Ari Bigelman frantically tears the wrapping paper off a gift from his parents. It’s a copy of a classic English novel.
He examines the book and simultaneously asks his mom what it is but then quickly answers his own question.
“A Christmas Carol,” he says with a big smile.
It’s hardly an expected gift for a 6½-year-old Jewish boy, and seemingly stranger since he was receiving it early in September. But Ari understands the significance.
His eyes widen and he claps his hands in excitement as his mom confirms that Ari got the part of Tiny Tim in the Meadow Brook Theatre 35th-annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He was one of 57 children to audition for the play.
“I’m really happy and excited about being in A Christmas Carol, and I’m really looking forward to it, especially because it’s my very first big show,” says Ari, a first-grader at the Roeper School in Birmingham. “I love being in shows because I love everything about acting.”
Tiny Tim, the character who helps Scrooge find his Christmas spirit, does not have a lot of speaking roles but is a central character in the story, which means that Ari will be on stage throughout much of the performance. He will also play the roles of Young Ignorance and Poor Lad, but both are non-speaking parts.
How does the Bigelman family — including Mom, Sharone, Dad, Joe, and Ari’s two siblings — members of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, feel about Ari’s participation in this play?
“I can’t ignore the irony,” says Sharone, but both parents agree that it’s not a big deal. Ari adds: “It’s not hard to be in a play about Christmas because I know I’m acting.”
According to Terry W. Carpenter, the associate director at Meadow Brook Theatre, of the 57 children who auditioned for 10 roles, 20 were cast so that the parts could be split among the child actors, allowing each group to appear in 28 performances, instead of all 56 shows.
Aside from performing in the basement of his family’s Bloomfield Hills home (his parents constructed a stage, complete with curtains and a dressing room), Ari’s only other on-stage appearances have come by way of summer theater camps. However, with each of these productions, none of the plays was performed more than once, let alone 28 times. It was his camp theater director at Sunset Theatre Company in Bloomfield Hills who encouraged Ari to audition for the role of Tiny Tim.
Carpenter said Ari was chosen based on his acting ability, stage presence, maturity and ability to work well with others.
“It is a big responsibility, and Ari seemed capable and, in fact, has shown that to be true,” says Carpenter. “He has remained focused as we go over the scenes multiple times.”
Rehearsing and performing over a 10-week period, with rehearsal ranging from one to eight hours a day, up to six days a week, can be a lot for many actors, let alone a child. With some shows starting as late as 8 p.m., Bigelman says Ari will have scheduled rest times on those day.
Ari thinks it’s cool that he will be missing school and staying up late, and his teachers have been more than accommodating, encouraging him to engage in his passion.
“I can’t remember Ari not having a love of theater. I remember being in a baby music class with Ari when he was less than a year old and the way he reacted to music struck me even then — it affected him differently than I’ve ever seen a child react to music,” says Bigelman. “I think that translated to a love of musical theater and performing; Ari loves to have an audience for his performances, ranging from made-up plays, magic shows and performing to Broadway music. Both my husband and I enjoy the theater, and we often have music playing in the house.” *
A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 23 at Meadow Brook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester. $20-$42. (248) 377-3300; ticketmaster.com.
By Jennifer Lovy, Contributing Writer