Wandering Aesthetics’ The Velveteen Rabbit Showcases “Real” Youth Acting
Alex Hall, 02-19-2020

Cast members of Wandering Aesthetics' The Velveteen Rabbit in performance: (L to R) Freya Morrison, Theodore Martin, Cambria Scarborough, Aurora Reynolds, and Estelle Messina.
Provided by Wandering Aesthetics
Wandering Aesthetics’ production of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit showcases the Akron-based theatre company’s ability to cultivate the talent of young actors through performance. These actors-in-training range from 7-12 years of age (with two adult supporting actors), and the sharp production is made all the better by the passion of the youth cast.

I decided that the best way for me to approach reviewing this production was to experience it as a family outing, so I brought my wife and twin five-year-old daughters along for the show. As expected, there were many young children in the audience eager to witness what for at least my daughters was their first theatre experience. One of my daughters was amazed at the idea of people acting out a story live and in-person, counting down the hours until we left our house for the play, but the other honestly couldn’t have cared less.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Co-founder and Director of Education Kyle Jozsa, who found seats for my family and offered us drinks. Adult beverages—including a featured mixed drink—were available alongside water, soda, and juice, all at reasonable prices. No programs were distributed; Managing Artistic Director Benjamin Rexroad explained that not many people took programs anymore, and what would have been printed in a program was available on the Wandering Aesthetics website.

Jozsa prefaced the performance with a short explanation of its having been the product of one of Wandering Aesthetics’ many Youth Classes. Students were encouraged to look at a variety of Velveteen Rabbit materials—scripts, books, film, etc.—and create their own adaptation for performance at The Center, Wandering Aesthetics’ performance space in downtown Akron. The result is a production that will capture the imagination of even the youngest theatregoer.

The Velveteen Rabbit essentially follows the adventures of a stuffed velveteen rabbit toy, which a young girl (played by Cambria Scarborough) receives as a present on Christmas Day. After she plays briefly with the rabbit and is called away from her collection of toys, the rabbit comes to life (now played by Estelle Messina), excited and amazed by the relationship forming between itself and the girl. The other toys in the room then come to life and explain that at a certain point, a toy ceases to be a toy and becomes real after it has been truly loved. As time goes on, the toy becomes the girl’s favorite—even among the many others—but it must be cast aside when the girl becomes ill and her toys must be thrown out for the purposes of quarantine. It is at this point that the velveteen rabbit is made real, and, briefly encountering the girl in the woods, hops away to live her real life anew.

In the final moments of the play, a quiet fell over the crowd—children and adults alike. To my left, tears welled up in the eyes of my wife, who had spent most of the play wrangling one of my daughters (on whom the magic of the theatre, sadly, had little effect). Looking around, it became clear that many in the crowd were moved—some also to tears—by the story and the impressive acting of Scarborough and Messina. At this point, my other daughter whispered to me “she’s real now, Dad,” which solidified for me that this production, both in content and production, had been a success. If my daughter had asked if she could be in a play as we left, I would have said it was an astounding success, but she didn’t. That others easily could have, however, is a testament to the dedication of both the young actors in the production and Wandering Aesthetics’ ability to harness their excitement for theatre.

While all the actors gave performances worthy of mention, I must highlight two others that stood out in particular. Almost all the actors played double- or triple-roles, beginning as Christmas guests in the girl’s home and going on to portray toys, other human characters, and more. For her turn especially as Tugboat, Aurora Reynolds worked very hard to create the illusion of being a tugboat, using a deep, lethargic tone of voice, yet projecting enough to allow jokes to land effectively. Also, the award for sheer adorableness goes to seven-year-old Freya Morrison, who, as the Wind-Up Mouse, was cute as a wind-up mouse’s button nose.

All the cast members—including Matilda Gifford, Theodore Martin, Matt Dodds, and Nici Romo, besides those mentioned above—worked together to create a magical theatre experience for audiences young and not-as-young. In doing so, they were able to show that their enthusiasm combined with the encouragement and expertise of Wandering Aesthetics is effective for helping dreams and imagination thrive at the theatre.

Performances of Wandering Aesthetics’ The Velveteen Rabbit continue this Thursday through Sunday at The Center (118 W. Market St., Akron). Tickets and additional information are available at https://www.watheatre.com/boxoffice12/junglebook-xt64y.

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