Sitting atop its perch, the storied dragon overlooking Nashville Children’s Theatre beckons the imagination and its possibilities.
Through the double doors, down the aisle, and into the seats, a sense of wonderment and belonging greets you. It’s that sense of belonging that drew Darius Aushay (Wilber) and James Rudolph (Avery/Homer/Sheep), two cast members of NCT’s newly opened Charlotte’s Web at West Glow Farm, back to where they found their passion for theatre.
Introduced to Nashville Children’s Theatre through his Nashville School of the Arts teacher, Kara Kindall, who still serves as a teaching artist at NCT, Darius flourished early on. Finding incredible support through the Emerging Artists Program’s Avenue Q: School Edition, he broke out of his shell. Director of the production and then NCT Director of Education, Alicia Fuss, reflects on her time working with him,
“From that very first summer, Darius has always been such a complete joy to work with. He has such an amazing combination of bringing in this spirit of fun and happiness and every bit of his focus on making sure his work is as strong as possible. He’s also just incredibly kind; he is a member of the ensemble who scoops other people in, always has a smile for someone else, and makes people feel included.”
The feeling was mutual. Darius speaks of how the Children’s Theatre’s Emerging Artists Program “cemented that acting was truly what I wanted to do… It gave me confidence and allowed me to begin to use my creative mind in collaboration with others….”
In high school, Darius also served as an NCT Dragon Keeper: a program that allows high schoolers to experience and participate in the daily operations of a professional theatre company for young audiences. On the Nashville Children’s Theatre stage, he found his first acting role models in individuals like David Compton, Rona Carter, and James Rudolph.
Little did James Rudolph know that in the audience of his early shows was the budding actor Darius, who he would perform alongside in 2021. “The very first show I was a part of at NCT was a production of Holes in 2011… Over the years, it has been great to be a person who grew up watching the magic come alive, and now, I get to be a part of bringing the magic alive for the next generation.”
A Nashville native himself, James too, remembers NCT as a crucial part of his childhood. He recalls his first experience at age nine, “My school took us to see The Arkansas Bear, and I remember arguing with my teacher the whole day because she couldn’t tell me why it was Arkansas and not Ar-Kansas….”
A part of NCT’s recent streaming production of Pete the Cat, James expressed the cast and creative team’s vision for Charlotte’s Web as a homecoming for live shows and an important cultural moment for the theatre by featuring an all-African American cast.
“We will be some people’s first introduction to this story. For me, it’s an honor, not only a privilege, but an honor, to know that I helped introduce this to someone, to break a barrier, and to present this story in a way that it is not normally shown….”
It’s for these reasons, even in his 11th show with Nashville Children’s Theatre, he considers NCT his home stage and family: “If I perform perfectly nowhere else I have to make sure it’s here because this place instilled this in me; I might not be here without NCT.”
For Darius as well, NCT is the first monumental step on his professional journey. From his time at Millikin University creating and running his own student dance company, his first big acting role in New York at Titan Theatre performing The African Company Presents Richard III, to his first regional tour, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, everything leads back to that first summer at Nashville Children’s Theatre.
A veteran of the Nashville Children’s Theatre stage and a former student coming full circle with his first professional performance with the theatre, these two actors understand the impression they can make on children seeing this show.
For Darius, at the core of the story is love, “The story is one of remembering and bringing back love. It is about sticking up for your friends and valuing people who are not the same as you.”
James echoes this sentiment: “I hope audiences take away this idea of friendship… they get to see this beautiful friendship blossom and to live it with the characters… the show makes you think about what would you do for a friend? Also, it is about never giving up; so many times, Wilbur thinks he is a goner, but Charlotte each time tells him, ‘Oh no, I got you, baby.’”
See Darius and James in this summer’s production of Charlotte’s Web. But hurry, shows are selling out quickly. Get tickets for your family today to see this story of love and friendship.