Sawyer Mullins as Ralphie in Mill Mountain Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Story.’
Photo by Richard Maddox

Sawyer Mullins is a seventh grade honor roll student at Central Academy Middle School and has the lead role in Mill Mountain Theatre’s presentation of “A Christmas Story” that’s playing daily through December 23 on its Roanoke Stage.

He’s the son of Scott and Mary Catherine Mullins, and the grandson of Doug and Geni Mullins, and Bonnie Gluth, all of Troutville.

“A Christmas Story” is a comedy that’s been adapted by Philip Grecian and is based on the motion picture with the same title that was written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark, and “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd.

The play is about 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (played by Sawyer), who wants one thing for Christmas: a genuine Red Ryder BB gun.

Roanoke writer Valerie Archual interviewed Sawyer before the show opened last week, and she shared that interview with The Herald. For those who would like to see the interview on her blog, you can visit http://www.valeriearchual.com/

Curtain for “A Christmas Story” is 7:30 p.m. week nights and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are available online at http://millmountain.org/

 

 

By VALERIE ARCHUAL

www.valeriearchual.com

 

With December approaching, our family has already started one of our favorite traditions, and that’s watching our collection of Christmas movies!

Ranking in our top two favs is “A Christmas Story,” the hilarious movie adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s anecdotes from his books, “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” and “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories.”

Yea, nothing quite rings in the holidays like the phrase “Oh, Fudge” (and I don’t mean the kind Aunt Edna makes), the barking Bumpus hounds, Schwartz’s “triple dog dare” that results in Flick’s tongue getting stuck to the school’s flag pole, and of course, the unforgettable soft glow from the old man’s “major award” gleaming from the living room window.

“A Christmas Story” takes us back to a wintery 1940, where we are reminded of what it was like to be a 9-year-old boy that stayed busy dodging bullies, keeping up with a little brother, and, as a member of Annie’s Secret Circle, rushing home to listen to the Ovaltine’s “Little Orphan Annie” radio show.

But it’s definitely the story’s main plot that connects us to “Ralphie,” and keeps us rooting for him throughout the story’s journey.

Ralphie’s Christmas desire, to receive an official Red Ryder BB gun, continuously gets shot down, first by his mom, then by his teacher, and even Santa himself rejects the idea, all of which only have Ralphie’s best interest (and his sight) in mind.

This December, Mill Mountain Theatre brings “A Christmas Story” to life on its Trinkle main stage, and I got the privilege of chatting with none-other-than “Ralphie” himself, Sawyer Mullins.

For 12-year-old Sawyer, this isn’t his first rodeo acting on stage. Sawyer has performed in Mill Mountain’s productions of “Aesop’s Fables,” “Into The Woods Jr.” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He took time out of his busy schedule to tell me all about it!

 

“How did your whole acting career get started?”

“Well, it was in fifth grade that she (his mom) made me audition for a children’s play called ‘Aesop’s Fables.’”

Mary Catherine Mullins, Sawyer’s mom, admits to seeing an actor in Sawyer long before he hit the stage.

“He’s always entertaining us, either by dancing, singing, or playing music. And he loves plays.”

Mary Catherine said Sawyer’s audition for “Aesop’s Fables” was a last-minute decision, and he basically just “winged it.”

“I didn’t really have anything prepared.” Sawyer explains, landing his first acting role nonetheless!

“I literally just adored it, and I was like, ‘I wanna do another one!’”

Another one he did, this time as the role of “Milky White” the cow in “Into the Woods Jr.”

Sawyer was also asked to do a stage reading of “The Christmas Cup” at an event for the Virginia Reading Association held at the Hotel Roanoke.

His most recent role was this past October where he performed in Mill Mountain’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

“Tell me about your audition for “A Christmas Story”

“I needed to find a monologue that fit the character I was aiming for. It was a monologue about a kid and he was talking about the worst, biggest, most terrifying fart that he ever let out! I don’t know why I thought it fit so well, I guess just ’cause it was so childish, but, I mean, it worked!” He chuckles.

It worked indeed! Landing him his first leading role as Ralphie Parker.

“A Christmas Story is definitely one of my favorite movies! Even more now!”

Sawyer explains that he watches it with his dad every year.

“How did you find out you had been cast as the role of Ralphie?”

“I was bugging my mom about it for maybe two weeks, and the one day I don’t ask at all, basically my dad gave me a bar of soap and said that I needed to put it in my mouth, and I was like…. ‘what??’ It completely went over my head!”

But after realizing what was going on, he admits, “I had a very enthusiastic reaction!”

Sawyer then showed me a video on his cell phone that his parents recorded, after their gift of soap, that featured his high-pitched scream followed by a “YES!!!!”

I would say “enthusiastic” was a perfect description.

Although Sawyer found out he got the lead role as Ralphie in August, rehearsals for the play didn’t begin until November. Sawyer and the rest of “A Christmas Story” cast practice several hours a day, six days a week, up until opening night.

“So, tell us how you prepared to be Ralphie”

Sawyer’s mom says he has been listening to Christmas music since November 1, describing Sawyer as “her little elf.

“Well, ya know, I feel like I’ve kind of always been that way. I’ve always adored Christmas! I don’t know if it has to do with the whole seasonal change or what, either that… or it’s because my birthday is two days after Christmas!”

He and mom giggle.

“And I have watched the movie about seven or eight more times since I found out!”

Sawyer has taken a break from all other extra-curricular activities so he can focus just on his role and school only.

He will be performing in 20 shows during the two-and-a-half weeks of the show’s performances. His older sister has even taken over his chores at home.

“How is Ralphie different from other roles you have played?”

“I feel like this one is a lot easier for me to do.”

“Really?” I ask. “Being the lead role, you have to have a ton more lines??”

He responds, “I do, but I feel like I’ve seen the movie so much, I know the character and I just love Christmas, so it’s easier for me to do!”

“Share with us any difficulties, you have endured while preparing for this role”

“I think definitely a hard thing for me was this one particular scene, the fight scene between Ralphie and Scut Farkus, the bully. I’m not used to being in, quote-unquote, fights.” He says laughing.

“Plus, it’s exhausting because I have to say stuff and I’m like fake punching him, and I have to make sure I don’t actually punch him! We had to do that scene so many times because the punches have to be a certain way so that it looks like I am punching him from the extreme right and left seats!

“Something else that maybe a little difficult for me… So Scut Farkus, right before the fight scene, grabs my arm and twists it behind my back, and then shoves a snowball in my face, but they’re getting in actual shaved ice snowballs and he’s actually putting that in my face! We’ve done the scene, we haven’t gotten the snowballs yet, so I’m pretty sure, for that scene, I’m not even gonna have to act! I’ll have a legitimate reaction there!” He laughs.

“So that’s another thing you have in common with Ralphie,” I joke. “Seems like a lot of your stress is coming from Scut Farkus?!”

Sawyer chuckles, “Yea, but he (the actor) is a really great guy!”

“Share with us some of your favorite Ralphie moments”

“Definitely all the fantasy scenes!”

Sawyer has numerous costume changes throughout the performance but does have a team of wardrobe people backstage to assist.

“I know that my favorite scene is the blind scene, where Ralphie goes blind and they’re like, ‘What did we do??!’ and I’m like, (in his dramatic voice) ‘It was SOAP POISONING…’ That’s like my favorite thing in the whole show ‘cause it’s so melodramatic!” He laughs.

“And then towards the end when the narrator says, ‘Oh my God! I shot my eye out!’ That’s a lot of fun, too! I don’t know why I enjoyed falling so much! I have to fall like three or four times!”

Sawyer explains one of the highlights of the show for him is getting to work with professional New York actors that have performed on Broadway and on television series such as “Law and Order” and “Ghost Stories.”

Sawyer’s mom, Mary Catherine adds, “They are all just fabulous with these kids. They’re here to answer any questions they have about acting.”

Director Travis Kendrick describes Sawyer as a definite typecast for Ralphie. He also talked about how well Sawyer works with all the other actors, especially Timothy Booth who plays “Big Ralphie,” or the narrator.

“They have similar reactions to things and work great together!”

As we were closing the interview, I had to ask Sawyer if he had, in fact, ever asked for and received a BB gun for Christmas, to which he laughed and responds, “Yes!”

“Soooo, did you ever shoot your eye out?”

He and his mom both started laughing, and then she asked Sawyer to tell me about a text he had sent her during one of the practices.

“No, I didn’t shoot my eye out with my gun… but one scene in the play I have the gun in bed with me and I was holding it, and I don’t know what I did, but I hit the muzzle and it hit me in the eye right here…”

Sawyer laughs, “I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself!”

Sawyer adds, “The best part about being Ralphie is that, with all that’s going on in the world, I get to make people laugh and smile… and that makes me smile!”