Erika Cote and Jamie Bartol first appeared onstage together as munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz” more than 10 years ago. This week, they will appear together for the last time as classmates in the musical “Curtains.”
The thespians have appeared in or worked on nearly every production of Brewer Youth Theatre since they were third-graders. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen shows apiece in elementary, middle and high school.
Every one of those shows was directed by Rich Kimball, who oversees the drama program in the Brewer schools. Now an administrator at Brewer High School, Kimball also is known as a veteran sports broadcaster and actor.
This fall, Bartol, 18, is heading to New York City where he will attend the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Cote, 17, will wait until January before beginning her studies at Northeastern University in Boston.
“I guess I’ve kept doing it because I loved doing it,” Cote said Sunday. “It’s so fun to play other types of people, or a creature. It’s cool to put on a costume, be somebody else and entertain people. It’s a real joy and I’ve kept with it ever since that first show because it’s such a big thrill every time.”
While Cote had been enrolled in summer programs at Penobscot Theatre Company since she was 5, Bartol’s munchkin role in 1999 was his first time onstage. The show had 80 student performers in grades three through 12.
“I was a munchkin with all these high school and middle school students,” he recalled Sunday. “I was watching them, seeing that they had bigger parts and thinking, ‘that could be me if I keep up with this.’”
Both said their first leading roles remain among their favorites. For Bartol, it was playing the title character in the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” while in middle school. Cote said her breakout role was Ruth in “Wonderful Town,” a musical that tells the story of two sisters from Ohio who move to New York City in 1935.
“I had 300 odd lines and seven songs after being in chorus,” the actress said of the 2007 production.
During the past school year, Cote gave up soccer so she could perform in all five Brewer Youth Theatre productions during her senior year. A member of the National Honor Society, she also participated in indoor track, enjoys running and serves on the student council.
When Bartol is not performing, he is directing shows for Next Generation Theatre at the Between Friends Art Center at 39 Center St., Brewer. Last month, he directed the young performers’ version of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods.” The cast ranged in age from 5 to 18.
Although he’s not sure if he’s following in Kimball’s footsteps or not, Bartol admitted that he uses a lot of the older man’s expressions.
“I find myself saying to the kids the things he’s said to us a lot,” Bartol said. “I try to give the cast I’m directing examples of what I want them to do the way he shows us physically what he means.”
Bartol said that he teaches young thespians the same basic skills Kimball taught him, such as how to stand onstage so the audience can see and hear the actors, never to touch the curtain and to “project, project, project.”
“Directing and acting are very different,” Bartol said. “There’s something very thrilling about being onstage in front of a big group. In every production, I always have one moment when I think this is pretty incredible. As a director, it’s fun to watch kids feel those same feelings and to see their eyes light up onstage.
“I like looking at the other side of a production as a director and thinking about all characters,” he continued. “I like to envision a production as a whole when I read a play. I imagine what the lights and props will be and what I want it to sound and look like, down to colors. As a director, I love how the little details all come together in production.”
Cote and Bartol said that working with the same director for a decade had been advantageous.
“He taught us things early, like to be at an angle when you’re standing onstage so it looks natural but you aren’t blocking other people and you can be heard,” she said. “Now, we know automatically how to move onstage.”
“It’s been really nice to work with the same director,” Bartol said, “because after several years, you know what he’s looking for and he knows what you can handle. He knows when you’re doing your best and when you can step it up a little bit. After so many years, you also form a working relationship and almost a friendship.”
Kimball called the seniors talented, hard workers who are always trying to do better.
Both students said they planned to build on their experiences with Kimball and Brewer Youth Theatre in college.
“Theater has helped be more outgoing because when you’re onstage you’re letting all those inhibitions go, and becoming someone you’re not in front of people you don’t know,” said Cote, who plans to study broadcast journalism. “Acting has allowed me to open up to people to communicate with them better.”
Bartol, class president, a tutor in the writing center and a member of the National Honor Society, plans to study film. He has directed several short videos over the past few years including a documentary about directing “Aladdin” at Next Generation Theatre.
“My advice to kids interested in theater,” Bartol said, “is to stick with it. No matter what parts you get, you can always have fun.”
“Curtains” will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday at Brewer Middle School.