‘Rabbit’ attracts young actors


Twelve spunky actors and actresses from the North Coast Repertory Theatre School will perform “The Velveteen Rabbit” from Nov. 20 to 23 and they want to pack the house.

“The show rocks,” said 9-year-old Shane Ellman, who plays the title role. “It’s like a classic, and it has a good message.”

The tale of a well-loved stuffed animal on a quest to become a real rabbit will be portrayed by a young but talented cast who come from Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Carmel Valley and Encinitas.

“It’s something the entire family can enjoy,” said 11-year-old Emily North, who plays the mouse. “Parents can enjoy the touching parts of it and (for) kids, there’s a lot of action between the toys and jokes.”

The energetic group said they really enjoy working on a children’s story, rather than a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare or Charles Dickens.

“It’s like getting to go back to being a kid again,” said 13-year-old Amanda Cowles, who plays the Skin Horse. “When I was younger I talked to my toys all the time.”

The actors also enjoy trying on new personalities, including an allergic lion, mean mouse, wise Skin Horse, French rag puppy or evil doctor.

“I played the Scarecrow in ‘Wizard of Oz’ who was a protagonist,” said 12-year-old Rachel Barrales, who plays the doctor. “It’s fun to be an antagonist.”

Marissa Luttrell and Gabe Krut were especially excited to act like real rabbits in the play.

“Pretty much no other time can you hop around and be obsessed with carrots,” 9-year-old Krut said.

No nerves here

Most of the cast has been performing in school plays, in professional theaters or workshops for several years. Ellman has even written and directed his own play. He’s bringing in 14-year-old cast mate Lonnie Safarik, who plays the French rag puppy, to direct his next one.

In other words, stage fright is not an issue in this crowd.

“I used to have stage fright believe it or not,” said 10-year-old Jane Mezzino, who plays the lion. “Now I love being in front of people. It’s fun, more people get to see you, and you think ‘Wow, all these people actually like me, I didn’t think I was that good.’”

A friendly bunch

The theater school productions are open to aspiring actors and actresses between 8- and 16-years-old. The cast includes a professional mentor who performs with the students onstage.

It’s a collaborative group, which includes student stage manager Nathan Stein, who helps cue the actors with their lines. The students said no one worries about being embarrassed in rehearsal because they are all friends.

“It’s fun how the actors work good together,” said 9-year-old Noah Leung, who plays Alex, the boy who imagines his toys come to life. “I really like all the energy.”

While the students’ energy can sometimes be challenging to corral, said director Aaron Rumley, theater school is an opportunity for students to be free, creative and express themselves in ways they aren’t always allowed in school or sports.

“The most important part is as long as the kids are having fun, the audience gets that, and they have fun,” said Rumley, who is the theater’s production manager.

The cast will have practiced for five weeks when the play opens next week. They said they are confident they are ready, even the youngest and newest actress, Noa Hochman, who plays Wicket.

“I’m a little nervous,” the 8-year-old said, “but I’m really excited.”

If you go

  • What: The Velveteen Rabbit
  • Where: North Coast Repertory Theater
  • When: Nov. 20 at 5 p.m., Nov. 21 at 10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., Nov. 22 at 2 and 5 p.m. and Nov. 23 at 2 p.m.
  • Tickets: Adults $12, Students $9
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