense. Like all AFAA productions, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has a brief run time, with three performances scheduled between July 28-29.

Two weeks before their first curtain call, the show’s cast and crew marched in the Bear Paw Festival Grand Parade, escorting a Mr. Fox-themed float and inviting paradegoers to catch the performance.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox!” yelled crewmembers, distributing candy and play flyers. “Great show for kids coming up!”

“It’s a small production and everyone’s putting lots of effort into it,” said Jess Pervier-Brown, the show’s director. “They’re really pulling out all the stops.”

There’s no time to waste, she said. The AFAA’s five-week camp began earlier this summer with a two-week crash course in theatre history and acting styles. Students will also learn scene design and technical skills – they make their own costumes and are learning to create their own sound effects, according to their director. Building the float for the Bear Paw parade took a week or two, she said. Two weeks before the show, the young cast and crewmembers will learn all about Foley – the art of reproducing everyday sounds in a controlled setting. They’ll perfect their dialects and put the finishing touches on sets and scenes.

“They’re working so hard and they’re so enthusiastic and they’ve been doing really well, so I’m really looking forward to seeing it come together,” said Pervier-Brown.

For many of the play’s six young performers, the multiple dialects are one of the most challenging and fascinating parts of the whole production. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” involves American, Irish and two kinds of British accents, and castmembers are struggling to perfect the latter three in time for opening night, said Pervier-Brown.

For veteran performer Jamisen Rasmussen, 13, the dialects are a new way to flex creative muscles on stage.

“I’m really looking forward to just doing all the voices and being able to switch from character to character throughout the show,” she said. “I like learning all the new stuff that I never really knew about theater.”

While dialects are used in AFAA productions fairly often, according to Pervier-Brown, many of the cast members of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” are trying it for the first time, she said. To cast member Jackson Rasmussen, 11, the opportunity to perform in a different voice one of the best parts of the entire play.

“I’ve barely heard any dialects or accents or anything like that, so I’m always excited whenever I hear that,” he said. “Here in Alaska, you rarely get to hear that.”

Audiences are in for a treat, he said.

Besides the six cast members, the AFAA production of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” involves four young backstage crew members and six adults, according to Pervier-Brown. The size makes for a personable, lively on-stage experience, cast members said.

“With a small cast, you can bond together and I think it actually helps with the acting,” said Jamisen Rasmussen.

The AFAA, founded more than 30 years ago, is an Eagle River nonprofit dedicated to art education and advocacy. Its summer showing of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is scheduled to run July 28 at 7 p.m. and July 29 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy (12340 Old Glenn Highway no. 200). Tickets range from $8-$14. Visit akfinearts.org for more information.

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