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.
Sirena Abalian (Pinocchio)
I remember sitting in the audience of Wheelock Family Theatre’s production of Pippi Longstocking in 2003, awestruck by everything happening on stage. The lights, the dancing and the vivid set and costumes drew me in from the opening scene. When the show was over I turned to my mom, pointed to the stage, and said, “I want to be up there”. Ten years later not only was I on WFT's stage but I was playing the role that sparked my dreams of becoming an actor - Pippi Longstocking. I began my WFT career as a tiny actress of 6 and will be taking part in my tenth show this spring with The Taste of Sunrise. Neither my parents nor I expected me to learn and grow so much through theatre.
Coming to rehearsal every day, meeting new people and creating a family, diverse in every way, are my favorite parts of working at WFT. Our casts range from kids in elementary all the way up to professionals who have been working in the industry for decades. It is inspiring to watch the young ensemble leave their comfort zones and to see the same passion in their eyes that I have felt. This past summer WFT gave me the opportunity to work alongside these aspiring actors in classes and assist them in learning about storytelling, auditioning, and more. I was so proud of the students' work, and beaming that I could be there to help, and to witness them learning just as others did for me.
After ten years working with WFT it has truly become my second home and I thank the theatre for giving me so many opportunities and believing in me!
Shelley Bolman* (The Cat)
Inclusion is at the heart of WFT’s mission and it is at the heart of my profound connection to, and admiration for, the theatre. I first came to understand WFT’s commitment to this on a personal level through casting. As an actor, I am well aware how physical traits are used to pigeon-hole actors and grant (or deny) them access to different roles. As a red-headed, male on the near side of 5’6” I quickly came to understand that I was not what is considered “leading man” material. Rather I am a “character actor”, possibly the sidekick to the protagonist or other peripheral, often humorous member of the cast. WFT quickly turned what I had learned in my early days of auditioning on its head. My first role was the romantic love interest in Witch of Blackbird Pond. I was astonished that anyone in the casting world would imagine me in such a role. The fact that the actress playing opposite me was a woman of color in an historical drama set in New England who was neither a servant nor a slave was also refreshing.
Resonance replaced surprise, however, when I was cast soon after in Pippi Longstocking. For the first time in my theatrical life I had been cast as a white character with a black sister. And for the first time in my life, my stage sister looked like my real sister. It was revelatory, and it was done without comment. It was then that I really began to appreciate WFT’s desire to reflect our community inside the theatre. “All the world’s a stage” and at WFT, all the world is on the stage. Anybody can be anything with no limit but imagination. It’s deliciously radical, even subversive, and surprisingly still shocks some adults. But what’s beautiful is that the children in the audience don’t seem to notice anything unusual going on – which is evidence that things are changing, if slowly.
WFT has been on the forefront of this change and continues to push the limits of what is expected on stage, whether it’s an Asian-American Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray or an actress who is blind and deaf playing Pippi’s mother in Pippi Longstocking. In a culture where actors of color still have difficulty being considered for roles that aren’t specifically written for non-white characters, and where there is still a disconcerting backlash against the subversion of racial expectations in casting, the work WFT does is crucial. I feel privileged to be working at an institution that celebrates family and that defines family as everyone.
Jordan Clark (Blue Fairy)
I have lived in Boston for 2 1/2 years now and have worked with some fantastic theatre companies, but nothing compares to the unique set of challenges associated with working at Wheelock Family Theatre. Along with these challenges, however, come waves of inspiration unrivaled anywhere else.
Interestingly enough, the challenges and inspiration all stem from the same source - working with kids! And at times, working with 50+ kids! Before my first show with WFT last year, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, I had not been in a production with a single child actor since I myself was a child. So imagine my surprise at attending the first rehearsal with approximately 30 children under the age of 12 and nearly as many preteens/teens completely outnumbering us poor adults. With a different combination of kids for almost every show, I was reminded how each performance has its own heartbeat. The ability to adapt and not to fear that ebb and flow is an irreplaceable skill.
Working on Pinocchio, I am constantly amazed by the young actors I get to share the stage with. They have retain a passion for theatre that diminished a little for me when it became a job. The kids inspire me to approach theatre with a sense of curiosity and excitement. I am truly grateful for that.
Working with young actors means a lot of things. It means there will always be a noisy green room. It means entrances may inadvertently be missed. But it also means I get a chance to be a teacher, friend and confidant to an awesome group of kids. And I get to learn from them, too!
Kaitee Tredway (Ensemble/Puppeteer)
June 21, 2012: My 23rd birthday. I am backstage puppet-wrangling Kate Monster into her top-of-show costume when my phone buzzes. I have a voicemail: "Hi Kaitee, this is Jane Staab from Wheelock. I'd like you to play Josie Pye in Anne of Green Gables..." My first professional acting job. Best birthday present ever!
It was easy to find a place for Wheelock Family Theatre in my heart, and not just because of that story. Theatre is a highly collaborative art form, and it is what I love most about being a theatre artist. During Anne of Green Gables, I witnessed collaboration at its finest between actors, director, designers, and technicians. All voices were heard and welcomed. Jane found ways to include everyone and their unique skills. Together we brought the patchwork of Green Gables to life.
I find this warmth and openness central to WFT's theatre making. I can see it when I look around at my cast mates, and see the range of ages, ethnicities, and expertises on stage with me. I experience it when my additional training as a puppeteer or combat instructor are utilized. I admire it at every ASL-interpreted or Accessible performance. I feel that warmth in every audience as well. Because of this, each return to WFT feels like a homecoming.
Wheelock Family Theatre is exactly that: an extended theatrical family. This goes beyond even the casts and design teams. Some of my favorite Wheelock memories have occurred down in the Costume Shop, chatting with Lisa (Costume Shop Manager) and her assistants, Mina, Jenny, and Sarah. I always learn something new from Marge (Props Mistress) or Matthew (Technical Director) about crafting and building. Craig (Master Electrician and Crew Chief) graciously lent me one of his favorite series of books (which I only returned to him this show -- long overdue). It is always wonderful to catch up with Charles, Shelley, Wendy and Kay in the office. I always leave with a smile on my face. The very best people work here. I feel very luck to be counted as one of the family.
Members of Actors' Equity Association appearing in photos on this website: Shelley Bolman.