Young area performers get big break, working with Oregon Children’s Theatre

Grace Farrell, left, and Bailey McIlroy are teenagers from Clark County who are performing with the Oregon Children’s Theatre through Feb. 18. They are in the production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Photo courtesy Farrell family
Grace Farrell, left, and Bailey McIlroy are teenagers from Clark County who are performing with the Oregon Children’s Theatre through Feb. 18. They are in the production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Photo courtesy Farrell family

The two friends, who met through Journey Theater in Vancouver, have made the leap to professional theater with OCT

Paul Valencia
ClarkCountyToday.com

A field trip with her classmates in the first grade changed Grace Farrell’s life.

She watched in awe, sitting with the audience at a glorious theater in Portland, taking in the Oregon Children’s Theatre production of James and the Giant Peach.

That was it. That was the spark. She knew she wanted to be part of that world.

Now 15, a sophomore at Seton Catholic High School, she has a starring role as a paid, professional performer, acting with, yes, the Oregon Children’s Theatre.

“For anyone who is facing a new challenge or is unsure, go for it,” Farrell said. “Don’t be afraid to go out there. I was super scared to do this at first. So many great things have come out of just having a goal and being determined and being diligent and not backing down.”

Grace Farrell, a sophomore at Seton Catholic, said playing Annabeth is the perfect role for her in Oregon Children’s Theatre’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Photo courtesy Farrell family
Grace Farrell, a sophomore at Seton Catholic, said playing Annabeth is the perfect role for her in Oregon Children’s Theatre’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Photo courtesy Farrell family

Bailey McIlroy, 17, also has aspirations of a career in theater.

“That’s what I’m hoping to do. Could I viably do this for my whole life?,” she asked. “I think the answer is yes.”

Farrell and McIlroy, Clark County residents and friends for a few years now, are members of a small cast in OCT’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, which runs through Feb. 18 in downtown Portland.

OCT is a professional company with decades of experience, reaching more than 120,000 young people and families each season with their productions and educational programs. It is quite a leap from community theater, where Farrell and McIlroy got their starts in Vancouver, with Journey Theater.

Farrell is playing Annabeth, the lead female role in the musical.

Grace Farrell and Bailey McIlroy, both from Clark County, were thrilled to see their names on the door of their dressing room at Oregon Children’s Theatre. They have gone from community theater, Journey, to professional, paid performers with OCT’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Photo courtesy Farrell family
Grace Farrell and Bailey McIlroy, both from Clark County, were thrilled to see their names on the door of their dressing room at Oregon Children’s Theatre. They have gone from community theater, Journey, to professional, paid performers with OCT’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Photo courtesy Farrell family

“I read the books when I was 10. I read through them so quickly,” Farrell said of the Percy Jackson series. “I decided to audition for this show because the character I am playing has registered with me since I first read the books. I see so much of myself in her.”

So who is Annabeth?

“She’s very strong-willed and always has a plan for everything. She has this need to prove herself,” Farrell said. “I see that in myself. I always have a plan. I have a lot of ambition. I’m often the leader in the group. She’s not afraid of a challenge.”

Opening night was last weekend. The show runs for all audiences on the weekends. During the week, the theater puts on shows for schools throughout the region, as young students are bussed in to experience live theater.

McIlroy has a different kind of a challenge for this production. While many would call her an understudy, OCT describes McIlroy as a “swing,” someone versatile enough to play a number of roles when needed.

McIlroy is tracking two characters, including Annabeth. She is ready in case an actor falls ill and cannot perform. She also has select days during the week, to perform in front of the student audiences. 

That can present challenges unlike others, McIlroy said. Young audiences don’t always react like a typical theater audience. 

“Keep your cool when the audience does things you don’t expect,” McIlroy said. 

Earlier this week, while playing Annabeth, she was about to perform a special song. The students started clapping. That was not only unexpected, but the clapping was not keeping up with the music. That can be jarring for a performer.

“The show must go on,” McIlroy said. 

While Farrell has been focused on Annabeth during rehearsal, McIlroy has had to learn multiple roles. 

“A lot of sitting around and paying close attention to what everyone is saying. You have to take notes and learn,” McIlroy said. “They don’t always have time for you to go over it.”

Then changes are made, so the notes get crossed out, and one starts the process again.

“It’s very involved,” McIlroy said.

Farrell’s journey to theater started with that field trip. She was then a first-grader at Glenwood Heights. 

“I just fell in love. We had to write summaries of the play,” Farrell said. “My classmates wrote a couple sentences. I wrote four paragraphs, I loved it so much.”

She was in elementary school plays, too, but soon found Journey Theater, a bible-based company in Vancouver. She was a member of the ensemble cast in her first production and the next year, she played Sven, the reindeer from Frozen Jr.

McIlroy was 8 when she started theater, and she has been with Journey for years, as well.

Now, the two friends are experiencing a brand new world.

“It’s a big jump from going community theater to paid, professional theater where there is a lot of competition,” Farrell said.

There is also a bit of a culture change. The theater world has a diverse group of people.

“How can you be a believer in a world that predominantly isn’t?” Farrell asked.

With the help of her parents, her friends at Journey, and her faith. The family has Christian friends in the theater business, those who have thrived. It is doable, they say.

McIlroy also is a Christian.

“Journey has really equipped me. Journey has acted as my social springboard,” said McIlroy, who is homeschooled. “Journey has really helped me to have a good, grounded faith and deal with situations when you’re out in the world with conflicting beliefs.”

With that said, Farrell and McIlroy have enjoyed their experience with the cast and crew at OCT.

“Everyone at OCT, they’re all amazing people and very nice,” McIlroy said. “I’ve loved working with everyone.”

“My castmates come from very different walks of life,” Farrell said. “I’m 15, and the oldest one is 40, but we still bond and there is a family.”

Farrell and McIlroy also have each other. 

“It’s hard going to a new place,” Farrell said, recalling walking up a staircase, not sure if she was headed in the right direction. “But I have a friend to do it with me. … I have a friend to ask.”

Plus, they have the support of their friends at Journey. Farrell said it was tough to say goodbye, but everyone was on board and thrilled for Farrell. The day she was cast for The Lightning Thief, friends from Journey brought candy and gifts to the Farrell family home.

Farrell and McIlroy also got to take in all that OCT has to offer. A beautiful theater. A dressing room, just for them. Names on the door and everything.

“Going from a little nonprofit theater that performs out of high schools, it was really, really cool,” McIlroy said. “You see all the sets coming together and the huge theater and two balconies and the giant dressing room just for the two of us, it was really awesome. We were running around the theater, laughing. We were in a state of euphoria. It is every kid’s dream to be performing in a theater like this.”

Farrell also was accepted into the Young Professionals Company, part of OCT which gives advanced training to teenagers. Beyond that, Farrell has an apprenticeship with Young Professionals, to see what it’s like to run a theater company. 

That will come in handy with her long-term goal: She wants to run Sight and Sound Theatres, which perform Bible stories live on stage. There are theaters in Lancaster, Penn., and Branson, Mo.

“That would be the dream, to be able to run that place” Farrell said. “It takes the best elements of everything I love. I’m also a huge history buff. It takes history, Jesus, and theater, and wraps it all into one, which is the perfect combo.”

For now, though, her focus is on Oregon Children’s Theatre. She and McIlroy want to inspire younger artists.

“I think it’s one of God’s greatest gifts to people, storytelling,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be given gifts of storytelling through theater. That’s what I want to do.”

For Farrell, she still remembers being a first-grader in the audience at Oregon Children’s Theatre. Now, she is on that stage.

“We are able to tell these amazing stories and get to share that with other people,” Farrell said. “We get to tell messages in creative ways. The one performance I came to changed my life forever. How can we do that for everyone else?”

The Lighting Thief:

Performances are available to the public on the weekends, Saturday and Sundays, through Feb. 18 at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway in Portland. Tickets range from $39 to $49.

To purchase tickets and see showtimes, go to: https://www.octc.org/the-lightning-thief


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