From the moment two child actors met in rehearsal this summer, they have become best friends who will be sharing the key role of Gloria, a spunky 9-year-old girl in the Classic Theatre Festival staging of the gripping Frederick Knott play Wait Until Dark, opening August 7 and running until August 30.
For Perth’s Madison Miernik and Smiths Falls’ Samantha Salter, both aged 11, discovering that both wore green the first day they worked together, their birthdays are one day apart, and they’ll be on the same hockey team this fall, were enough coincidences to seal the deal of a solid friendship and working relationship. They’ve also discovered they were in the same show with the Perth Academy of Musical Theatre a couple of years ago, but were too shy at the time to get to know one another.
It’s a big step for the duo, who have appeared in numerous community theatre productions in Perth and Smiths Falls. But that’s all changed with the daily regimen of rehearsal with a professional company, with a director, stage manager, and actors from Ottawa, Toronto, and other parts of the province sharing in the task of bringing a play to life.
Asked what they most enjoy about the new experience, Miernik enthuses, “You can’t even name a specific thing, it’s just all been so cool and you meet awesome people.” Salter agrees, adding, “It is so exciting to learn new things about the play and from the other actors. It’s really easy to learn off them because they act so well.”
Miernik likes working with professional actors – with a cast that includes Classic Theatre Festival veterans Greg Campbell, Richard Gelinas, Alastair Love, as well as Alison Smyth, Scott Clarkson and Sean Jacklin – because “they’re like role models, they know what they’re doing, and this is a first time for me. I’ve been doing a lot of community theatre where there’s not as much expected of me.”
Both Miernik and Salter view Gloria as a bit of a bratty girl who exhibits a ‘don’t do it to me or you’ll get it back’ attitude that she inherits from her parents, who are often involved in squabbles in what during the 1960s would have been termed a ‘broken home,’ with fighting, violence, and a father coming and going. “It’s hard on her so I think that is why she takes things out on Suzy,” says Miernik in reference to the main character, a blind woman who must, with Gloria’s help, fend off criminals who have invaded her home.
“I don’t think she likes Suzy because she’s got all this stuff happening in her life, and now she has to help this blind lady and doesn’t want to do that, it’s not voluntary,” Miernik says.
Salter agrees, and says, “She doesn’t have a lot of heart in her, and then she does things like rearranging the furniture on a blind woman. Sometimes Gloria sneaks around and tries not to let Suzy know.”
At the age of 11, both Salter and Miernik hope for a future as professional performers. “I love acting because you get to tell a story and people will listen without being judged,” says Salter. “You can just be there having fun. Sometimes people think it’s silly of us to be telling stories still because we’re almost teenagers soon, so there’s almost like a ‘grow out of it, you’re not a kid anymore’ attitude,” but she takes heart seeing actors in their 50s telling stories on stage as an occupation.
Miernik started performing at age 3, and “it felt really great. I had older people around me who made it fun and exciting. The first show I did was mostly songs, and I love to sing. I like taking on the roles of other people, thinking a different way and being a different person. About 95% of the roles I have played are boys, so I like to be different and just get out there. I think people will like Wait Until Dark because it’s a thriller, like the stories people tell around a campfire.”
For Salter, it was watching live theatre that got her hooked, and as soon as she took to the stage herself, “I was very happy, I knew I wouldn’t be judged because of how I look, because I am acting as someone else, so you can’t be judged as a person then.”
Asked whether it’s difficult to play a 9-year-old, Salter laughs mischievously. “Not really, because sometimes I still act like I am 9, I don’t always act my age, I can be very goofy and immature sometimes, but when it comes to acting, I can be any age I want to.”
Relating to a character who comes from a situation of family conflict and divorce is not a stretch for either performers, as they both know children who are going through such difficult situations.
Salter says “some of my friends when I was young, their parents were divorcing, and the kids were very upset, sometimes depressed, not always feeling on top of the world. I try to play the role like they would have felt.”
Miernik chimes in that “there’s lots of kids my age who still have parents divorcing. A lot of kids, when I mention how I have great parents, I feel kind of sad when they don’t have that.”
Both Miernik and Salter are huge Audrey Hepburn fans (she starred in the film version of Wait Until Dark), and Miernik hopes to be either the next Hepburn or Anne Hathaway. Samantha Salter dreams of going to audition in Toronto when she is older, adding “I’m hoping I’m good enough.” Her new best friend, Madison Miernik, reassures her: “You will be.” “You too,” Samantha says back.
To see some of this area’s rising young talent making their professional debut on the Classic Theatre Festival stage, book tickets online at classictheatre.ca or call 1-877-283-1283. Shows run Wed. to Sun at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wed., Thurs. & Sat.