The Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol has a large cast, including about three dozen children and young adults. Rehearsals start in early November, and the hours can be long and demanding. There are song lyrics, and sometimes lots of lines to learn. It’s a challenging job for the young actors - and for the staff charged with keeping track of them.
On an early evening dinner break in the lobby of the Spencer Theatre on the UMKC campus, 12-year-old actors Andrew Stout and Cam Burns sit at a tall table, joking, and playing games. In this year's production of A Christmas Carol, the two actors share the roles of Tiny Tim and Scrooge as a boy.
If you haven’t seen A Christmas Carol in awhile, here’s a refresher. On Christmas Eve, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four ghosts, including his late business partner Jacob Marley; three ghosts remind him of his past, and reveal his future if he continues on his current path.
Tiny Tim is the son of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s underpaid clerk. He walks with a crutch, and is probably best known for line: "God bless us, everyone."
For both actors, it marks a return to the Rep’s stage. Last season, Andrew Stout and Cam Burns were cast in Carousel and A Christmas Carol. For Burns, this marks his first time playing Tiny Tim.
"I love the role of Tiny Tim. And with the double, it’s kind of like my identical twin," says Burns. "It's fun to kind of swap out – and you always have to be on call, because sometimes you’re double could be sick, and you have to go in for them."
Stout debuted at the Rep as Tiny Tim last year. He says it's a role that’s shaped and learned together.
"Actually whenever one person is on stage practicing, we go out of the green room...because the director might want us to go up there and try out what he just made different," says Stout. "We’re always there to watch each other do what we do."
Rehearsals can be an intense process, stretching from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.. And there are some longer days, like a weekend tech rehearsal, with a 10-out-of-12. That's 10 hours of rehearsal, in a 12-hour day, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Stout attends Mill Creek Middle School, and says homework is, somehow, squeezed in – but the experience leads to a lot of camaraderie.
"Everyone just bonds so well on the show because of all the backstage and on-stage work," he says. "Whenever it gets to the end of the day, everybody starts getting tired altogether...and you get to complain together. And it’s just really fun, every though you’re complaining about something that you love, it’s just, just awesome."
Meghan Newman is the head youth cast coordinator, working with two other staffers, to keep track of the schedule for the young actors. She graduated from Kansas State in 2009, where she majored in theater and French; she says she's just getting back into professional theater.
"It has been an experience, a steep learning curve, especially since a lot of these kids have done this multiple years. And this is my first year," says Newman. "So it’s like jumping on to an already moving thing (laughs)."
Her primary challenge: knowing where the nearly 40 kids in the cast are at all times. She says spreadsheets for rehearsals, and a master plan for the 55 performances, have been essential.
"We have one specific one for the run of the show – that has all the kids and their names and what we need to do throughout the show, like, at this point, we need to be getting these kids ready and this is where we need to be," she says. "And I think that spreadsheet is like 10 pages alone."
Newman says she’s found the dedication and discipline of the young actors, their humility and their maturity, to be refreshing.
"I think that’s been the most surprising thing - how professional these kids are," she says. "And how kind they are to each other."