Lifestyle / The Northern Virginia Daily/nvdaily.com
'Charlie Chaplin' an ambitious first for teen writers, actors
By Josette Keelor
Written by four local teenagers, Wayside's Emerging Artist Program's upcoming one-act play, "Charlie Chaplin: The Price of Art," is about artistic independence, the show's writers and directors said.
It was one of the more appealing directions in which they could have taken the plot line and theme, said 14-year-old home school student Matanah Betko, who co-wrote the play and also plays Chaplin's first wife Mildred.
Josh Shelor, a 17-year-old senior at Central High who plays Chaplin's older ad executive brother and who previously worked with the program on 2010's "Houdini," noted, "It's been oddly intriguing."
The play's performances, take place Friday and Saturday of this week and follow four weeks of effort that included a Sept. 16 stage reading by Wayside actors, helping the play's writers edit the manuscript into a much more elaborate work.
Most of what's in the play now, Josh said, is new, and, added Matanah, that's where the idea of artistic independence came in.
What's more impressive about this year's production, however, is that most of the writers are new to playwriting.
"This is the first time I've done this," Matanah said, having relied on lessons she learned in a playwriting workshop at the Middletown Town Hall, to work with fellow playwrights Erin Foster, 13; Zoe Giller, 15; and Libby Powell, 17.
Only Libby has worked with the program before, having edited and helped write last year's "Mary Shelley: A Spark of Being."
What they brought to the stage reading, performed by Wayside actors, was little more than a chronology of the main events of Chaplin's life. The reading helped determine what was important to the script and in which direction the writers might take it to the next level.
The program, now in its sixth year, said Molly MacLagan, Wayside's educational director, "It gives young people a place where they can work alongside professionals in a professional setting." Writing plays is important to the teens' theater education, she said, but the best part is, "they do become fully produced pieces."
MacLagan, who joined Wayside in the spring, takes control of the program following past plays that depicted such characters as George Washington, Belle Boyd, Mary Shelley and Harry Houdini. Every spring the youth program performs a Shakespearean play.
This year's fall play came down to a decision between Grace Kelly and Chaplin.
Being a huge fan of Chaplin, Nathan Selove, a senior at Sherando High School who stars as the famed silent actor, is glad that the group chose the play it did.
"He's always been a huge inspiration to me," said the 17 year old.
His first Wayside role was part of a children's workshop in 2004, but this is his biggest so far and his most challenging.
"It's been hard to figure out how to vocalize him," Selove said. Most of Chaplin's acting was on the silent screen, so Selove said he had to rely on the rare vocal recordings he could find of Chaplin to guide him.
Performing physical comedy also has been something of a challenge for Selove, who, as Chaplin, has to jump out of the way of a moving car twice.
"It's kind of hard to measure up to Charlie Chaplin," Selove said, "because he's Charlie Chaplin."
He's up to the task, however, drawing on his base of stage experience from working with friends to build a filmmaking YouTube channel, on which he says in a standup routine, "I've been doing theater since before I was this handsome -- a long time ago."
Challenging though the play may be, Calkin has faith in the cast.
"It's an extraordinary group of young people," she said, explaining that they have put a lot of effort into making the show something special.
"I think people will be pleasantly surprised," she said, as well as "impressed with the level of talent that we've found for this show."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org