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Children in the spotlight

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Christina Dietlein, 12, performs as Charlotte in the "Charlotte's Web" performance Friday night at the Children's Museum of Northern Nevada. It was Christina's first leading role and she hopes not her last as she aspires to become an actress.
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Her leotard and costume on, all that is left is the hair.

Twelve-year-old Christina Dietlein sits quietly while the support staff backstage curls her blond locks and finishes with a black velvet hat that matches her dress. Around her, the room is filled with the laughter and screams of the cast of “Charlotte’s Web.”

In just over an hour, Christina, known to her friends as C.C., will walk onto the stage for her first performance as Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web.”

C.C. said she likes that moment, being on stage with the curtains closed just before show time, a stark contrast from the chaotic dressing room in the basement of the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada where she is getting ready.

Across the hall in the boys dressing room, Braeden Garrett, 12, is doing his own preparation, dressed as Templeton in sweatpants and a patchwork vest, complemented by a brown hat complete with rat ears.

For the past three months, the pair, along with the rest of the cast, have spent nights working on blocking, memorizing lines and preparing for opening night, Friday.

Her leotard and costume on, all that is left is the hair.

Twelve-year-old Christina Dietlein sits quietly while the support staff backstage curls her blond locks and finishes with a black velvet hat that matches her dress. Around her, the room is filled with the laughter and screams of the cast of “Charlotte’s Web.”

In just over an hour, Christina, known to her friends as C.C., will walk onto the stage for her first performance as Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web.”

C.C. said she likes that moment, being on stage with the curtains closed just before show time, a stark contrast from the chaotic dressing room in the basement of the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada where she is getting ready.

Across the hall in the boys dressing room, Braeden Garrett, 12, is doing his own preparation, dressed as Templeton in sweatpants and a patchwork vest, complemented by a brown hat complete with rat ears.

For the past three months, the pair, along with the rest of the cast, have spent nights working on blocking, memorizing lines and preparing for opening night, Friday.

But this opening night is more than just the first performance. It’s the first show for Wild Horse Productions, a new production company founded last year and it features a cast ranging in age from 5 to 15 years old.

Jan. 13, 2007 – Audition day

Braeden and C.C. are among the 112 children looking to be included in “Charlotte’s Web.” Over the course of three hours, each child is given a chance to perform for Producer Pat Josten and Executive Director Carol Scott.

Every child who auditions will be cast in some role, ranging from the central characters like Charlotte, Wilbur and Templeton to peripheral characters like fair-goers and farm animals.

For Braeden, center stage is where he wants to be. The 12-year-old said it’s who he is and what he wants to do with his life.

“Braeden’s unassuming, there isn’t anything he doesn’t think he can do. It never occurs to him that he can’t. He sings well, he dances well and he’s just a good little actor,” mother Kris Garrett said. “He’s comfortable with who he is and he’ll tell you that.”

The theater is in his blood – his mom runs a theater company in Fernley and his dad has acted for all of his adult life. His parents drive him from their home in Fernley, 98 miles round-trip, each day for rehearsals.

“Being an actor was my life and so we kind of encouraged what he wanted to do. It’s fun to watch him grow and develop. I’m jealous of the opportunities he has at his age,” his father, Rich Garrett, said.

Braeden has been performing since age 5. He has taken three years of voice lessons, three years of tap lessons, four years of acting lessons and three years of theater dance lessons.

He hopes to make a living acting, on the stage instead of in the movies.

“I’d rather do plays because you get to perform more often and go tour around the world,” Braeden said.

Braeden chose “A Sister for Sale” as his audition piece.

After his audition, Braeden said he tries not to think about how he did because it only makes him more nervous.

“I just try to keep my mind off it and hope I get called back to read again,” Braeden said. “Right now I am hoping for Wilbur, but Templeton would be good. Wilbur is still my first choice.”

Farther back in line, C.C. talks with friends, exchanging stories and laughter before going into audition. She chose “Poem in my Pocket” as her audition piece.

“I want to be Fern or Charlotte. I like Fern, but then I’d have to dye my hair brown, and my mom wouldn’t like that,” C.C. said.

Unlike Braeden, C.C.’s career on-stage began out of necessity.

“She had respiratory syncytial virus as a child and it scarred her lungs, so we got her singing lessons to help strengthen them, and it grew from there. It helped her build up her lungs and give her the voice,” Terri Dietlein said.

She did her first show at age 8, playing a maid in “Annie Jr.” C.C. now has a karaoke machine in her room, allowing her to sing whenever she chooses.

“I’m probably going to be an actress, but my mom said I need a side plan. I want to work on the big screen. All the actresses on Broadway have been corrupted,” C.C. said.

Just before 1 p.m., Scott announces the names of those who need to read again. C.C. and Braeden are both on the list.

Just over 12 hours later, the pair would learn they received two of the biggest parts in the play.

Braeden got Templeton and C.C. was cast as Charlotte. It would be her first lead role.

Jan. 15, 2007 – First day of rehearsal

Because of the large turnout, Scott and Josten have double-cast the show. There are two of every role and each cast will alternate performances. As the show progresses, the casts will be separated, but for the first day, both casts are at the museum.

Except for a handful of children, including C.C. and Braeden, who are in the final week of production for “Bugsy Malone Jr.,” at the Brewery Arts Center.

“She’s just going to have a busy week, but she likes that. She enjoys doing this so being busy and the overlap doesn’t bother her,” C.C.’s mother, said.

The actors are told that they are expected to learn their lines by Feb. 15 and sell $20 in advertising for the show’s program.

“Ideally, we wouldn’t have to double cast. It limits the amount of time for rehearsals and just shortens what we can get done,” Scott said. “It’s chaotic, but no matter how much I pull my hair out, I’ve never had a show that wasn’t fantastic.”

Feb. 15, 2007 – Off book

“Use your arms, get used to having lots of fake arms and using them, because the audience is going to want to see them,” Scott tells C.C.

“Braeden, we can’t lose the end of your words. You are trailing off and the ends are important,” she added.

For the first time, the actors can’t use their scripts during rehearsal. While the smaller parts struggle, the main characters get most of their lines at least close to correct.

“I did pretty good, but I still need to learn my lines better. I’m still struggling and working at a couple parts,” C.C. said.

The biggest mistake came during one of the monologues at the end of the first act. It has to be done well to set up the second act and C.C. is having trouble.

“I’m not worried,” Scott said. “When they get the costumes on, they just become the characters and it all comes together.”

Braeden is now in both casts, after the other Templeton was forced to drop out of the production because of a family emergency, meaning extra rehearsals and trips from Fernley for his parents.

March 5, 2007 – First dress rehearsal

C.C. and Angela Carini, who plays Wilbur, have been standing on stage in silence for more than four minutes. One of them messed up and now they can’t figure out where they are. Scott told them they need to figure out how to fix it without any help and that they will stay there until they do.

It’s a horrible ending to a terrible 24 hours for C.C., who starts the final week of rehearsals without a costume, stressed, tired, getting sick and with a severely bruised thumb.

She smashed her thumb in a car door earlier in the week and then spent most of the previous day in an airport after her return flight from Las Vegas was canceled and as a result she didn’t get much sleep.

She arrived at rehearsal to find out her costume wasn’t in the building – or ready – and the words she needs to practice hanging in the spider web are still being made.

On stage, the silence passes five minutes with frantic whispering about who has the next line. Braeden tries to help them, but Carini used a line from later in the show, causing the actors to lose an entire scene.

After rehearsal, Carini and C.C. are told they need to come to extra rehearsals to make sure they are ready.

“I think you can see you are not where you need to be,” Scott said. “You should know this backwards and forwards and in your sleep.”

C.C. said, “After a day like this you just go home and read your lines over and over. The problem isn’t that we don’t know our lines, it’s that other people keep messing us up by not knowing theirs.”

One of the biggest concerns is the monologue at the end of the first act, which still isn’t where Scott would like it to be.

“That has to be the big punctuation, the big period at the end of the act,” Scott said. “It will all come together, bad rehearsals mean good shows. When we get an audience here and they go on stage, it’s magic.”

While Scott watches rehearsal, Josten is in charge in the dressing rooms. Her current problem is the makeup, which is a powder instead of a liquid and is staining the costumes.

“It’s not too bad, we are farther along than I thought we’d be. It always comes together somehow,” Josten said while pinning a tail on a child playing a horse.

March 7, 2007 – Final rehearsal

“OK, I can sleep tonight,” Scott said following the final rehearsal before opening night. Charlotte’s costume is done, the words for her web are complete and the cast ran the entire show without a major mistake.

Scott isn’t the only one expressing relief at the near-perfect dress rehearsal. Braeden was worried about C.C. and Carini after the last rehearsal, but their recent success calmed his nerves.

“It makes me a lot more confident. They really worked on it and got their lines down, they worked really hard to fix it,” Braeden said.

The last thing the cast works on is the curtain call, the order in which they will come on stage and take a bow.

“See you all on Friday, it’s going to be a great show,” Scott tells them as they leave.

March 9, 2007 – Showtime

“You guys are very special. You are the first show of the first production of Wild Horse Children’s Theater, ever,” Scott tells the cast just before show time. Shortly after the cast marches up the stairs and just before the curtain opens, C.C. and Braeden take their places.

She’s hidden behind the barn, he’s at stage right. It’s been 55 days since they auditioned, hours of rehearsals good and bad, all in preparation for a sold out audience waiting to hear the first line of E. B. White’s classic story.

“Shhh! Listen to the sounds of the morning, very, very early morning. So early, in fact, the sun isn’t up.”

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at jshipley@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.

If you go

What: “Charlotte’s Web” presented by the Wild Horse Children’s Theater Company

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 23-24 with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday and March 24-25.

Where: Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada

Cost: $8 adults, $5 for children ages 6-18 and $3 for children ages 2-5.

Call: 887-0438

On the Net

Wild Horse Children’s Theater Company

http://www.wildhorsetheater.com

By the numbers

2,058: Total number of miles driven to get Braeden to rehearsal for “Charlotte’s Web”

68: Number of pages in the original version of the script used for “Charlotte’s Web”

29: Number of mistakes made by C.C. and Braeden in the first rehearsal off script

514: Number of eggs reportedly in Charlotte’s egg sac

173: Number of seats for opening night performance. The show was sold out.

24: Number of dimmers used in lighting the stage during the play.