Young actor brings big talent to role as Dorothy
Dorothy had her yellow brick road to negotiate, and so, too, does Jane Brinkley.
Jane will figuratively don the ruby slippers as Dorothy and stride down that famed pathway to adventure in the next Radio Redux production, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Feb. 12-14 at the Hult Center.
"I was thrilled to be asked to play that role," said Jane, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School. "It's my favorite role in all of musical theater. It's such a classic."
Jane was born in New York City but became an Oregonian at age 2, when her parents opted out of the Big Apple for a home close to her mother's parents in Eugene.
Twelve years later, Jane is traveling her very own yellow brick road, one lined with theatrics, song, dance and matriculating mileposts. Couple all that talent laden with confidence, accompanied by a thirst for knowledge that seemingly cannot be quenched, and the proverbial sky may not be the limit for the young actor.
At age 4, she starred in an educational video. Since then, Jane has been enveloped in production after production with Rose Children's Theatre, Oregon Contemporary Theatre, Actors Cabaret of Eugene, Oregon Festival Choir — and done her share of tap dancing across stages such as Radio Redux’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
"We have a very musical household," she said. "My dad (Ben Brinkley, an IT associate director for the University of Oregon’s College of Arts and Sciences) is a cello player. My mom (Rachael Carnes) is a dance teacher who majored in theater, and my brother (10-year-old Hugh) has read all of the 'Wizard of Oz' books.
"It seems like I've always been immersed in theater," Jane said, "and I found I have a passion for it."
Shouldering eight or nine classes at Roosevelt, she also participates in the French immersion program as she orchestrates her educational path to South Eugene High School next fall.
"The thing I like most is to do academics,” she said. “I am very invested in my school work. I love to read and learn about things."
Do not for a moment, however, think that this young lady is buried in herself. Far, far from it.
In the wake of the Umpqua Community College shootings last October, Jane led friends in organizing the "Music Heals: A Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence" benefit, a December event in Eugene that attracted some 700 people and generated $5,000 for victims of the Roseburg tragedy.
"I consider myself an activist," she said, "especially when it comes to gun violence. The shootings in Roseburg were too close to home. I had to do something."
Which is no surprise to those who know her.
"She is an amazing young person, so focused and with high personal integrity," said Kim Donahey, an original cast member of the Radio Redux troupe who plays Dorothy's little dog Toto in the company's production of "Oz."
"She cares about this world, all of it, people, animals, all living beings, and she puts action to her beliefs." Credit those characteristics to her parents, Donahey said. "They are great role models of integrity and compassion."
Carnes understands so well her daughter's game plan. The apple falls not far from the tree.
"She's a pretty empathetic person, about current events, politics and what's happening in the world," said Carnes, the founder of Sparkplug Dance, a nonprofit organization that teaches movement to community kids who juggle any number of risk factors. "Jane has a real heart for what other people are going through."
In “Oz,” Jane makes her third appearance in a Radio Redux production, the first two being small roles in "It's A Wonderful Life" in 2014 and 2015. This time, however, she has top billing.
"Jane was terrific in the roles she’s done for us in the past," said Fred Crafts, the director, producer and founder of Radio Redux. "Now she'll carry the show, and we are fully confident that she will knock it out of the park.
After the Umpqua Community College shootings, Jane organized a benefit that raised $5,000 for victims of the Roseburg tragedy. Photo by Paul Carter.
"I have never thought of her as a 'child,' but as one of the more awake and aware fellow actors who I have been privileged to work with," fellow actor Kim Donahey said.
"Audiences will love her as much as we do. Jane has a natural sweetness and innocence that perfectly fits the role of Dorothy."
Dan Pegoda, a veteran of many Radio Redux productions as well as the company's graphics designer, said he knew from the get-go that Jane was destined to play the role of Dorothy.
"Six months ago, when I heard we might do 'The Wizard of Oz,' I thought of Jane immediately as Dorothy," recalled Pegoda, who plays the girl's Uncle Henry in the Radio Redux show. "I'd worked with her in 'It's A Wonderful Life' and was quite impressed with her talent and great spirit.
"She's quite a good actor, not to mention singer, musician and visual artist. So, watch out, world!"
The accolades are plentiful, and so is the hard work. Jane has spent countless hours preparing and rehearsing for the role of Dorothy, listening over and over to the "The Wizard of Oz" sound track and having seen the 1939 motion picture, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, "at least 11 or 12 times.
"I'm trying to mimic the way Judy Garland sings because I want to bring sincerity to the role. 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' is a happy song but it also is kind of sad and serene. Dorothy is pretty young to be experiencing all the things she does."
Quite an approach for the "kid" performing amid all those older actors.
"Jane has a real presence and is fearless about auditioning, putting herself on stage and taking on the capacity of being in that spotlight," Carnes said.
"I have never thought of her as a 'child,' but as one of the more awake and aware fellow actors who I have been privileged to work with," Donahey said.
Working with the older actors "has been very valuable," Jane said. "I have learned a lot watching these people perform and how they prepare. And it makes me feel good to be respected, to feel like a part of something bigger than yourself."
What lies ahead remains to be determined, she added, but "during that 'Music Heals' benefit I saw how musical talents can converge with leadership and academics to create a little bit more. I want someday to be able to combine my talents to help people."
It seems her yellow brick road is going to take Jane Brinkley exactly where she wants to go.
— By Bob Rodman. Bob retired as a sportswriter for The Register-Guard.