This month, we have a rare opportunity to speak with a local mom whose entire family is following their passion and appearing together in the local production of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Elizabeth Bunch and Chris Hutchison have both been performing as members of the Alley Theater for the last 15 years. Now, they get to share their love of acting with their boys, Mack & Noble, who appear with them this holiday season.
We caught up with Elizabeth to ask her a few questions about what this year has been like for her family, if she can offer advice for other families with kids who want to act and why they call Houston home.
When did you know the kids wanted to act? Were you and/or your husband child actors?
Both kids are essentially growing up in the Alley Theatre. They love being backstage and consider the staff and crew at the Alley to be their family too. It was pretty clear from an early age that Mack had no fear being in front of people. That confidence, coupled with the fact he is a natural ham, means that we really can’t keep him away from performing. He dreams about going to HSPVA for high school.
Noble is around the theater so much I think he eventually got curious about trying it out. Around our house he is the straight man most of the time. We spend dinners with the three of us trying to get him to laugh. However, he has the most amazing and vibrant imagination. It may turn out that he will be the greatest artist of all of us!
Both Elizabeth and Chris started at a pretty young age in school or community theatre. In fact, my first play ever was at about age 10 playing one of the Cratchit children in a community theater production where my father, Fred Bunch, played Bob Cratchit. So, this play has really come full circle in my family!
How long has the family been acting together?
This is Mack’s fourth year doing A Christmas Carol, but last year was the first time all four of us were in the Alley’s production of A Christmas Carol together. It was Noble’s first play and he was Tiny Tim. Mack played several roles including the boy at the end of the play who goes to get the huge turkey. We are hoping that turkey prop makes it into the digital version. It has always been a favorite with the kids in the show.
It has been very special to not only have our kids in the shows with us but that both of them have actually played the role of Tiny Tim while we play Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit. Almost every one of our family members travelled to Houston last year to see us all on stage in A Christmas Carol.
During this crazy year, what has it meant to you to be able to do this production together as a family?
It is pretty special for Mack since this is a new version of the show that only features one kid, him, as opposed to a big cast of kids which is what past productions have had. He feels pretty special to be just one of two people in this show who are not members of the Resident Acting Company.
But in many ways, I think it means the most to us. It is incredible to get to share what we love and are passionate about with our kids. Plus, we are so excited that we can share this with out-of-town friends and family during the holidays since most people are not traveling this year.
What have been some of the craziest stories that have come out of everyone in the house pursuing this passion?
It was pretty wild to balance virtual school and filming in our house at the same time. Some of Mack’s scenes are in the same room where he was doing his online classes. So, we marked in tape on the floor where all the lights, camera, and sound equipment needed to be for filming.
The minute school was done he would go change clothes and we would frantically set everything up so he could start to work! The house was filled with furniture and props and costumes. The kids had to live on a makeshift film set for a few weeks. Sometimes that meant turning their computer cameras off if they needed help with schoolwork because I was dressed like the Ghost of Christmas Past and they didn’t want their whole class to see me. It also meant we shouted “Rolling” and “Cut” to the entire house about 50 times a day so the kids would know not to call out for us or walk into the living room and ruin the shot.
Are the kids studying virtually or are they going to school in person?
We have opted for virtual thus far. It has been a hard decision, but it was great that Mack could finish up with his last class of the day and throw his costume on and start filming!
What would you say to other moms whose kids want to get involved in theater?
The rewards are great, but the day to day can be hectic. Odd hours, long days during tech, making sure homework gets done. There are wonderful classes and teachers in this city that can help aspiring actors or budding theater artisans. I think the trick is keeping competitive environments to a minimum and the opportunity to see and participate in live theater at a maximum. Kids live in a digital world that can feel very judgmental these days. Live theater that encourages thought and imagination can be a huge benefit in this world.
What has been the favorite production you have ever been in?
This is always such a hard question to answer. We are so lucky to have been in so many fantastic shows at the Alley Theater and many other theaters around the country too. However, this is such a scary and precarious time for the performing arts. Our industry has been hit so hard by COVID-19 and the inability to gather safely together. I feel certain that the favorite production of my career will be the one when we can be onstage again with a real audience. That is the moment that I am dreaming of the most.
Why do you think Houston is a great place to raise a family?
I am so happy that our kids are growing up in a city with so many resources. Whatever interest a child develops there is always a way to foster that curiosity somewhere in the city. Between the museums, the performances, and the restaurants, our kids are exposed to so many ways to learn and grow. We are so proud of their interest and understanding of the cultures that make Houston so special.
What is your favorite thing to do as a family when you are not working?
Right now, we have to get the kids out of the house and active with no school. Chris is playing a lot of frisbee with the boys and there are lots of long family bike rides. We love visiting the new Eastern Glades in Memorial Park and the fabulous trail along Allen Parkway and the Bayou. My parents recently relocated to Houston and the thing that brings me the most joy is the boys getting to have their grandparents nearby.
The free virtual production of A Christmas Carol, presented by ConocoPhillips, is a gift to the entire Houston area.
REGISTER HERE for the FREE viewing link www.surveymonkey.com/r/alleycarol
A highly inventive, digital adaptation of the Dickens classic, pared down to its essential elements. A resident company of actors assemble online to perform a new production of the heartwarming Christmas story. With everyone performing from home, creating a magical world of holiday make-believe is no easy feat. The socially distanced troupe brings this holiday classic to imaginative new heights. It will be A Christmas Carol like no other.
Please consider a donation to the Alley Theatre so we can continue to bring the magic of Theatre to you.
If your family is interested in ways to work with the Alley, https://houstonfamilymagazine.com/directory-businesses_d/listing/alley-theatre-playmakers-camp/