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Girls step into traditionally male roles

Sophia Wulsin, 8, portrays Tiny Tim in the North Shore Music Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.”

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Sophia Wulsin, 8, portrays Tiny Tim in the North Shore Music Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.”

It turns out the operative word in the classic character is “Tiny” and not “Tim.”

For the first time since the North Shore Music Theatre began performing Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in 1989, one of the key roles in the upcoming production — Tiny Tim  — will be played by a girl, 8-year-old Sophia Wulsin of Lowell.  

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And when Boston Children’s Theatre  begins performances of its stage adaptation of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” the lead also for the first time will be played by a girl, 13-year-old Tori Cargill of Beverly. The production began performances for school groups Dec. 3 and opens to the public Saturday.  

Both theater groups say they aren’t going out of their way to cast a female. It just so happened that the girls’ winning auditions made them the obvious choices for the roles.

“Sophia came late, but she just stole the day,” said Arianna Knapp, executive artistic director of the North Shore theater and director of “A Christmas Carol.” “She has that sense of innocence that Dickens talked about.”

Wulsin, who has been acting since she was 4, had attracted Knapp’s attention at an earlier audition for “Annie” but didn‘t get the part. This time, she rocked the audition with “Before the Parade Passes By” from “Hello Dolly.”  

“I was very excited when I got the role,” said Wulsin, a third-grader at the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsborough. She enjoys gymnastics, ice skating, horseback riding, and skiing when she isn’t acting, and she hopes to be a professional actress some day.

She said she enjoys an advantage over other auditioners.

“I don’t really get nervous,” she said.

In preparing to play Tiny Tim, the young crippled son of Bob Cratchit, Wulsin had her hair cut, and is learning to speak with a British accent and “act like a boy.”

“I think Tiny Tim is nice and kind-hearted and that describes me . . . most of the time,” she said with a laugh.

Knapp said the theater demands a lot of its young actors, who in “A Christmas Carol” range in age from 7 to 14.

“We have the same expectations for them as the other members of the company,” she said.

The North Shore theater has been recognized in the past for its casting, winning the prestigious Rosetta LeNoire Award  in 2003 for nontraditional casting from the Actors Equity Association.

 The theater has cast African-American actors and actresses in shows such as “The Music Man,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”  

Cargill, who attends the Brookwood School in Manchester-by-the-Sea, also has been acting since she was 4. She played Scout in Boston Children’s Theatre’s 2011 production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and had a chance to meet Mary Badham, the original Scout who starred in the iconic 1962 film; Badham watched the production and praised Cargill’s performance.

Cargill’s resume includes a variety of roles at local theaters, and her skills include dancing in several genres; singing; and playing instruments such as the piano/keyboard, guitar, steel drums, and hand bells. She also enjoys skiing, lacrosse, and field hockey.

How does she fit it all in?

“I’m pretty organized, but I can be messy,” she said. “My mom and dad help me as well to organize my time and chauffeur me around. They’re very supportive.”

“The best actor deserves the role,” said Burgess Clark, executive artistic director of the Children’s Theatre. “Whoever reads best for the role gets it and Tori gave the best reading.”

Clark said Cargill brings a “wonderful vivacity” to the role. “She’s very colorful as a person and an actor.”

“I’ll give it a shot,” said Cargill about pursuing a role that has gone to a male actor in the past. “At the very least, it’s good experience, I told my mom.”

Clark said the theater’s philosophy is that any role is open to anyone and that the theater casts across racial, cultural, and gender lines.

Clark adapted the “The Velveteen Rabbit” for the stage and this is the fourth year the Boston theater group will perform the story of the stuffed toy’s quest to become real through the love of its owner.

The actresses and their families give up a lot to rehearse and perform during a busy holiday season.

“Her dad Tom and I do things to try and make it possible for her to fulfill her dream,” said Tori’s mother, Nicole.

“She’ll be missing three days of school, but on those days she’ll be performing six shows and bringing theater to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. That’s important.”

Sheila Wulsin, Sophia’s mom, said “I don’t worry too much because Sophia’s very diligent with her schoolwork.”

Someday soon, a female Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer might find her way to a local theater.

“I would definitely do that again,” said Cargill about pursuing a role that is traditionally a male preserve. “If you feel you can play the part and you enjoy playing the part, go for it.”

“Yes I think I’d try it again,” said Wulsin. “It’s fun, something new, and a challenge.”

The Boston Children’s Theatre production of “The Velveteen Rabbit:” Dec. 15, 16, 22, and 23 at the Benjamin Franklin Institute, 41 Berkeley St., Boston. bostonchildrenstheatre.org.

North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol:” Through Dec. 23, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. nsmt.org.

Fahey can be reached at fahey.rich2@gmail.com.
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