by Holly Bennett
Published: January 2017
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
The Cover Story
Remembering her lines is the least of Ava's worries.
When Ava lands a part in a summer theatre playshe is thrilled.But is she good enough to hold her own in a professional production? As the rehearsal pressures crank up, Ava struggles with her character, with the vocal demands of outdoor theatre, and with the annoying ego of her castmate, Kiefer. It's only as she learns more about the real-life Lily on which her part is based that things begin to fall out of place.
But then one bad move jeopardizes Ava's chances of being able to perform on opening night.
An Orca Limelights book for readers 11-14.
Read an Excerpt from Casting Lily
After lunch Will and I have some time off.
“You OK, Ava?”
He must have noticed I was still a bit upset at lunch.
“Sure.” I hesitate. “I’m just having trouble with one scene,” I confess.
Will just nods, like it’s a normal thing. “What’s the problem?”
So I tell him, or try to. “I just don’t get why Lily doesn’t speak up for herself.”
Will smiles. “That’s because you’re a person who never hesitates to speak up for herself.”
I fake-punch him in the arm. “I am not—shut up!” Funny how shut up can sound so different from one situation to the next. With Kiefer I was serious. Now, with Will, we’re just joking around and I already feel better about that dumb scene.
He lifts his hands in surrender. “Hey, that’s a compliment!”
“Oh.” I think about it. “You’re probably right though. She’s so different from me.”
A voice floats down from above my head. “A good actor doesn’t need to agree with his character to portray him. That’s why it’s called acting.”
It’s Kiefer, of course, managing to butt into our conversation, be a sexist know-it-all and insult me, all in one sentence. I am starting to really dislike him.
“Thanks, Kiefer, that’s super-helpful.” I aim my best death-glare at him, but he just shrugs and saunters off.
“Let’s talk about Lily.” After a second run-through of the scene with the reverend and his wife, Stephen has asked me to bring my lunch into his office in the farmhouse. I wonder nervously if I’m about to be cut from the team.
“I know I suck at that scene,” I blurt out. Very professional, Ada. Why don’t you just invite him to fire you?
“It’s a very challenging scene,” says Stephen. “You don’t have much time, or many words, to convey what’s going on with Lily. I thought it might help if we talked about what life was like for Lily, why she acts the way she does.”
“Okay.” My stomach relaxes, and only then do I realize how knotted up it was. I guess I’m not getting fired, at least. I take a bite of ham sandwich to give myself thinking time.
“I guess...” I suck at my lemonade straw. “I guess I don’t actually understand why she’s the way she is in this scene. I mean, I know that they beat her, or at least Mrs. Talmadge has. We learn that in the letter she writes later to Walter. But it doesn’t seem like that alone would make her so... I dunno, so timid. She was spunky before, brave. And why doesn’t she tell Dr. Barnardo what’s happening? Isn’t that what he’s there for—to see if she’s all right?”
Stephen nods. His wrap has a lot of red sauce oozing out of it, and he swallows and carefully dabs at his beard with a napkin before talking. “It’s hard to imagine how completely alone these kids were, once they were sent to a family. They literally had nobody. They wrote letters to their siblings, not knowing where they were, and never got a reply because the letters were never delivered. There was no phone, no help line, no Children’s Aid. They were farther from home than they could imagine, in a completely strange country—so if they ran away, where could they go? They were completely dependent on the families who took them.”
He looks at me. “Think about what that would feel like. Let’s make it personal: imagine your parents die in a car accident, and the officials who are supposed to look after you send you to work, say, for some complete strangers on a ranch in Australia. They speak English, but not your English. They treat you like an unpaid farmhand and beat you, or maybe don’t feed you, if they aren’t satisfied with your work. You have no cell phone, no TV, no radio, nothing. No contact with your past life. There are no buses, and anyway you have no money for one. There’s just miles of dry land in every direction, and sheep, and a truck you don’t have the keys for. What options do you have?”
Whoa. I’m tempted to crack a joke about it, but I don’t. I make myself really think about being completely at somebody’s mercy like that. It’s an awful thought.
The Inside Story
There's a busy theatre community in my small city, and researching Casting Lily showed me just how generous that community is. To the playwrights who readily allowed me to give their play to Mill Pond Theatre to perform, to the theatre directors who invited me to sit in on rehearsals and hang around backstage on opening night, and to the actor friends who walked me through the whole process and answered my dumb questions – thank you! I even got to watch a fight coach teaching actors how to look like they were hurting each other without actually getting hurt.
This book is for kids who love being in plays – whether acting or working backstage – for kids who think they might like to give it a try, and for kids who love to be part of the audience. I was thinking that this is my first book that doesn't have any magic in it – but that's not quite right. There's a little bit of magic in every live theatre production!