Original Kids Theatre brings Broadway to London

Western grad Jeff Crane discusses managing, producing musicals

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Ben McCauley, Jamie Johnston, Jeff Crane and Kayla Sliskovic

Courtesy of Joseph Samuels

THEY SAY THE NEON LIGHTS ARE BRIGHT ON BROADWAY. The Original Kids Theatre Company is virtually unknown to Western students, but provides an outlet for theatre lovers, young and old. (L-R) Ben McCauley, Jamie Johnston, production manager Jeff Crane and Kayla Sliskovic put on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory this past summer.

The Original Kids Theatre Company is a hidden gem in London.

Tucked away in the quirky confines of Covent Garden Market’s Spriet Family Theatre on King Street, OKTC is brimming with some of the most musically talented and innovative kids in the city.

Though the theatre remains largely untapped by Western-bubbled students, a handful of Western professors, administration, current students and alumni are heavily involved with OKTC and its re-creation of some of Broadway’s biggest musicals " all performed by kids between eight to 18-years-old.

Without a prominent drama program at Western, the OKTC serves as an outlet to both theatre buffs and interested students looking to get involved in all facets of musical production.

Political science graduate and OKTC production manager Jeff Crane became involved with the company in his second year at Western five years ago. With no real theatre experience, he started off as a part-time bookkeeper for the company. His casual curiosity in theatre snowballed into a serious interest in production when he helped with sound for the musical, A Year with Frog and Toad.

“That’s how I started getting into it a bit more from the production side ... I love the fact that with my job, it always changes. We are doing 11 different shows so I have 11 different things to learn,” Crane says.

Since then, Crane has helped produce numerous shows for the senior company, including the upcoming performance of Rent at the end of May, musically directed by Western music student Marc Anthony Del Brocco.

This year marks the first time Crane will be directing a musical " Alice and Wonderland. Stage managed by another Western student, Sam Broadhead, Crane believes the production crew will have as much fun as the cast.

“I have a young cast too, which is good because they’re going to be very energetic, ” Crane adds.

Despite the age group of the young actors and actresses, their audition process is just as professional and extensive as any adult performer.

According to artistic director Dale Hirlehey, there are two sets to auditions: the first set is to get into the theatre company and the second set is for the particular show. Each director is given a list of children, which he or she casts in the show based on artistic criteria.

Though there is more teaching involved with the kids, Hirlehey says the children have more room for creative expression than even some adult performers.

“I find, in community theatres, people already know their limitations and inside which box they will stay... Kids don’t know about that box, don’t yet have that box and if you tell them they could do this, they will feel they can and will meet that challenge happily,” Hirlehey adds.

After working with the company for over 10 years, Hirlehey has helped to cultivate one of the first theatres in Canada exclusively dedicated to young performers.

“Part of my main job is to push our artistic mission forward and to give the kids an experience unlike any they’ll get anywhere else ... [and get] a chance to do all these various kinds of shows and performance styles.”

Some of the musicals we can expect to see from the kids this season include Evita, Fame Forever, Rent and High School Musical.

Since its inception in 1991, the company has grown to include more than 325 performers in the Main Company. Former OKTC players are now pursuing other opportunities in musical theatre, choreography, directing, production and acting " the most famous OKTC performer being Hollywood starlet, Rachel McAdams. However, the company’s goal is not about creating future superstars.

“It’s about growing as a person,” Crane says. “ Just the general excitement of some of the kids finding out that they’re in Rent, is like, ‘This is why I do it.’”

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette