Hutton Marshall | Contributing Editor
Returning for its 17th year, The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park is once again hosting its winter rendition of “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” For La Mesa residents, this year’s production offers a chance to see their own pint-sized thespians take the stage.
The play is unique for The Old Globe — and most major theaters for that matter — in featuring children in most of its leading roles. Out of the production’s 34 cast members, 20 are under the age of 15.
Returning to the stage are La Mesa’s Sophia and Gabriella Dimmick, sisters who share five years of experience in Whoville between the two of them. Gabriella, 8, will star as Cindy Lou-Who for the second consecutive year.
Although her age is still in single digits, she’s already appeared in productions by the Actors’ Conservatory Theatre – San Diego, San Diego Musical Theatre and the California Ballet Company. Appearing beside her sister in many of these performances, Gabriella said it’s nice to have someone nearby to depend on.
“It’s always nice to know that if I ever feel lonely, there’s always someone I can go to,” Gabriella said of working with Sophie.
Sophia, 10, will return for a third year in “Grinch,” this time as a member of the Whoville ensemble. She, too, warmly welcomed the opportunity to work with her sister in another production.
“I think it’s just really nice to share the stage with [Gabriella] —to know she’s always there for you,” Sophia said.
The fifth grade actress said the play’s story, as well as the cast and crew, drove her to audition year after year.
“I think it’s just a really nice story, and all the people back stage and on stage are so awesome, especially our stage manager Leila [Knox] and our director James [Vasquez],” Sophia said.
Another member of the Whoville Ensemble excited to return is 14-year-old Luke Babbit, a veteran cast member of the play and a student at the La Mesa Arts Academy. Luke said the mixed cast of children and adults make the production alluring as a developing actor.
“This is one of the only shows I’ve been in with adults, and that’s been really great because you can have a mentor, and you can learn from them and watch them during rehearsals, since they do so much,” Luke said.
While Luke acknowledged that the holidays are “the busiest time of the year” for him and his fellow actors because of the play, he still manages to stay on top of his school work with a little extra effort.
“I would miss maybe a couple classes every day for rehearsal, but I would just talk to my teachers before class everyday so I could do my work before that, so it’s definitely manageable,” Luke said.
Rehearsal for the production begins a mere three weeks before opening night, a much shorter timeline than your typical performance, regardless of whether youth are involved. This means that every actor big or small needs to have the chops prior to stepping into rehearsal.
The Old Globe makes up for the short timeline by packing six rehearsals into each week. For many of the young actors, balancing a major performance with school and other activities is quite a challenge.
La Mesa resident Brooke Henderson, 12, who plays Cindy Lou-Who’s mother, Betty Lou-Who, also spoke to the play’s rigorous rehearsal schedule. It is Brooke’s first year in one of the leading roles, and she said she didn’t mind the work that came along with the great acting experience. The seventh grader said acting in front of a large audience at The Old Globe was a big change from the community theater performances she’s used to.
“I’ve really wanted to get this far in my career,” Brooke said. “And I think the Old Globe is a very big step from doing community theater, so I think it really puts you out there in the world.”
Brooke, who plans to pursue acting as a profession when she’s older, said she enjoys the friendships forged each year at The Old Globe. She said it’s one of the reasons she thinks “Grinch” gets better each year.
“[The Old Globe’s ‘Grinch’] has actually changed for the better, because there are a lot of new kids coming in,” Brooke said. “My first year, I met so many new kids and they didn’t come back the next year. But I still talk to them and their families.”
The show runs at the Old Globe until Dec. 27. There is a sensory-friendly performance for children and adults on the autism spectrum and their families on Dec. 13. For tickets, show times and a full list of the cast, visit theoldglobe.org.
—Hutton Marshall is a contributing editor. Write to him at email@example.com.