Hardly a newcomer to the stage
Now a teen-ager, Ben Blonigen enrolled in a theater camp even before starting school.
Ben Blonigen, second from left, in the Rose Children's Theatre show The Lion King. Photo courtesy Rose Children's Theatre.
Most of the actors who populate the Radio Redux stage are well into adulthood, with long lists of acting credits on their résumés. Some of them even are accomplished at creating radio voices that if you “watch with your ears,” as promoters of the radio show re-creators like to say, can even persuade you that you are listening to a kid actor.
But occasionally it’s nice to have a real whippersnapper or two in the cast, and Radio Redux’s production of The Day the Earth Stood Still in its 2018-19 season features a newcomer to the troupe, 14-year-old Ben Blonigen.
It’s not that Ben was really looking for a new gig. He’s been happily playing roles with the Rose Children’s Theatre since he was practically a tot.
“I’ve done 10 or 12 shows with RCT — I think my favorite role so far was Charlie in Willie Wonka,” he said, not bothering to mention that Charlie Bucket is the lead character, described by some as “the body and soul” of the production.
“I think Fred was asking people who do RCT to recommend a kid for his show, and someone gave him my name,” Ben said.
“He called my mom, and then he came over and I read some lines from the play, and he liked it. So I will play Bobby, the boy who became friends with the alien.”
And, as it happened, “I wasn’t doing anything else right now,” Ben added with an aplomb not often characteristic of more seasoned actors vying for parts.
Bobby in The Day The Earth Stood Still is Ben's first role with Radio Redux.
At home, Ben studies his script for the Radio Redux production of The Day The Earth Stood Still. Photo by Randi Bjornstad.
“Ben doesn’t do fall sports,” his dad, Bruce Blonigen explained. “He likes to watch football, but he plays basketball and baseball, so he has more time in the fall for theater. He’s also in the Oregon Children’s Choir, so that also takes up time.”
Ben dates his interest in theater to when “I was like 5, maybe 6, years old.”
“I saw a show and really liked it, so my parents signed me up for a theater camp. I did one, and then I started doing Rose Children’s Theatre.”
Radio Redux founder Crafts habitually talent scouts for young actors at local theater productions.
“I first saw Ben, who has done exemplary work in Rose Children’s Theatre productions, in RCT’s Shrek,” Crafts said. “He can really light up the stage.”
Ben is an eighth-grader now at O’Hara Catholic School in Eugene and will start high school in fall 2019. His parents, Bruce and Denice, are considering Marist High School while Ben is leaning toward the neighborhood, public South Eugene High School.
“We’ll see,” he said.
Meantime, he's able to explore other options as well, including theater troupes.
Being part of a Radio Redux production is quite different from other kinds of theater “because you don’t have to memorize lines, you get to read from the script,” Ben said. “I usually find memorizing lines quite easy — I go over and over them and store them in my head — and after I practice a lot, I just know them pretty well.”
He has used the services of theater coach Marcee Long, who directed him and the rest of the RCT cast in Willie Wonka, Ben said. “She tutors in acting and singing, and working with her really helps.”
Radio Redux is easier in another way compared to regular theater productions, and that’s the amount of time it takes to put a show together.
Ben rehearses The Day The Earth Stood Still on the Hult Center's Soreng Stage in November 2018. Photo by Fred Crafts.
“With a regular play, there are lots of rehearsals, but for Radio Redux there’s a run-through for lines, and then most of it is done in about a week.”
Possibly the biggest difference in doing a Radio Redux show, compared with a conventional theater production, will be timing lines with the sound effects, Ben’s dad suggested.
“It will be unusual to have to say lines while working around the sound effects” such as footsteps and doors shutting,” he said. “That will be a different experience.”
Ben calls his role as Bobby “sort of a medium part, not a main character.
“My biggest scene is walking with Mr. Carpenter (the name assumed by the extra-terrestrial visitor), around Washington, D.C., and showing him things,” he said. “In the scene, we go to the movies, see the monuments, and have a lot of fun. And I’ve been to Washington, D.C., so that helps make it easier to know what I would be reacting to.”
He finds the last scenes in the play most difficult “because it’s quite tense,” the young actor said. “Bobby’s mom goes out, and Mr. Carpenter comes to Bobby and asks him for a flashlight, and then he leaves. Bobby follows him, and he goes to the spaceship and goes in it — Bobby doesn’t know until then that he is from space, so it’s a hard scene.”
He did watch the movie version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, “and I thought it was pretty good,” he said.
The script includes some words that Ben’s elders had to help him master, Bruce Blonigen said.
“There are quite a few times when he has to say ‘aw’ and ‘gee,’ and that’s not something kids say nowadays,” he said. “He had to work on that quite a bit to get it right.”
Noted Crafts, “For such a young man, Ben fits right in with Radio Redux’s veteran actors. His preparation has been superb, and his delivery is strong. He’s an impressive performer.”
Ben definitely might consider more Radio Redux shows in the future along with his other theater ventures, he said, but he doesn’t know how much a part theater will play in his adult life.
“I’ll probably want to do some when I’m older, but I’m not sure if I would want to do it for a living,” he said. “Maybe just for fun.”
— Randi Bjornstad, who retired from The Register-Guard as a features writer, now writes for Eugene Scene.
Ben Blonigen, center, in the Rose Children's Theatre production of Guys and Dolls. Photo courtesy Rose Children's Theatre.