The Baker family of Nevada couldn’t quite believe the news.
One day after Jackson, the 11-year-old, fifth-grade son of Katie and Jeff Baker, tried out to be in the Iowa State Theatre production of “A Christmas Carol,” they received an email. Jackson had been chosen to play the part of Peter Cratchit, one of the six children of the impoverished, warmhearted family in Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale. Jackson also has a minor second part as Edward, Scrooge’s childhood friend, in one scene.
How did he land the Peter Cratchit role?
He’s not sure, especially since he had tried out for another big production this year and didn’t get a part. His dad figured auditioning for “A Christmas Carol” was another chance for Jackson to gain experience. No one anticipated him getting a main part.
“I’ve explained to him,” said Jeff, “how it is for actors … to have to try out for lots of parts before getting something.”
And Jackson said his parents have also talked to him a lot about failure and how it isn’t a bad thing. “Dad keeps telling me that failing actually helps you learn a lesson,” Jackson said. “But you don’t always want to fail,” he added. And this time, he didn’t.
He got to the audition, and remembering that maybe he didn’t vocally project quite enough or truly “go after” what he wanted at the last audition he had, this time he decided no matter how nervous or embarrassed he might feel in front of everyone, he was going to do what he had to do to give himself a chance. They wanted him to sing something and then open a present and react to it in some way. “I sang the happy birthday song … then I opened a present and acted (he showed several emotions on his face).” He was also the first kid who had to do this, making it a little more nerve-wracking. “I didn’t have any time to plan mine, but I’m thinking … you don’t have to care about what other people think … you can do it.”
Since getting the news and getting the script, Jackson’s been busy practicing his lines, and there are quite a few, he said. His parents sit down with him and read through a scene with him over and over, as he begins to pick up lines and, most importantly, know whose line his next line follows. “I’ve memorized pretty much all of them,” Jackson said. He’s enjoyed the practices he’s attended so far, where he’s mostly worked with just the people in his “Cratchit family,” mostly on their parts of scenes. “We pretend to have props and go through our lines.”
You wouldn’t think a boy who is involved in soccer, the Swim America program, piano lessons with Jo McFarland, hip hop dance at a local dance studio, playing percussion in the fifth-grade band, singing in chorus, Cub Scouts, writing club, K-Kids and who plans to be in a track club this coming spring, would have time to go to practices and learn all the lines he needs to memorize for a huge production like “A Christmas Carol.” But Jackson doesn’t seem overwhelmed by any of it. It’s good, he explained, for his ability to persevere and be more organized.
Acting is something Jackson has enjoyed learning about, as he’s attended two summer camps put on by the Story County Theater group. He did one in the summer of 2015, and did another on acting fundamentals this past summer.
“We’re all (at camp) like a team — an ensemble,” he said. “We work together to create a story.” Camp has been a good place to learn, and to meet people and make new friends. It also is where he has made connections. For example, the Iowa State student who plays the part of his father is one of the teachers he had at the summer theater camp.
Jackson, a member of Mrs. Gilchrist’s five-six multiage class and a TAG (Talented And Gifted) student in the Nevada School District, said his TAG teacher, Mrs. Beauchene, plans to take the fifth- and sixth-grade TAG students to one of the performances. Baker is the only youth from Nevada who is in this year’s production, and he is excited that his Nevada friends might come and watch.
“A Christmas Carol,” which is put on every few years by ISU Theatre, will have nine performances between Dec. 1 and Dec. 10, in addition to three dress rehearsals and a lot of practices that have already started and will pick up steam in the coming few weeks. “This week they have three nights with practice, and next week they have them every night,” said Jeff. He and his wife take turns driving their only child back and forth to Ames for rehearsals.
As parents, Jeff and Katie can’t help but be proud and excited for their son. Even if he hadn’t gotten a part, Jeff said, he still wanted him to keep trying out for parts. “I want him to see that it’s OK to try new things; whether you succeed or fail, it’s important to try.” Katie thinks everything about this theater experience is a great opportunity. “It shows him the importance of dedication and hard work, and from that, there can be reward.”
To find show times and ticket information for ISU Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” which is adapted and directed by Jane Cox, visit: www.center.iastate.edu/events/a-christmas-carol-2017/.