Hisa Takakuwa got it right out in the open from the beginning. She’s an unapologetic Charles Dickens fan. But there’s more to the story to why her Teen Players are performing Nicholas Nickleby, dramatized by the late Tim Kelly and based on Dickens’ novel. Nicholas Nickleby runs May 28-June 5 in the Nicholas Studio. The Teen Players are advanced students in grades 10-12 from SCR’s Theatre Conservatory.
“There’s a little tradition doing Dickens adaptations with the Teen Players. This will be my fourth: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Hard Times,” Takakuwa said. “There’s a couple of reasons for that. For many of the kids who did A Christmas Carol, it was a life-changing experience for them. Most of them do it when they’re quite young, so an opportunity to go back and revisit Dickens when they’re ready to graduate is really meaningful to them, once they have more training and understand it.
“The second reason is I like to expose them to classical material and language-based material. Dickens is great because of all the challenges he presents. These characters don’t speak like contemporary Americans. There’s a sense of color and description and specificity of word usage, even a poetic quality to characters. It’s a world that is language-based with fun, out-there characters. … Dickens is so accessible to them and they can identify with that.”
And speaking of characters, Takakuwa’s knowledge about Nicholas Nickleby’s characters—there are 47 of them—and how that helps a budding actor’s ability to develop a character played a key role in selecting this work.
There are 14 Teen Players in the cast playing those 47 roles. And Takakuwa furthered her students’ education by assigning them a research project to help inform them about their particular character. The Players dug into finding out more about the backgrounds of their respective characters, how they lived, where they lived, what their education was like, what was similar and what was different to life today.
“Character development is one of the priorities in any Players ensemble year. We spend the entire fall exploring how to build a character,” Takakuwa said. “After they see where they are as performers, we try to push our range and make them make different choices (as a performer). Dickens gives them the opportunity to implement all those things. …
“Dickens is so fun and so emotionally accessible to them. Even though his characters live in a different century and have different life experiences then they do, the kids really identify with the characters.”
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