Saturday, April 14, 2018

Little Women, Big Roles

Peyton Woolf and Anson Romney in Romeo and Juliet at Spotlight Youth Theatre
photo courtesy Ryan Cyphert
by Monica Sampson   

Roles like Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet, or Jo from Little Women, are the challenging, driven, and, complicated leading roles some actresses wait their whole lives to play, but local actresses Peyton Woolf and Lily Castle haven't even graduated from high school yet, and already they’re taking the theater world by storm.

Class from 8am-2pm, after school activities or a job from 3pm to 5pm, rehearsal from 6pm to 10pm and homework until midnight, rest, and repeat. That’s the typical schedule of  Peyton, who plays Juliet in Spotlight Youth Theatre's production of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and Lily Castle, playing Jo in Valley Youth Theater’s production of the musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Both actresses spoke with PHX Stages about youth theater, the highlights of starting an acting career so young, and their hope for theater in the Valley.

When talking with Woolf and Castle, a passion for the arts was clearly unmistakable. Woolf an 18 year old graduating in May from local liberal arts school, North Phoenix Prep and Lily Castle, a 17-year-old junior at Xavier. Both girls have been acting, or performing since they were young, for Castle the passion started with singing and transitioned into Musical Theater, and Woolf uses her background in Cheer, and dance as one of her many on stage techniques.

While talking with Woolf, I was struck by her incredibly, diligent, work ethic, at 18 years old, it’s safe to say she does more in a day than people might do in a lifetime, and Castle echoed this busy lifestyle, but both girls made one thing very clear. “All the skills I’ve learned come from the world I grew up in,” said Woolf when talking about her time management, and scheduling skills.

Woolf who also teaches youth theatre classes at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, spoke about the valuable role theater had on her upbringing and the upbringing of many fellow actors, “I’ve watched so many kids just blossom being part of the theater," said Woolf.

Lily Castle, (left) with Tatum Dial, in Valley Youth Theatre's Little Women
photo by Laura Durant
This value of involving younger kids in the arts was something both actresses shared, Castle noted, that at first when she told her high school advisor she wanted to pursue Musical Theater, she was a bit nervous, and didn’t fully receive the support she wanted, but that attitude changed the more shows she became a part of, reaffirming the happiness theater inspired.

One aspect of the interview that couldn't be overlooked was the fact that both actresses were playing characters around their same age, a rare find in theater and film.

“Actually Juliet was around 13,” said Woolf when I brought up this question about age, which Woolf believes is what gives this production of Romeo and Juliet a fresh feel. “I’ve watched a lot of productions of this show, and for me the best portrayals are the ones where you can see Juliet's youth.” said Woolf. In a cast of youth actors, Woolf noticed that the audience can fully understand some of the complexities Shakespeare’s works provide.

“I think a lot of people forget that Juliet's mom was pretty young too, said the actress. “During one scene Juliet's mom explains that she got married around Juliet's age, which would make her in her mid twenties.” Woolf went on to explain how her own research into the role has helped her embrace the youthful side Juliet has, “I don’t think Juliet makes sense unless she’s played by someone younger; she experiences these incredibly immature tantrums, and then moments later can say something really deep, or talk about her loves of birds, or flowers, and that kind of logic can only really work when coming from someone younger.”

Woolf’s passion for playing a character in her same age range was shared by Castle, who felt that with a role like Jo, how timeless some themes can be, “I discovered that a lot of the things Jo works through, and learns, are still issues that someone my same age faces today. Castle is 17 the same age as her character, something she treasured during this experience, and mentioned the strength she’s received from taking on this role, “I think Joe is the strongest, bravest character I’ve ever played, she fights for her family, and I really think I could learn a lot about Jo, how she values family, and goes after her goals.” Castle went on to say that she hopes those who see the show experience the pivotal life lessons she encountered while playing Jo.

When asked about what advice they would give to actors younger than themselves, or parents interested in getting their kids involved in theater, Castle rooted for all theater experiences, saying “Really you just have to try it! I really was never good at sports, and honestly one show is less time in the long run, than a full after school season of any other activity, so why not give it a shot!” This opinion was echoed with Castle’s admiration for her family, and the new friendships that theater creates, and she finished by stating, “Those things we learn in theater, aren't really the types of things we learn in the classroom and that’s what makes it so valuable.”

Woolf’s interview mirrored this as she added, “really you just have to fall in love with theater,” speaking about the classes she now teaches for kids as early as 4 years old, she said. “It’s beautiful to see someone who might not have every cue down, or movement, but simply blossoms in their time on stage.” Woolf paused, and with warmth in her voice mentioned for her how grateful she is for the arts community in Arizona. “I feel so grateful to be part of such an amazing community, where I’ve made family, been embraced, and grown as a person. Really the community here is so special!”

Castle also took a moment to say to those who support the arts, “I don’t think patrons really know the impact that they have on youth theater, that support allows students like me, to be a part of incredible productions, and that is something I’m incredibly grateful for.”

Overall, my time with Woolf and Castle, was one of the most delightful, and uplifting interviews I’ve experienced, both girls made me laugh, but also think about the impact theater can add to someone's life. Woolf, will be graduating in May and will move to L.A., where she has been signed with an agent, and Castle will be a Senior next fall at Xavier Prep. These two actresses’ passion, personalities, and love of theater was truly a treat to encounter.

CLICK HERE for more information on Romeo and Juliet, at Spotlight Youth Theatre through April 22nd.

CLICK HERE for more information on Little Women, at Valley Youth Theatre through April 22nd

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