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Animal Farm showtimes
Dates: Thursday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m., 5 p.m.
Cost: $15 for adults, teens; $10 children 12 and under
Location: Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre at Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., next to the Raleigh Rose Garden.
Tickets: Call 919-821-3111 or see raleighlittletheatre.org.
By David Leone
RALEIGH — A Wake Forest teen with dreams of stardom has landed her first significant role, as a sheep with an attitude.
Olivia Williams, 14, has a speaking part in Raleigh Little Theatre’s Teens on Stage adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Additionally, Louisburg’s Vicki Olson runs the costume shop for the nonprofit theater, and helped create the masks the youths are using for the performance.
The play began last weekend and continues through Sunday.
Olivia lives with her parents, Kiersten and Jim, a brother, sister and dachshund.
“Everything’s going really well,” Olivia said when reached by phone Monday. “There’s a great cast, a great director.”
Most of Olivia’s lines are individual, though she undoubtably joins a chorus of “Four legs good, two legs bad,” that the sheep bleat, at some point.
The rising ninth-grader at North Raleigh Christian Academy previously played Kate in the musical Annie at the academy’s middle school two years ago and really got into it.
She recently tried out for the school’s fall production, but wasn’t cast. After a week of performances with the Raleigh Little Theatre, she’ll have some serious cred next time she auditions.
She doesn’t plan to stop trying.
“I really want to be an actress. I really want to be on TV someday,” she said.
Animal Farm is not a rustic tale, but rather a revolutionary one that Orwell intended to be a criticism of Communism. In it, starved, neglected and oppressed animals of Manor Farm band together to create a system of justice and equality. However, their revolution is overthrown by a group of charismatic but power-hungry pigs.
Attendees will witness the rise and bloody fall of these revolutionary animals as their idealistic society is demolished under the power of the credo that “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”
“Animal Farm is really a play that makes you think,” Olivia said. “It has serious material. We actually have a killing scene. It’s not really a play for 6-, 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds. It’s more for 12 and up.”
That depth is a good contrast to Annie, according to her mother.
“I think its been a great experience for her,” Kiersten said. “This has been an opportunity for her to delve into other acting techniques, while still with an ensemble, exploring social themes. It’s an impactful experience.”
Kiersten has a background in the theater and also worked at a talent agency. Though she hasn’t pushed her children to act, she’s pleased that Olivia has taken to it.
“I encourage all my kids. Whatever they’re gravitating towards, I encourage them,” she said. “[Olivia] gravitated toward this. She took acting classes. She enjoys it.”
Kiersten attended opening day and will be back with her family for the finale.
“It’s phenomenal. It’s super cool,” she said.
Behind the curtain
One thing that Olivia and the other teen actors have had to do for Animal Farm is move their heads when they speak.
That’s because their animal heads are fitted with special screen masks (like a fencing mask) which allow them to speak and see clearly, but audience members can’t see their mouths moving.
Olson, who is the senior designer at Raleigh Little Theatre, helped the performance designer Jenny Butler to create the masks and costumes.
Additionally, they have a number of volunteers who come in and help stitch and sew.
Unlike many productions in which costumes can be pulled off a rack and modified, Animal Farm called for something unique.
“There were a lot of special costumes. Twenty-four are used in the show. They’re all animals acting as humans,” Olson said.
The rest of the costumes are modern, with loose fitting pants in the color of the animal, but they otherwise don’t look like animals.
“Originally I think the animals were going to be in black, but the director wanted color. Jenny decided to do a little more complex costumes. They’re just kind of space age looking,” Olson added.
It took the two of them with heavy volunteer participation to create the costumes, working for three weeks straight. Much of the preliminary work involved measuring the actors for the custom-fit costumes and purchasing fabric and patterns.
A Lexington native, Olson has a master’s degree in costume design and has been employed in the past as a social worker — which helps her to get along with the personalities who come to act, direct and volunteer.
The other most challenging costume in recent memory was an actor who was a gum ball machine.
“That was engineering,” Olson said. “The most difficult thing is when the shape of the item is not the shape of a human being.”
She started with Raleigh Little Theatre in 1985. In 1991 she and her husband moved to South Dakota. She tolerated the nine months of cold weather, biting wind and tornadoes; but in 2001, after a particularly harsh winter with 12 blizzards, she put her foot down.
“I told my husband, ‘We’re moving,’” she said. “One day the wind chill was like 75 below.”
Upon their return to Raleigh, they moved to rural Louisburg. She rejoined Raleigh Little Theatre and has been a part of its inner workings ever since.
Olson enjoys her place behind the scenes immensely.
“It’s so interesting because you don’t repeat yourself a lot,” she said. “I love the theatre — it keeps me going.”