November 26, 2021

Experience counts, even being 10 years old

High school students, child find chemistry for “Big Fish”

Not only did Creston High junior Bridget Hopkins earn a few dollars, she also found a need for the school’s production of “Big Fish” performed last weekend.

During casting of the musical in September, director Jane Warner said there was a role that needed to be played by a child. At about the same time, Hopkins got a call from Cari Stalker who was looking for child care including her 10-year-old son, Sam.

“He told me about his love for musicals,” Hopkins said about taking care of Sam one day. “It was the first time I babysat for him. I was thinking, ‘I can tell him to go audition.’ I was very excited.”

Sam, a fourth-grade student, is the oldest of four children in the family.

Stalker’s stage experience includes the community theater program in Corning. Some performances intentionally include children. Stalker was in “Shrek,” “Peter Pan,” and “Moana” in recent years.

“I like being on stage,” he said. “It’s very fun and interesting. I like it a lot.”

The interest started young.

“For his preschool program, he liked it,” said Cari. “He was front and center and sang loud. He was a ham.”

Warner had an audition for boys about the age of 10 for “Big Fish.”

“They sang, danced and acted. The results were very close. Sam and Ryder Baird got the parts of young Will and Will’s son,” Warner said about the cast and characters. “Big Fish” is about Will who learns more of his father’s past.

Brantley Hoakison and Javven Hyde played scouts and kids from Ashton, a town depicted in the musical. Warner was impressed with the skills the younger kids.

“But any of the four who auditioned could have done a great job with any part. They are all great actors and they all sing well. The boys are so much fun to work with. The high school kids love having them with us and they’ve really added to the fun energy of the show,” she said.

Sam said he was comfortable working with high school students during rehearsals. He estimated it took two weeks for him to establish a relationship with the others. Cast members helped him with some makeup before the performance.

Hopkins agreed with the interaction.

“He was a ray of sunshine,” she said. “He was super polite and respectful. His smile made us all happy.”

Cari said she trusted who her son was with for several nights of rehearsals.

“When I dropped him off, the high school kids were good to the boys. I can’t thank them enough for what they did,” she said.

Hopkins said the relationship with Sam eventually discovered they were both involved with “The Music Man” performed in 2019 for Creston’s 150th anniversary.

“When she saw “Music Man” on his wall when he was in first grade, Bridget was in ‘Music Man.’ They didn’t know each other then,” Cari said.

Hopkins is a regular for Creston High stage productions and also is involved in speech. Sam said he expects to also get involved in plays and musicals when he reaches high school.

“It’s exciting,” Hopkins said. “The future is pretty bright.”

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.