News Column

Becoming George Bailey

December 2, 2013


Dec. 02--George Bailey is the everyman we all relate to. Honest and hard-working with big dreams, he is one of the most relatable characters to ever light up the screen.

But up until a few weeks ago, Matt Hockersmith didn't know a thing about him or the classic black-and-white film, "It's A Wonderful Life." His only knowledge came from the end of a Chevy Chase Christmas movie.

That has, of course, changed as Hockersmith auditioned and received the role for the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players' production of "It's A Wonderful Life," which starts this week. He said the more he works with the part, the more he finds connections to his own life story. In many ways he is living "It's A Wonderful Life."

Hockersmith grew up in Pine Bluffs working on his father's ranch before leaving for New York to study acting. He recently moved back to help with the operation.

So when George Bailey says he is going to shake off the dust of this cruddy little town and see the world, Hockersmith knows where he is coming from.

"I really connect with the parts about working for and with your father on the family business, which is everything," he said. "That's the beauty of theater. though -- it always reflects life back to you."

Directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, "It's a Wonderful Life" opened in 1946. The stage adaptation is very honest to the source material, which means many different set locations and switches. To get around having to wheel objects on and off in the cramped space of the Mary Godfrey Playhouse, Director John Lyttle decided to use a projector and screen, giving the show an almost abstract feel.

"The images we show -- mortar and pedestal for the pharmacy, for example -- are static, but they do let the audience know where they are quickly," he said. "We thought that would be fine as people tend to really know this show."

Knowledge of the movie is a blessing and a burden for the cast, according to Lyttle. Stewart's performance for example is as iconic as it comes.

"With that, the actors just have to find their own space in the role, because they aren't going to be Jim," Lyttle said. "They have to give an honest performance that draws from themselves."

Hockersmith said that there was some added pressure to the play as the audience would likely be coming in the mood for a little holiday magic.

"People want to be excited for the season and be thankful for what they have. So you want to do a good job for them and help get their season going right," he said.

Lyttle said the community theater group plans on making holiday shows a tradition.

"We like to go down and see those types of shows ourselves, but we know it would be great to have them in our community," he said. "That is something we are looking into going forward."


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