Arts / The kids take over Charlie’s factory

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” cast members, from left, Jade Breen, Jonah Robertson and Logan Steed.

“THEATRE is great for building life skills – teamwork, working towards goals, public speaking – there are a lot of benefits,” theatre director BJ Anyos tells “CityNews” as she climbs down from a ladder.

Anyos, best known as the founder and director of Child Players ACT, is busy painting Willy Wonka’s Inventing Room for a coming production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, based on the story by Roald Dahl.

“It’s very, very colourful and the set is four metres tall, so we’re getting up pretty high,” the energetic director says.

It’s the 13th successive winter show for Child Players, which began in 2005 with the idea that “children can do everything”. Putting this philosophy into practice, she has always trained her young performers in backstage skills, too – stage management, set moving props and make-up.

“The wonderful thing about children is that they don’t know they can’t do something if you don’t tell them,” she says.

Not everybody wants to become a professional, but two former child players have become Anyos’ colleagues at Questacon, one works with Eclipse Lighting, some have studied at the Film and TV School and even more have performed with Rep and Ickle Pickle.

With a long background in theatre and a degree in primary school education, Anyos works as a professional performer at Questacon with the “Excited Particles”, a wonderful name for a theatre group, she says.

Describing Child Players as “my baby”, she believes that professionalism has always been to the forefront, so she gets professional lighting and tech experts in to teach the young artists.

“I like to introduce the kids to people from other worlds,” she says so that when she staged “Doctor Dolittle’s Circus”, Warehouse Circus came in to help. This year for the sensational Oompa Loompas, creatures in “Charlie” who hail from an isolated Pacific island, she engaged a professional drummer to do workshops.

ANU Art School graduate Bec Setnicar designs all of the scenery and well-known musical director Georgia Pike composes songs for Anyos’ scripts.

Although her view of theatre is holistic, Anyos is keen to get children reading classic stories, which she fears may be unfamiliar these days. For that reason her shows reflect well-known tales such as “Alice In Wonderland”, “Alice Through The Looking Glass”, “The Jungle Book”, “Peter Pan”, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, “Doctor Dolittle”, “The Marvellous Land of Oz” sequel and, above all, Roald Dahl’s stories such as “The Witches”, “James and The Giant Peach” and now “Charlie”.

Over the years audiences have come to expect unusually subtle characterisations from the actors in Child Players and it’s no accident.

At the end of the first term after they study stagecraft and characterisation, they all write a character bio, she says.

“We’ve got two young boys playing Grandpa George… and they have come up with the back story that grandpa was in the war, suffered shellshock and yells out things every so often – they just bring the character to life,” she says.

Child Players always double-casts, so that when one cast is performing in the morning the other cast is doing backstage work and then in the afternoon the roles are swapped. Nobody is disappointed and the two boys playing Willy Wonka have both been with Child Players since they were 10 or 11 – now they’re 15 and 16.

So what are highlights of “Charlie”? Easy, Anyos tells us, the Oompa Loompas – ”they’re gorgeous, all young kids not only acting, but singing and dancing”.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, theatre@bcs, Belconnen Community Centre, Swanson Court, until July 15. Bookings to canberrarep.org.au or 6257 1950 or at the door.

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