Theatrical talent is all in the family

STAGE DEBUT: Emily Baker is doing her first performance with Ballarat National Theatre, Little Women. Picture: Lachlan Bence

STAGE DEBUT: Emily Baker is doing her first performance with Ballarat National Theatre, Little Women. Picture: Lachlan Bence

When 14-year-old Emily Baker takes to the stage as Little Women’s Jo March next week, she will be following in a firmly established Ballarat tradition.

Little Women is Miss Baker’s performance debut with Ballarat National Theatre. But her way to the stage was carved by her grandfather Bob Baker, who appeared in more than 50 shows with the community theatre group.

Mr Baker sadly passed away in 2009, making his final appearance with BNT in Les Misérables. He started with the then Ballarat branch of the National Theatre Movement with The Rivals in 1958.

Shortly after he died, Miss Baker took up speech and drama lessons at school and now is making her debut a mere 58 years after her grandfather.

Alexandra Meerbach, known for her role as a director with Mad Swan, a theatre company producing plays with a social political edge, will be taking the reins with Little Women.

She said the Baker example was a classic one for Ballarat, as a city with a firmly-entrenched theatre tradition.

With Ballarat National Theatre and the National Theatre Movement dating back to 1938, Ms Meerbach said a love of local theatre had passed down many family lines.

She also said Little Women was a natural choice in Ballarat, as the city had so much teenage acting talent.

“I think because in all our high schools we have good strong drama programs. Because we have BLOC and Lyric and Ballarat National Theatre and South Street, there is a range of opportunities for young performers, which means it grows and develops,” Ms Meerbach said.

“We have a lot of very talented teens here.”

The play is based on Louisa May Alcott's classic novel and is a coming of age drama set during the American Civil War.

The novel’s family, with its four sisters, face the challenges of growing up while their father is away while their mother struggles to make ends meet.

“It is a classic. It begins and ends in Christmas and has really strong female characters, which is really nice to see on stage,” Ms Meerbach said.

Little Women will be held December 3 to 10 at the Courthouse Theatre. Tickets at www.hermaj.com