Wheelock Family Theatre is a professional theatre associated with Actors' Equity Association. Many of our casts also include children and teens, most of whom are selected from students in our classes and workshops.
Shrek the Musical
Jessica Ayer (Fairy Tale Ensemble/Dragon Puppeteer)
"I remember seeing WFT's production of The Sound of Music with Angela Williams as Maria. This particular show stood out for me because it was my first time seeing a show with non-traditional casting. Before this, I had thought that if the original character was white, then you had to be white and if the original was black, then you had to be black. Being a mixed girl, that did not leave me with many options. So this show truly made me feel like I could do anything.
I started at Wheelock when I was 6 years old with their summer acting classes. Being the overly-dramatic, high-energy child I was, I automatically fell in love. I remember the teachers made it so much fun that I never wanted to go home. Since then WFT has taught me so many important lessons that I will never forget, the most prominent of which is to never give up. During middle school I dealt with a lot of disappointment during school shows and began to think that acting was not for me. I decided to give it one last shot when I heard that WFT was going to produce Hairspray. As soon as I walked into the first rehearsal I realized why I had fallen in love with WFT and acting so many years before. Everyone was so kind and helpful throughout the whole process. I felt like my 6 year old self again, excited to perform and never wanting to leave a show because WFT felt like home.
WFT is inspirational - from their non-traditional casting to their ASL performances and affordable prices, there is absolutely no other place like it. I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to grow up here and work with so many talented people. WFT will always hold a special place in my heart."
Grace Brakeman (Fairy Tale Ensemble/Dragon Puppeteer)
"I have always loved coming to see shows at Wheelock Family Theatre since I was a little girl. But when I started taking summer classes and was cast in Ramona Quimby the next year, WFT became my second home. My relationships and experiences at Wheelock over the past ten years have allowed me to become friends with people of all backgrounds and views.
Wheelock is the only place I know of that is committed to excellent productions as well as inclusion and accessibility. In addition to presenting important stories in an engaging way, WFT is special to me because it fosters a nurturing, loving, and accepting atmosphere. I love getting to work together with a team of creative people with distinct perspectives. Just like the fairytale creatures in Shrek encourage each other to 'let their freak flags fly' and embrace their individuality, WFT celebrates people's differences and unique qualities that make them special.
Yet WFT does more than create a supportive environment: It has a progressive policy of non-traditional casting. Wheelock's dedication to color and ability blind casting has cultivated teams of incredibly talented and diverse people. Each child in the audience can be inspired by an actor that they personally identify with.
After closing Shrek (my tenth show at WFT) and moving to Chicago to study in the theatre major at Northwestern University next year, I will dearly miss my WFT 'cast families'. I am forever grateful for the opportunities and coaching at WFT and for Jane Staab, Sue Kosoff and all the wonderful people I have been lucky enough to know here."
Christopher Chew* (Shrek)
"Arts education is essential. There can really be no debate about the importance that the arts have on a civilization or more specifically a community. Education without significant contributions from the arts truly does not exist whether school systems and communities acknowledge that or not. The creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication fostered through arts education touches every other aspect of education more so than any other discipline. Wheelock Family Theater recognized that long before it became popular to talk about 21st Century Learning Skills or the 4 Cs of successful education. Their mission has been focused on transforming lives through exposure to live theater and education in the arts throughout their successful history. Wheelock Family Theatre has not only participated with the theater community at large in the creating art that transforms lives, WFT has nurtured and established an environment that has been transforming lives of countless individuals fortunate enough to walk through the doors and join this inclusive, wonderful family.
My entire professional career has been devoted to both education and theater. Whether I was teaching a theater course or not, my theater education has profoundly affected my perspective on how I work with students in all of my classes and now as a building principal. My acting career has always been affected by my perspective in education and the awareness of how our choices are perceived by others. My experiences here at WFT have allowed me to bring my entire experience with me to the storytelling craft more so than many of my other performing opportunities. I have treasured each and every aspect of my journey with WFT and value the rich tradition that it has and the magical impact it has on its audiences. It is an honor to be a part of that tradition and a privilege to be able to include my family in the larger Wheelock extended family. As a professional actor, there are not many opportunities to share the stage with my children and my daughter’s participation in this production has been a truly special experience that we will both always treasure. For that, we are both tremendously grateful to WFT and appreciate their contribution and commitment to the wonderful Boston Theater Community!"
Christopher returns to WFT having appeared in The Little Princess, Beauty and the Beast and The Sound of Music.
Audree Hedequist (Young Fiona/Baby Bear)
"WFT is a place where a young person can truly feel like a valued member of every production. It’s a very special place for me because I started doing shows here when I was just five years old. My first show was Charlotte’s Web and I will always remember playing a baby spider. I distinctly remember my black spider cap and leotard, and the many hours I practiced so that my movements would closely resemble those of a real spider. I think all of us baby spiders must have been quite a sight at the end of each show!
At six years old I did A Tale of Two Cities, and at seven I played Molly in Annie. Then at eight I was playing my dream role of Helen in The Miracle Worker. The amount of time the director and co-founder, Susan Kosoff and marketing director Charles Baldwin invested in helping me and Brittany Rolfs (Annie Sullivan) prepare for our respective roles was unique. For my character study of Helen I was given the opportunity to tour Perkins School for the Blind where Helen attended school. I met and learned from a woman who is deaf-blind, and was able to ask her questions about how she communicates. Susan also set up another opportunity for me to hear her give a talk at Wheelock College about her life. I learned some sign language for the show but most importantly I learned from Helen that you should never underestimate someone’s potential to learn.
In addition, last year I played Fili in The Hobbit, and here I am now in Shrek as Young Fiona and Baby Bear. I obviously can’t get enough of this place. My love for WFT goes way back, even for an eleven year old! The people here are my family and I have grown up around so many of them. WFT is not only where I have grown-up but also where I have done so much growing. I have not only grown as an actor but also as a person through every friendship I have made in each cast.
Besides always feeling valued and treated like a professional actor there are some additional perks at WFT! For example, Matthew Lazure makes the most wonderful sets. Whenever a set has trap doors and secret passages I feel like I have been transported to another place entirely. Matthew has always taken the time to answer all the questions I have about the sets just because I am curious and I want to know how the pieces move and fit together! The set is constructed right on the stage during the rehearsal period and is such an amazing evolution to watch. Also, costumes and props are other favorite parts for me. Lisa Simpson makes terrific costumes and one of my favorite parts about the process leading up to the opening of a show is my costume fitting. We are a family here, all related in some meaningful way by the production so we can bring each audience the best we’ve got! There are so many special and supportive people at WFT and I am truly grateful to be a part of this wonderful theater family."
Mark Linehan* (Lord Farquaad)
"I have worked at many different theater companies in and around Boston, and every one of them has their own charm and appeal and they are all integral parts of their communities, but what makes WFT unique is, while all theater companies are concerned about how many people are in the seats, WFT's first concern is who is in the seats, and if they are people who have traditionally been left out of participating in live theater, or never been to live theater; then Wheelock Family Theater is going to make sure they get to fall in love with theater regardless of circumstance.
The effect that this has on a performer is startling. The casts and crews that WFT hire are some of the most talented and diverse in the region, and the opportunities to learn and grow from working alongside performers and technicians from so many different backgrounds are numerous. But when your audience is equally diverse, and they shower you with gratitude and joy, it is not just creatively empowering, but it is emotionally energizing. The joy that I receive from working at WFT is immense, whether it's from the audiences, or from watching our ASL interpreters do the incredible work that they do alongside us and amongst us, and I always look forward to performing for the wonderful people in the audiences at Wheelock Family Theater."
Carla Martinez (Wicked Witch/Blind Mouse)
"During my final semester in college, I saw an audition posting for a production of Oliver! at Wheelock Family Theatre. I was new to the Boston theater scene and was hoping to find a company that would welcome me with open arms. That's exactly what WFT did.
Being an actor of color, I always have a million questions running through my mind before heading to an audition. As I walked into WFT that day, I kept saying 'there's no way they're going to cast an Hispanic woman in Oliver.' I was surprised to see so many actors of all shapes, sizes, and COLORS waiting for the dance call. The environment (even though it was an audition) was calm and warm. People were catching up and reminiscing about their time in past WFT shows. Jane Staab even met each auditioner at the door, shook our hands, and walked us all the way to the front of the theatre to meet the music director. I knew from that moment on, if I were to get cast, WFT would become a very special place to me.
Now, as I'm getting ready to open my fourth show, the word 'home' so accurately describes how I feel about WFT. I'm honored to stand on a stage that's accessible to so many different communities. Our ASL performances are some of my favorites and I love getting the chance to interact with the audience during talkbacks. WFT also offers tickets at a number of different prices, so that everyone has a chance to experience live theater; regardless of whether or not they can afford it.
I'm forever grateful for not only the experiences, but the love that WFT has shown me in the short time that I've worked there. Thank you to everyone behind the scenes for being fearless pioneers of inclusion and also to the patrons who continue to donate to this incredible company. It's good to be home!"
Gamalia Pharms* (Momma Bear)
"I feel so blessed to be a part of this amazing WFT production, and to once again be surrounded by a WFT cast that so fully represents our wonderful audiences - all of humanity.
I have loved the story of Shrek from first seeing the film when it came out in movie theaters. The message of acceptance, and that love comes in all shapes, sizes and colors is a message WFT fully embraces, with its mission of inclusion and diverse casting policies since its inception in 1981.
From my first job at WFT back in 1985, Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, I knew I had found a place where I truly felt welcome and belonged – a true family. I have enjoyed being a member of many casts here at WFT that reflect the diversity of Boston in all aspects - race, age, gender, and individuals with disabilities."
Gamalia is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and has appeared at Wheelock Family Theatre in: the Elliot Norton Award winning production of Hairspray, The Wizard of Oz (three productions), The Hobbit, Cinderella, A Little Princess (two productions), Kiss Me Kate, The Good Times Are Killing Me, Ole' Sis Goose, The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, The Beanstalk, The Giant and Jack, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse (two productions), Pippi, Honk, Seussical, Hello Dolly, Oliver!, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Trumpet of the Swan, Anne of Green Gables, Stuart Little, Aladdin, My Fair Lady, Once Upon a Mattress, and Phantom Tollbooth.
Lexi Ryan(Fairy Tale Ensemble/Dragon Puppeteer)
"My first experience with WFT came when I was ten years old, playing Cindy Lou Who in Seussical. I grew up on this stage. But more importantly, I grew up a part of this family. The people at WFT, from the directors to costume designers, from the crew to my fellow actors, are among the most caring, kind, and talented members of the theater community, and of the world. Nowhere have I found a more supportive, hardworking, and transformative group of people.
A key theme of WFT that has stuck with me is the idea of storytelling. I have learned that that is an actor’s true craft. Wheelock brings stories to life in a very special way. Beyond colorful costumes and impressive high notes, the point of theater is to touch people through effective storytelling. Storytelling is a means of sharing experiences through bridging cultural divides. The best stories show how all humanity is connected.
What is truly magical about Wheelock is that it brings positive messages to children through its incredible storytelling. Where adults may be judgmental, children are prejudice-free. WFT helps to cultivate acceptance in its audiences, from the youngest children to the oldest patrons. Children start colorblind. They accept WFT's colorful casting without a second thought. Children will view avant-garde art as fun rather than weird. As I've gotten older, I've realized that WFT creates family-friendly theater with a message, something young viewers won't even register at the time, but guides them to become better people as they grow older. Shrek marks my sixth show at WFT in seven years and perhaps the most fun of them all. Shrek is a delightfully whimsical story that will make children and adults alike laugh out loud, but it also teaches an important lesson, one near and dear to most in the theater community: be true to yourself and 'let your freak flag fly!'"
*Members of Actors' Equity Association appearing in photos on this website: Christopher Chew, Mark Linehan and Gamalia Pharms.