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Tom Sawyer brings family fun to Fredericton

One of American literature’s best-loved characters is getting the Canadian treatment.

Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will be gracing the stage of Fredericton High School this month in a new all-ages adaptation. Ben Harrison, artistic director of Branch Out Productions, believes it is a show that rises above age and nationality.

“I think Tom Sawyer transcends beyond Americana – it’s an adventure that will be nostalgic for adults who loved it as a child, and also captivate our younger audience members.”

A Fredericton native, the 29-year-old Harrison began his theatrical production company while studying at the religious Briercrest College in Caronport, Saskatchewan, bringing it home with him after graduating. As a small troupe, Harrison often finds himself juggling multiple projects at once.

“I’m currently working on my biggest show, Tom Sawyer, and also my smallest – the two-woman show Always . . . Patsy Cline,” he said.

Twain’s folksy 1876 novel about a roguish boy’s adventures along the Mississippi River was chosen by Harrison for its unique family-friendliness, a niche which he feels is underrepresented in Fredericton. With past shows such as Godspell and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Branch Out hopes to provide an alternative from the more mature theatrical offerings found today. This approach is reflected in casting, as Tom Sawyer features more than 30 actors aged from six to 70.

“There aren’t many groups in Fredericton with this kind of cross-generational casting, which has brought a real sense of community to our group. We have entire families in our shows!” said Harrison.

Twain’s story was set in an epoch where casual racism was prevalent, however, and tackling this element respectfully while maintaining the show’s integrity was a challenge. In his script, Harrison changed the ethnicities of certain characters whose race, he feels, is not relevant to the plot. But in some cases, such as the half-Native Injun Joe, it cannot be avoided.

“He needed to be racially identified,” said Harrison. “His mistreatment because of his race has led to his harsh attitude, and I felt it was necessary for the audience to see why Joe is hard-hearted.”

Despite its occasionally-harsh subject matter, Harrison believes that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has a blend of humour and excitement that, brought to life by local talent, will please families of any age.

“Family comes in many shapes and sizes,” he said. “And sometimes even in unexpected forms.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer runs on Jan. 9 and 10 at 7 p.m., and Jan. 11 at 2 p.m., at the Tom Morrison Theatre at FHS. Tickets are $15 at the door, or $12 at the Regent Mall guest services, Westminster Books, and online at BranchOutProductions.org

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