Local boys shine in Playhouse hit Christmas show

On the set, following a packed matinee, are the three local young actors starring in Upper Canada Playhouse’s hit production of Ethan Claymore’s Christmas. Left to right are Gavin Veinotte, Jack Peets and Liam McMahon. (The Leader/Gibb photo)

MORRISBURG – Three special young actors took the time last week after a packed Tuesday matinee to meet with The Leader on the set of the Upper Canada Playhouse hit, Ethan Claymore’s Christmas. They talked about the excitement and challenges of taking part in a major production, working with a professional cast and crew.

Gavin Veinotte, 16, plays Young Martin in the Playhouse Christmas show, while Jack Peets, 16, and Liam McMahon, 10, alternate in the role of Young Ethan in the play. Ethan Claymore’s Christmas, directed by Donnie Bowes, opened on November 28 and will run until December 15, which means that the boys, all local actors, will be on the stage for 20 performances.

Yet these three boys seem thrilled with the show’s long run, and equally thrilled to perform with the adult cast, Jesse Collins, Sweeney MacArthur, Jamie Williams and Viviana Zarrillo.

Gavin Veinotte has already had some experience on the Playhouse stage. He took on parts in productions of Miracle on 34th Street, Dear Santa, A Christmas Carol, and The Christmas Express. With his two brothers, he is also part of the up and coming singing group, Sons of Gord.

Jack Peets is a graduate of the Upper Canada Playhouse senior Theatre School, who’s been involved in drama for the last seven years. He also took part in a special advanced theatre training program with the Playhouse under the direction of Mary Ellen Viau, acting in plays ranging from The Importance of Being Earnest to Mark Twain’s Adam and Eve.

Ethan Claymore’s Christmas is Liam McMahon’s very first experience with acting. “I heard about the show at school,” he said, “and my Mom said I should try new things, so I auditioned. But I was kind of shocked when I got the part,” he said exuberantly.

Gavin laughs that theatre comes almost naturally to him. His mother is actress Kate Egan Veinotte, his father, Scott, is a member of the musical group Furious Gord. “Performing is like home for me,” Gavin said.

Jack Peets’ sisters introduced him to the theatre program at the Playhouse, and when they went off to university, “I took over. This was new territory for me because there are no actors anywhere in my family.”

This was a new field for Liam as well, although his grandmother, Donna Swank, has acted in a number of Iroquois-Matilda Lions Club productions.

One thing all three are agreed on is that it has been a great experience working with director Donnie Bowes.

“I appreciate Donnie thought of me,” said Jack. “It’s pretty chill working with him: he’s a good director.”

“‘Uncle’ Donnie is always consistent,” laughed Gavin. “He instructs us to do what feels natural and he knows what he wants from us.”

“He’s funny and nice,” said Liam. “He gives me good advice, and he doesn’t yell. He makes me laugh.”

They are equally enthusiastic about their experiences working with Jesse, Viviana, Sweeney and Jamie.

Liam says he is “having fun. I like acting with the professionals. They tease me a bit (so does Gavin), but I really like it.”

Jack likes acting and he likes rehearsing and working with professionals. “There is a very different feel to this than in amateur theatre,” he said.

Gavin appreciates that the cast made it very easy for the young actors to fit in, working around their school schedules to see that the transition was seamless for the boys. “I knew many of this cast from other shows, and they are great. Although,” he grinned, “Sweeney is a hassle.”

(Actor Jesse Collins who happened to be passing by, overheard this comment and solemnly added, “Well that’s the case for everyone in the cast,” setting off a lot of laughter.)

The three boys love Norm Foster’s play.

“It’s just so funny,” said Gavin. “I love this show, and even now, I still find lines funny.”

“I really like this play,” said Liam. “I watch Jack (they share the role) and I like seeing how a show looks and sounds. I feel at home.”

“This is a good play,” Jack said. “I like the funny parts, even though the flashbacks are more serious. Martin is my favourite character.”

Director Donnie Bowes was full of praise for his young performers.

“These boys had to learn huge numbers of lines for six scenes, and they only had two and a half weeks to rehearse, just like everyone else. Jack has the theatre experience behind him and can hold up his role well. Liam, young though he is, has talent and ability. Gavin comes from a ‘show biz’ family and he too has the experience to do his role well.”

Donnie feels that doing 20 performances has demanded a lot of hard work and a lot of responsibility from the three boys. “They have to show up for every show absolutely ready to go. And they have to be absolutely consistent every time. Gavin, Jack and Liam work really well with the professional cast. Actually,” Donnie added with a laugh, “they sometimes correct the professionals on their lines.”

While all three boys have lots of time to decide future careers, there is no doubt that acting in a major show at Upper Canada Playhouse has been an outstanding experience, one which will stay with them. Liam, Gavin and Jack hope friends and family will come to see them in Ethan Claymore’s Christmas.

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