W.C. Fields once warned performers to "never work with animals or children." The famous line jokingly cautions actors against putting themselves in a position to be upstaged by the charming but often unpredictable antics of child stars and trained seals, but in some cases, working with a younger actor is a piece of cake. Such is the case at Totem Pole Playhouse this summer when 14-year-old Victoria Liebetrau joins the cast for The Playhouse's fourth show of its 62nd summer season, Moon Over the Brewery.
The play focuses on a bright young girl in a Pennsylvania coal mining town as she struggles to accept her single mother's need for romantic attachment. "Because of the nature of the piece, it's a role that could only be played by a younger actor," says Artistic Director Ray Ficca. "The play is funny and heartwarming, but it's also sharp and very, very honest. Having an older actor playing the little girl, someone college-aged perhaps, it would just come across as fake and ruin the honesty of the piece."
Liebetrau is young, but not a complete novice. Hailing from Carlisle, Pa., she has already appeared in several productions in and around Harrisburg, ranging from Messiah College's student production of Mr. Bundy to Annie at Harrisburg's Whittaker Center for Science and the Arts. Her first show, when she was only 5 years old, was a school production of Frogs and Butterflies. "My favorite line from the show," she now laughs, "was 'I love being the star of the show! Thank you! Thank you!'" And now that line has proved prophetic.
For many kids, the stage might seem a scary and unusual place, but not so for Liebetrau, whose parents both have deep theatre roots. Father Jon and mother Lisa are both on the faculty of the Theatre Department at Dickenson College, and each has worked for Totem Pole in the past, as an actor and costume designer, respectively. And sure, having a foot in the door helped, but she had to audition just like everyone else, and having some talent really sealed the deal.
"She's great!" raves Totem Pole vet Rex Daugherty, who has a history of both teaching and appearing with child actors. "I don't treat her any differently than any of the others. Well, I'm a little hesitant to push her around on stage, which my character has to do. But other than that, she's just one of the cast."
"She came in off-book, which was great," echoes Assistant Stage Manager Jason Pacella, about the rehearsal process. "Now every day it's becoming more of a performance, not just lines on the page."
And what about the other way around? Is it intimidating for a young girl to be working with a cast of professional actors? Apparently not. "My parents are always talking about how much fun it is, so I wasn't scared," says Liebetrau. "And really, actors are just a bunch of kids, too, so it's easy."
Moon Over the Brewery plays at Totem Pole Playhouse in Fayetteville, Penn., tonight, July 17 - July 29. Tickets are available at www.totempoleplayhouse.org or at the box office, 888.805.7056, ext. 1. M& T Bank and Dr. Paul D. Orange Family Medicine serve as sponsors for Moon Over The Brewery.