Young Equestrian Enjoys Acting
By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | December 28, 2009Knowing how children find it difficult to be still, I watched with admiration while 8-year-old Halle Harrison patiently waited her turn to perform during Barter Theatre's production of Heaven Sent (November 2009).
While waiting in the shadows, professional actors and Halle were like a Greek chorus, frequently singing or commenting on the action in the play. So Halle was on task most of the time and had to pay attention.
After seeing the show, I called Halle to ask her if that was the hardest thing she had to do.
She said, "Sometimes it did get boring, so I would say other people's lines inside my head while I was waiting. At first I was nervous, but afterwards, I was so excited (that) I wanted others to hurry and get 'off stage' so I could go back on."
So what was the hardest thing for Halle? Changing her clothes in front of the audience! She admitted to being embarrassed and worried. Underneath her clothes she wore what looked like red long-johns, cut off at the knee, with a flap in the back like old Union suits. "That wasn't very exciting!" she groans, but after a couple of performances, she was fine with it.
Halle is the daughter of Rebecca and Randy Harrison of Damascus, Va. She is a home-schooled second-grader who formerly attended Watauga Elementary School in Abingdon.
When Halle and dozens of other children auditioned for Barter's 2009 season, they were asked to present monologues — short, memorized pieces of their choosing. Parents were not allowed inside the theatre during auditions.
A few children, including Halle, were asked to stay to read "sides" — parts of scripts for Frankenstein, Heaven Sent and WMKS: Christmas 1942. The children studied the pieces for 15-20 minutes, then traded lines with actors for another 15-20 minutes before doing the final reading on-stage.
Barter Theatre's casting director, Katy Brown, says, "The auditions took place on the Main Stage so we could see what the children sounded like in that large space. We selected the two girls for the role of Eppie that were best suited for the part."
Four days later, Halle learned she got the part of Baby/Eppie, a role she shared with a young girl from Radford, Va. And they weren't simply walk-ons — they had a lot of lines.
At first, the girls rehearsed two to three days a week for three to four hours a day. Halle rehearsed after school until 8 p.m. each night. Closer to production time, the children began attending rehearsals five days a week. One week before the show opened, they worked with the professional actors every day, 12 hours a day — rehearsing for five hours, taking a two-hour break, then working another five hours.
Halle's mother says, "Barter was wonderful. Every hour, the girls got a five- to ten-minute break. The staff made sure the girls weren't getting too tired or too bored. (Actress) Tricia Mathews worked closely with the girls, talking to them and explaining how things worked."
Acting is a new activity for Halle. She's a farm girl who rides four-wheelers and horses. When she grows up, she wants to be a professional horse rider. She has been riding since age four and already competes with her miniature pony, Sparkles (aka Sweetie).
Mary Lucy Bivins, who directed Heaven Sent, says, "Halle loves horses and is quite the young equestrian. During rehearsals, she competed in a horse show and won a number of ribbons, which she brought to share with us."
After sitting in on rehearsals, Halle's mom says, "Mary Lucy was so wonderful with the girls. After Halle competed in the horse show, Mary Lucy sat down and talked with her, relating acting to competing in the horse show. She said commanding the judges' attention at a horse show was like commanding the attention of the Barter audience. Mary Lucy wanted Halle to understand why she needed to do things a certain way. For scenes where Halle needed to cry, Mary Lucy would stop and talk to her about what was going on, asking her what would she do or how she would feel. She was very good at explaining why Halle's character was happy or sad."
So, what does Halle enjoy most about acting? "Everyone is so nice. Barter Theatre is a great place. Miss Mary Lucy is wonderful. She explains stuff to you and, if you do something wrong, she doesn't yell at you. She calmly says things like 'please don't squirm.'"
Halle loved playing blind man's bluff in one scene with veteran actor Eugene Wolf, who made her feel "at home" on stage as well as behind the scenes. She says he sang all the time — even in the dressing rooms and the hallways.
Halle plans to audition for Barter Theatre's 2010 season. "I'd love to be in Annie," she says.
To receive information about auditions for youth under 18, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acting is new for Halle Harrison who loves riding horses.
Halle Harrison as Baby/Eppie in Barter Theatre's "Heaven Sent."