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Cheaper by the Dozen offers an efficient comedy

production focuses on family of famous inventors


William Crawford grew up the middle child of seven, with parents who each had nine siblings, providing him with 16 aunts, 16 uncles and 66 cousins. Turns out that’s the perfect resume to lead the cast of “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy production Crawford is now directing at HART Theater in Hillsboro.

by: COURTESY PHOTO - The timeless, gentle and heart-warming comedy portrays all the emotion-fueled conflicts and shenanigans of a large family with quirky parents and even includes the family dog, Parker the Pup, played by a professional pooch actor. The play begins with Frank Jr. and Ernestine, played by Larry Jenson and Leslie Streimer, reminiscing about family life under the roof of their father. Be warned: the show is nothing like Hollywood’s 2003 comedy starring Steve Martin. Instead, it more closely follows the 1948 book of the same name, co-written by siblings Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, two of the 12 real-life Gilbreth children who grew up together during the roaring twenties.

Their father, Frank Gilbreth Sr., was a bricklayer turned efficiency entrepreneur, and their mother, Lillian Gilbreth, shared Frank’s time- and motion-saving interests. Lillian invented, among other things, the step-on lid opener for trash cans while Frank Sr. came up with the idea for surgeons to have nurses stand by and hand them their instruments.

Not only did Gilbreth Sr. travel the world promoting workplace efficiency, but he applied it to his family as well, assembling his 12 children in line via whistle — similar to Captain Von Trapp of “Sound of Music” fame.

The book’s title came from Gilbreth Sr.’s favorite phrase while driving with all 12 kids crammed in the back of the family car, a 1920s Pierce-Arrow Archer. At stop lights, if somebody called out, “Hey, what are you doing with all those kids?” he’d reply, “They come cheaper by the dozen, ya know!”

Or if someone asked, “What are you doing in that old Arc?” he’d say “I’m out collecting animals like the good Lord told me. All I need now is a jackass — hop in!”

In the upcoming Hillsboro production, Frank Sr. is played by Donald Cleland, co-founder of STAGES. Lillian is played by Beth Self and the child actors range from a toddler to a 16-year-old.

Raising the bar

Some people erroneously assume “children’s theater” is a play for children, Crawford said, while STAGES aims to entertain everyone, from five to 95.

Motivated by STAGES’ mission to raise the bar for children’s theater, Crawford said his goal was for each of the 12 child actors to develop separate, notable characters.

“A month from now,” he told them all, “I want people in Safeway to stop and say, ‘I saw you in that show!’”

It wasn’t easy, even for a director with more than 45 years of experience. Many children play characters out of their age range. “How do you teach a 14-year-old whose never been on a date in his life to play a (high school) senior boyfriend?” said Crawford.

The script’s outdated cultural references were another challenge. Crawford had to explain that “jalopy” was not pronounced “jalapeno” and that it was an old beater car, not a pepper. He suggested his young actors equate the loud, backfiring vehicle to the modern low-rider with a “thumpin’” stereo system.

STAGES co-founder Cindy Wilkins likes how the young actors run everything, from lights and sound to stage managing and backstage prep. A former teacher with eight children of her own, all involved in theater, the Hillsboro resident said, “The kids do it all. Adults just oversee.”




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