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The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Children given opportunity for a breakout role in ‘Matilda Jr.’ at the James Theater

Nolte Productions Youth Theatre members Eliza Durney and Bridget Greenwood speak on behalf of their young acting career and performance in ‘Matilda Jr.’
Lyrah+Huggins+%28left%29+and+Bridget+Greenwood+%28right%29+embrace+during+a+performance+of+Matilda+Jr.+at+the+James+Theater+in+Iowa+City+on+Thursday%2C+Feb.+1%2C+2024.
Cody Blissett
Lyrah Huggins (left) and Bridget Greenwood (right) embrace during a performance of “Matilda Jr.” at the James Theater in Iowa City on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

When Eliza Durney, 10, and Bridget Greenwood, 10, are in their regular classroom settings, they normally wouldn’t confront a mean teacher.

But as the alternating leads for the role of Matilda in Nolte Productions Youth Theatre’s production of “Matilda Jr.,” they have no problem sticking it to bad authority.

“I would say that sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty, but I don’t think my parents would be too happy with that,” Eliza said comically. “It’s fun because we get to be this stand-up kid who goes against the mean Trunchbull — and we get to have telekinesis.”

“Matilda Jr.” premiered at the James Theatre on Friday, Feb. 2, and ran through the weekend. The show offered child actors the chance for a challenging role in Nolte Academy’s adaptation of a well-known film and musical.

Before the opening night payoff, the Matildas spent weeks perfecting their roles as the lead, using various techniques to help them memorize their lines.

“I always eat strawberries because for some reason they help me remember stuff,” Eliza shared.

Bridget and Eliza also have specific ways they prefer to rehearse, but they share one method in common: practicing in the car ride to rehearsals.

At rehearsals when Eliza rehearses, Bridget watches, and vice versa. Their performances not only strive individually but they also build on their counterparts, thus giving the show more cohesion.

“It’s thrilling to be backstage and see how all these things work. Whenever you’re a main character it’s just mind-boggling how much is going on,” Eliza said. “There are always people asking me questions and you have to memorize all your lines and songs, there’s just so much going on.”

Although shortened to around sixty minutes, Matilda takes the stage for most of the performance, barring a few specific musical numbers. The line memorization, as well as the execution of stage direction and musical talent, made this performance of “Matilda Jr.” feel far more professional than anticipated.

The show also had an extremely interesting technical aspect that the kids adapted to quickly. One feature of theatre magic involves a rolling table with a hole cut in the top that was specifically used to drop the giant slices of cake that were “eaten” by Bruce, a character played by Archie Gavin, to give the illusion that he was forced to eat a full chocolate cake.

This table was also used in the iconic newt scene, where a child was tucked inside and used a magnet to move a cup around the table, giving the illusion of Matilda’s telekinesis.

“Matilda is a lot spunkier than I thought she was and its fun being more spunky than people think you are. [Her character] is like, I may be short, I may be in the bottom class, but I’m still awesome,” Bridget added.

The role of Matilda was an opportunity for a challenging and respectable performance that these two, along with the rest of the cast, rose to the occasion to execute.

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About the Contributors
Caden Gantenbein, Arts Reporter
he/him/his
Caden Gantenbein is a screenwriting major as well as a film minor. He is a junior starting this fall and this is his first semester at the DI.
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
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Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.