It’s not easy channelling a six-year-old boy who’s obsessed with Beethoven. Try being an 18-year-old girl and doing it.
First-year student Mariah Horner sings, dances and acts as the Peanuts character Schroeder in the upcoming production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The former HBO actor — she played Kate Unger in two seasons of the television series Living in Your Car — snagged the role of the piano-playing youngster at Blue Canoe’s auditions in December.
“It’s funny because in almost every production, they always cast a gospel-y man [to play Schroeder],” said Horner. “Like in the Broadway cast, it’s this big black guy with this beautiful voice and I’m like, ‘What the heck? I can’t do that!’”
After auditioning with director Alysha Bernstein and her team, Horner was sure she didn’t get the part. Her first-round audition went well — she sang “I Know It’s Today” from the musical Shrek — but during the call back, she was asked to read for the role of Snoopy, which didn’t quite fit.
“The monologue they gave me, it was like ‘pretend you’re an airplane and run around the stage for a minute and half,’” she said, admitting she was nervous going into it. “There were no other first years in the room, I don’t know any of these people and I’m like ‘oh no, why’d you have to give me this one.’ So I’m pretty sure my audition was terrible … I was not expecting to get in at all.”
Luckily they ended up letting her read for Schroeder. She’s been studying the part ever since.
“My Schroeder character, I keep him pretty much to the comic, like he’s a very eyebrows-down kind of guy,” Horner said, scrunching her forehead into a scowl. “I think out of all of them, he is probably the hardest one to pull from the comics, just because he’s always staring at his piano.”
Horner had to re-arrange the original “gospel-y” score to suit her voice. But she says the various challenges of taking on a male role have been made easy by the way that Bernstein interpreted the script.
“Probably the songs is the hardest part about playing a guy, but otherwise we’re supposed to be little girls playing boys,” she said. “Like you don’t have to lower your voice or anything like that, so it’s not so forced.”
Bernstein wisely encouraged the all-female cast members to develop a six-year-old girl character to incorporate into their performances — shifting in and out of their male personas as they interact casually between scenes. Embracing the fact that they’re females rather than hiding it allows the audience to forget that half are pretending to be boys.
Instead, during a “stumble through” at Sunday’s rehearsal, the ease with which all six actors played their parts helped highlight the light humour and musical talents. They play characters like Charlie, Linus, Schroeder and Snoopy, without covering their hair or changing their tone.
“[Bernstein] said, ‘You seem like a girl who could probably eat bugs,’” Horner said, adding that she named her girl persona Agnes.
“[Agnes] is a weirdo, like when she breaks into ‘Beethoven Day’ and ‘Book Report’ — running around like Robin Hood — she’s really weird and doesn’t care what other people think.
“I haven’t even passed DRAM 100 yet, so working with both characters is difficult but it’s a lot of fun, a totally new experience.”
On top of classes, the cast spends around 15 hours per week in rehearsal for Charlie Brown and at least five hours practicing on their own time, Horner said.
“I spend a lot of time running lines even though I consistently mess them up and I have the least in the show,” she said, laughing. “I’m in Chown Hall this year and we have a great basement. I’m pretty sure I’m angering almost everyone on the first floor just by singing.”
Several numbers in the show have six-part harmonies. With just a six-person cast, the demanding vocal set inevitably required practice.
“There’s always singing on top of each other, like ‘Book Report,’ at the end of it is just like a chaotic, beautiful mess. So we worked a lot with chorus work first and then we did a little bit with our solos,” Horner said. “[Vocal director Lauren Del Rio] kind of let us do what we want, like with ‘Beethoven Day,’ [which features Schroeder] it’s kind of hard to sing with the track because we’ve kind of completely redone it. She’s like ‘Do whatever you want, figure it out yourself.’ It’s so awesome.”
Because Horner is comfortable with singing and acting, choreography takes the most work.
“The dancing, I’m a terrible dancer,” she said. “We just got [musical actor] Mitch Munroe, he’s coming in to help us choreograph one of our songs and I already feel like I’m going to get hives.”
Despite this, she believes they’ve all benefitted from Bernstein giving them ample artistic licence.
“With almost all of the songs she said, ‘you’re starting here, you’re ending here, go ahead.’ … A lot of running, a lot of jumping, that’s what makes it so fun and so easy.”
The playful nature of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts and the natural chemistry of the Charlie Brown team forms the essence of the production — it’s obvious from just a minute in the rehearsal room with the cast. For Horner, it was one of the main reasons she chose the show as her first stage venture at Queen’s.
“You probably can notice, that we all really enjoy acting like children,” she joked. I did and admit I was a bit jealous. “It’s a really easy show to be a part of, like the script is really light, the script is really fun. All the rehearsals, we just run around and play, you know what I mean, it’s not so intense. That’s really why I chose Charlie Brown.”
After it all — daunting auditions, months of rehearsal and dance practice — she admits she’ll probably still get a little nervous before the show.
“With [the Journal] here as our first audience, I was a little bit nervous. But it’s kind of cute with this show, you know what I mean, you’re aloud to get nervous,” she said. “We’re playing six-year-olds.
Six-year-olds would be nervous. So yeah, I get a little nervous, but I’m really just excited.”
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