Bozeman sisters shine in Charlotte’s Web

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Addie (left), Sylvia (right) and Olivia (center) Bozeman create a trio of talent in local theatre productions. Photo courtesy of Jessica Trammell.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

Etched upon dressing room walls, scribbled names, dates and titles capture moments in time at The Ritz Theatre. Following Theatre of Gadsden’s production of Charlotte’s Web, an adaptation of E.B. White’s cherished children’s book, three sisters earned their spot in The Ritz history – Addie, Sylvia and Oliva Bozeman.

For the Bozemans, theatre is a family affair. The girls’ theatrical lineage traces back to their paternal grandmother, who first inspired their father, Jason, to follow in her talented footsteps. A natural performer, Jason’s mother welcomed her children into a world of possibility through theatre – one Jason soon discovered offered more opportunities than imagined. While theatre provided Jason an outlet for creative expression – something he shares with his wife, Tabitha, and his daughters – it also paved the path for his profession.

“I was born into a performance family,” said Jason, who recalled acting in shows with his brother and sister as a child. “Theatre was something that just grabbed me at a young age. It was all fun until you realized this (theatre) is something you could actually do [for a career]. I was never told I couldn’t [pursue theatre]. That’s a testament to how I was raised.”

Jason’s appreciation for theatre coincides with Tabitha’s own understanding of its significance, something she herself learned at an early age. Tabitha shared that books – particularly her favorite childhood novel, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women – sparked her interest in theatre. In Little Women, sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy continuously develop and perform original productions in their quaint New England family home; something Tabitha and her own sister mimicked from time to time. While theatre was an environment where Tabitha could bond with friends, and she loved “playing dress up” with period costumes, bouffant hair and makeup in productions like 1960s musical Leader of the Pack, theatre enhanced Tabitha’s first love of literature, conjuring beloved characters and plucking worlds from pages.

“Theatre took the stories I read so much as a kid from 2-D in my mind to 3-D…it brought them to life,” said Tabitha.

Together, Tabitha and Jason share numerous accomplishments, both emerging as advocates for education and nurturing their children’s passions, evident by their dedicated careers and parenting methods. While Jason translated his love of performance art into his academic pursuits, now teaching Theatre and English at Southside High School, published-poet and literary scholar Tabitha serves as an English instructor at Gadsden State Community College.

Though the Bozeman girls’ roots sprung from an artistic heritage, growing up attending auditions and rehearsals and shadowing their parents backstage, their decision to participate in theatre remains of their own accord.

History repeats itself in Addie, Sylvia and Oliva, who mirror the March sisters in their cleverness, ambition and talent. Confident and creative with sharp-witted senses of humor, the Bozeman girls prove a remarkable trio – each with their own unique passions, strengths and personalities.

Persistent, thoughtful and driven, 11 ½ year old Addie sought theatre as a solo gig before her sisters joined her on stage. Her knack for planning and organization fuels her appreciation for research, translating into how she prepares for roles. Though Addie participated in Theatre of Gadsden’s Annie and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (also with her sisters), Fern Arable was her first major lead role. Addie’s determined nature manifested in her careful memorization of her lines and blocking, from her audition monologue to her debut on stage.

“Doing the shows and opening night is my favorite part of theatre,” said Addie. “It’s scary, but it’s fun. You have to run back and forth and swap shirts during costume changes. My goal is to be a better actor. In Annie, I was an orphan and I didn’t have any lines. In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, I had one line. [The more plays you’re in] you get better.”

“When Addie gets locked into something that interests her, she’s all in,” said Jason. “She’s doing to keep doing and doing and doing, until she gets it right or understands. She’s also going to ask you to do something, or if she can do something, over and over and over.”

“Theatre is a kind of teamwork that really puts the spotlight on all the kids, no matter their part, so they learn to celebrate when their castmates do a good job,” said Tabitha. “It gives them experience taking direction and constructive criticism, and it’s great for building their confidence. Since Addie started with Annie, I was shocked that she auditioned…then I was shocked that she did the show. For her to go from wanting to audition for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, then having a big speaking part in Charlotte’s Web…watching her back stage, purposefully going from one place to another, knowing her ques, making sure she had her props, sitting backstage reading her lines and going over things, reminding people….that showed me theatre develops more than confidence to stand up in front of people, but leadership skills.”

Addie noted that theatre gave her a better source of socialization, and the realization that she enjoys playing lead roles. Addie joked that she related to Fern, because of her intelligence and morals concerning livestock – though she confessed she might have ended up betraying Wilbur after college, not planning to ban bacon anytime soon. A playwright, award-winning writer, and aspiring wide receiver, Addie hopes to take voice lessons in the future, so she can audition for The Sound of Music.

“I want to be an actor,” said Addie, looking forward. “I want to study science and writing. If I can’t be in the play [acting], I want to help build the set. I want to help with mechanical things like pathways and scenes. You know [the rotating stage] in Hamilton? I want to build things like that. There’s only one thing that’s holding me back from being an engineer…having to learn the metric system.”

A lover of graphic novels, fantasy and sci-fi, Addie loves writing for the same reason as her sister, Sylvia, a fellow creative writing contest winner. When the pair write, they can create worlds of their own – from new and complex languages, intriguing characters and entangled plotlines to reimaginations of Santa Claus in poems, Addie and Sylvia channel their parents’ avid gifts for storytelling into their own individualized styles.

When pensive, dreamy, eight-and-a-half-year-old Sylvia is not writing, or dressed as a gosling or fairgoer, she might be found cartwheeling one-handed across her kitchen floor. Caring, considerate and funny, Sylvia happily adopts her non-speaking roles in productions, content to relax and observe before she assesses her response any situation. A keen reader, Sylvia gravitates toward nonfiction books and classics, claiming Charlotte’s Web as one of her favorites in school. When asked why E.B. White’s beloved story resonated with her, she gladly shared her reasoning.

“I like pigs,” she said, with a smile.

“A dreamer is probably the best way to describe Sylvia,” said Jason. “She’s created a universe and it’s hers, and I love that about her. Even though when you ask her to do something and she’s dwelling in that universe and it’s frustrating [for you as a parent], it’s very awesome because you know she’s going to make a happy place no matter where she is.”

With an interest in fashion, gymnastics and dancing, Sylvia announced her retirement from the theatre after a handful of selective productions. She discussed the nervousness that can often arise from performing, even though as an audience member it might appear simple.

“Getting to act in front of an audience was my favorite part of Charlotte’s Web, because I didn’t have any lines,” joked Sylvia. “My favorite scene – I don’t know if this really counts – but I like curtain call, because it’s the end of the show.”

While Sylvia might not envision herself pursuing theatre professionally, she treasured the friendships she made when the curtain closed.

“I want to be a professional dancer and a dance teacher,” said Sylvia. “I want to have my own dance place, and inside that dance place, there’s another part of the building that has clothes that I designed.”

The youngest of the three at six-and-a-half, the ceaseless center of attention Olivia earns a description of “blunt force trauma of humor and energy,” at ease in the spotlight. From recreating dramatizations of hilarious moments at home, to analyzing cookie dough ice cream, to debuting her rendition of Bruno Mars’ Count On Me in a Jack’s dining room, the world is Olivia’s stage.

“I want to be a popular singer,” said Olivia, envisioning her future career. “I was singing since I was two years old…so basically four years.”

Silly, sensitive and sweet, Charlotte’s Web gosling and fairgoer Olivia feels perfectly at home in the theatre, where she grew up alongside her sisters. A storyteller in her own right, she recalled her favorite memories from the production, including an interaction with Elizabeth Wilborn (who played Charlotte), where she compared her prop egg sac to a potato.

“One time we were playing this game where me and Stella were getting tossed by teenagers,” said Olivia. “Like, pick one up and then pass it on and it keeps going in a circle. What I learned is backstage, you don’t pick people up because it can mess up the mics!”

Creative expression flourishes in the Bozeman household, with theatre emerging as only one form of artistry the girls explore. As their parents encourage them endlessly, Tabitha and Jason treasure and protect the girls’ hopes for their lives, supporting them in their passions and applauding when they succeed. Through considering lessons in theatre and literature, Tabitha and Jason teach their children to appreciate diversity and understand that every life is valuable. While they may not understand what someone else endures, they can always minister compassion – growing in kindness and empathy.

As the laughter quietens, the stage lights dim and the day drifts into night, the Bozemans await another opportunity to nurture the children worth every standing ovation – the family they’ve raised proving the greatest production of all.

“Home is pure chaos,” said Jason. “But it’s less like a 17-car pileup and more like a symphony. It’s like each of them do their thing and it works toward who we are as people, as a family and how we want our family to be. We are not people who oppress, so we don’t want our atmosphere to repress. These are our kids.”

“I hope that theatre makes them more patient, understanding people. [Through theatre] they can be more accepting human beings. I hope that they have a lifelong love for theatre – whether it’s performing or appreciating it. As far as making them better people, I think that doing a show, even if it’s just one little show or if you do several, it makes you a more confident person. I hope that is what they get out of theatre – to respect other people. [I want them to understand] we come from different places, but no matter where we come from, they are still a person of worth and they keep that self-confidence to accomplish their dreams.”

“I think reading driving empathy is so important,” said Tabitha. “I always try to teach that in my classes, too. I really try to point things out to the girls when we’re reading stories and books, asking them about characters’ feelings and why they did what they did. That’s the practical application of why literature is so important in their lives, because it helps them think outside of their own experiences and understand others.”

“[When it comes to theatre] I hope they think back on these shows and think about the beginning – the very first rehearsal meeting for each one and then the last curtain call. I hope they appreciate the work they put into each show, and know that they can do hard things. They can do the things that they’re not sure they can do. They can work at it and put in the time and effort to create something.”

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