GREEN Ben Johnson has big professional dreams.
The ambitious Green Middle School student made his directorial debut April 14 in the Theatre 8:15 production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” teaming up with directing partner Carson Coombs for the effort.
“I want to be a screen actor or director and Carson and I have been saving up – we’re going to L.A. and we’re going to do it,” Johnson said.
Based upon the opening night performance and the reaction from both audience and cast members, it was pretty hard to doubt Johnson’s confidence.
Coombs and Tuslaw High School student Logan Kornick, both 15, had previously directed the Theatre 8:15 children’s production, “Monster in the Closet.” But “Charlie” - which runs wraps up Friday and Saturday – is the first time the duo, joined by Johnson, has directed adult cast members.
“I told them if you respect them, they will respect you,” said Theatre 8:15 owner and board president Dawna Kornick of her advice to both the young directors and the cast.
Coombs said that while the idea of directing children and adults was initially daunting, there were other far more nerve-wracking considerations for the young directorial team.
“Casting is the hardest part, because you have to turn people down,” said Coombs, who made his own stage debut at 3 years old in a Green High School production of “The Wizard of Oz,” and his first professional performance when he was in the fifth grade at Theatre 8:15. The role, an Oompa Loompa. The production? “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Meanwhile Kornick, who is drawn more to the tech side of production and plans to be a firefighter after high school, said that area of a production comes with its own challenges. Considering that most of the lighting special effects in the show come courtesy of Kornick, to say he overcomes those challenges is an understatement.
From the well-known script, based upon the acclaimed Ronald Dahl novel, to strong performances from the lead characters and an energetic cast of Oompa Loompas, the Theatre 8:15 production team’s creative use of staging and props has brought Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory to vivid life.
Yago Gonzalez, his wife, Julie, and son Mateo, were among the opening night audience members.
“I think it’s amazing that they are able to do so much with so little,” said Gonzalez, whose daughter, Catalina, 10, plays an Oompa Loompa.
Julie Gonzalez was equally impressed with both the overall production and its young directors.
“When (Catalina) tried out I thought, ‘There are a lot of adults in this production’,” she said. “(The directors) are so young, but so mature.”
In the end, the directors’ earning of that level of respect might be the greatest triumph of this production.
“They were doing things a lot of directors with a lot more experience don’t do,” said Adam Leventhal, who plays Willy Wonka.
Coventry High School student Frankie Milinkovich, who plays Mike Teavee, said that as a long-time friend of Kornick, Coombs and Johnson, he was impressed, but not entirely surprised by their directorial abilities.
“They direct like they are in their 30s,” he said. “I’ve known them forever, so I wasn’t really surprised, even though they are teenagers. They are going to go a long way; they have a great, bright future.”