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Learning along the way during Media Theatre’s ‘The Who’s Tommy’

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STORY WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN 
For Digital First Media

The give and take among cast members of the Media Theatre’s children’s production of “The Who’s Tommy,” as well as the seriousness with which everyone takes his or her part, is no different from what you would find in a professional production with seasoned actors.
At least that’s what Adam Hoyak and Garrison Carpenter say about the production.
Hoyak, 24, and Carpenter, 25, said the preparation, discipline and dedication to do good work for “Tommy” is at a level they experience and expect from a professional production.
Hoyak said he sees a lot of the “angsty teenager” he was among his cast mates. Carpenter said he learns as much from the cast, with ages ranging from 6 to 16, as much as they learn from him.
Both actors particularly praise Emily Kinka, 15, who stars as Hoyak’s wife, Mrs. Walker, and Carpenter’s mother.
Watching the production, you see what the guys are talking about. Kinka shows no signs of being a child and gives an intense performer that meshes well with Hoyak’s and Carpenter’s. Owen Mannion, as Cousin Kevin, and Denzel Thomas, in several parts including a minister, also earn attention in Jesse Cline’s production.
Roger Ricker, a veteran of dozens of Media productions and one of the lead teachers in the Media’s extensive theater education program, said he notices a difference between the “Tommy” cast and those from previous children’s shows.
“The cast is quieter and more attentive,” said Ricker. “There’s less running around backstage and more concentration on what Garrison and Adam are doing. As one of the people they see every day, I am more familiar to them. Jesse (Cline) is too. The kids relax around us. They treat us with respect and follow direction, but they are loose. I think they’re more in awe of having two young actors around as examples of how a professional performer operates. It’s as if the teens in this show see the work that Garrison and Adam are doing and instantly recognize they are in a show of high caliber. They are each more focused as they watch the professional actors, and they try to emulate them as much as possible.”
Hoyak and Carpenter are both aware of honing their craft. Hoyak earned his first role as almost an accident, but it was the juvenile male lead, Hugo Peabody, in “Bye Bye Birdie.” Carpenter has been performing since being chosen to leave his hometown of Greenville, S.C. at age 11 to attend middle school at the American Boys Choir School in Princeton, N.J. He had been singing in choirs since age 4.
“The year after I left American Boys Choir School was the year the school was chosen to sing at the Academy Awards. I watched on television in Greenville and saw all of my buddies in L.A. singing behind Beyoncé and Josh Groban. Yes, I was jealous. There but for a year!”

Photo by Stacey Loehrs Young Tommy (Josh Atkinson) with Owen Mannion (Cousin Kevin).

Photo by Stacey Loehrs
Young Tommy (Josh Atkinson) with Owen Mannion (Cousin Kevin).

In some ways, performing is all either of the guys knows.
Hoyak’s introduction to musical theater is one he shares with performers such as Susan Sarandon and Kristin Chenoweth.
He was in seventh grade in Marietta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta that has a style of its own, when auditions for “Bye Bye Birdie” were announced. A friend of Hoyak’s wanted to try for a part, but he was too shy, so Adam offered to accompany him. He not only won a role, he scored the juvenile lead.
“I didn’t expect to get any kind of big part,” said Hoyak. “I was helping out a friend who needed a push. He told me they needed boys for the chorus, so I figured I’d be one of the guys in the background if I got in at all. To be in the school musical, you had to be in the school choir. I wasn’t, so I joined that and took my place as Hugo Peabody.
“I found a home in the theater and the choir. As in most schools, extracurricular activity involve either theater or sports. I didn’t do sports. My best grades were always in English and history and subjects that involved people and stories.
“Like I said before, I was an ‘angsty’ teenager with a lot of energy and the usual things to work out. Theater was a great activity and a great outlet.
“When it came time for college, I realized performing was the only thing I did well, so I came to Philadelphia and the University of the Arts to pursue it.”
In the last season alone, Hoyak showed great versatility going from the driving member of a Christian boy band in the musical, “Altar Boyz” and a Greek muse cum surfer boy in “Xanadu” to impressively commanding lead roles in as a callous soldier who finds his heart in “Dogfight” (one of the shows on the Media’s roster for this coming season) and the irrepressibly resourceful Frank Abagnale opposite Jeffrey Coon’s pursuing cop in “Catch Me if You Can.”
He capped the year working as a highway tough in “Ragtime” and with Andrea McArdle as a member of the Media’s chorus for “Hello, Dolly!” He also played the teen who haunts the musical “Next to Normal.” Between that and “Catch Me if You Can,” Hoyak says, “I have this Aaron Tveit thing going.” Tweit originated the parts Hoyak played on Broadway.
Carpenter’s story parallels Hoyak’s at the beginning.
At age 4, he accompanied a friend to a choir audition at his Greenville church but not to encourage the friend or lend needed support. The friend was fine with the audition process. Carpenter joined him purely for social reasons.
“No one noticed anything special about my voice or said I must be in the choir,” said Carpenter. “My whole reason for wanting be in it was to spend more time with my friend. So I went to the audition.
“That’s when my voice got some attention. I wasn’t trying to be better than anyone else. I was just singing, but I had a talent that could be developed, and I went from the church choir to the Boys Choir of the Carolinas, with which I sang for several years.
“When I was about to go to middle school, I was nominated for a place at the American Boys Choir School. It was a boarding school, and that meant leaving Greenville for three years to live in Princeton and receive musical training along with all the academics you usually have in school.”
Given the quality of his voice, people encouraged Carpenter to train for the opera, a route he considered and pursued while having parallel experience in musical theater.
“I returned to Greenville for high school and began auditioning for musicals. I could do shows at my school and the rival school. As Adam said, boys can be in short supply, especially in a small-town Christian school. I also did some community theater.”
Carpenter found himself in a position of having to choose between musical theater and opera.
“The rungs of success in each are vastly different,” he said. “In opera, you’re judged solely by your vocal production. That’s changing a little as more operas are finding their way to video. The voice will always be supreme as the deciding factor, but the way a person looks is having more influence.
“In theater so much depends on your type. People see me, and my voice surprises them. They expect a soft, sweet, tenor voice. I open up with my range, and the musical theater isn’t always sure about what to do with me.”
Media artistic director Cline has a clue. He and production director Geoffrey Goldberg have cast Carpenter as the brother in the Media’s late fall production of “Billy Elliot.” He previously performed for Cline in the Media’s acclaimed production of “Ghost.”
Hoyak said his objective is to keep working and take things as they come. He said he has never been comfortable with deadlines and has made none for himself. His plan is to work and looking for opportunities in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
Carpenter is mainly planted in musical theater for the time being. He also is eager to see what lies ahead and has consistent work as his main goal. He maintains his interest in opera and though not matriculated at Philadelphia’s Academy of the Vocal Arts, has ties there. He has performed roles in Daniel Pantano’s Concert Operetta Theater, which devotes itself to doing rare works with as much of an emphasis on entertainment as on enlightenment.
Carpenter said he learns from the children he is working with in “The Who’s Tommy.”
“Three people play Tommy,” said Carpenter. “I am the oldest, and I watch the body language of the two younger Tommy to match their physicality and keep things consistent. I get energy from watching the young performers. They are so eager and earnest.”
“I agree,” said Hoyak. “I don’t think so much about guiding and teaching, except by example. I am learning a lot from the kids. I started out at their age and can appreciate the mutual perceptions. It’s an equally exciting experience for everyone, and I am pleased to be part of it.
“Especially since I never expected to be cast as Captain Walker and enjoy the challenge and the chance to do this part.”

IF YOU GO

“The Who’s Tommy” runs through Aug. 9, at the Media Theatre, 104 E. State Street, in Media.
Show times are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for children and can be obtained by calling 610-891-0100 or by visiting www.mediatheatre.org.

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