I’ve had to step away from Kicking the Puck the past few weeks for a number of reasons including an onslaught of youth hockey, my wife going to Costa Rica for ten days, the start of the semester, and an intimate relationship with a stomach virus. The biggest and best reason, however, has been the rehearsal and rewriting process for my play, Hair Frenzy, opening Saturday night, 5 p.m. at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor.
Hair Frenzy, set in my fictional home of Clara, Maine is the tale of a small town, big dreams and bad hair. In keeping with the focus of this blog, I thought it would be appropriate to have a brief chat with the youngest member of our cast, Rachel Palmer, who plays Ella Harvey the daughter of Tina who owns the salon, Hair Frenzy (which, as you might have figured out, is also the name of the play).
Ella is a bright young woman with dreams of moving far away from the rocky shores on which she’s been raised to Nashville to become a country singer superstar someday. I asked Rachel what she admires about the character and she noted Ella’s, “Independence.” This trait serves the character well as she has to put up with a mom who always seems to have an appointment, a dad who rarely remembers when he’s supposed to pick her up or even if he’s wearing pants and a host of problems many a middle-school tween can relate to.
In casting the part, we were looking for a young lady with spunk, fire, stage presence and the technical know-how to hold her own with some very large personalities. Maybe it was her field-hockey training or her three years of study at the PTC Dramatic Academy but when we saw Rachel, we knew she was the one.
Since casting, Rachel has participated in several readings, and helped create both the character and the show. For Rachel the process has been a positive one. “The fun part is the community. Everyone has been really encouraging,” she said just before the first preview. Asked about Rachel’s efforts during those hectic nights, Hair Frenzy director Dominic Varney says, “Rachel was a pure delight to work with. She was the first person to know her lines and is always willing to try new things.”
The time commitment, especially the last four weeks has been a challenging one for Rachel and her family. Aside from her studies as a 5th grader at Wagner MS in Winterport, Rachel enjoys swimming and running. Both of these activities have had to take a back seat to being at the theatre from 5-9 five or six days a week with homework often getting done in the car on the way to rehearsal.
Her mother, Cassandra Palmer, has been both encouraging and supportive, if a tad weary. “She wants to do this,” she said. “It has to be their thing. Not your thing.” With opening night approaching, Cassandra admitted the process has been “Fun and nerve-wracking. You want your child to do well.” As the father of a goalie, I know that feeling all too well.
Not to worry though, Rachel is doing great. She absolutely lights up the stage with her smile and spirit. Her on-stage mom, Tina played by Jen Shepard, said of her co-star, “It’s been a wonderful experience to work with Rachel. She has a great sense of humor and has brought so much to the role of Ella.”
Rachel credits PTC Dramatic Academy directors Amy Roeder and Ben Laymen for helping her to prepare for this opportunity on the big stage with both their encouragement and instruction.
And when asked what advice she has for aspiring young actors she said in words every coach, teacher, director and playwright love to hear, “Work hard.”