Name: Bennett Kutchins.
School: Sixth-grader at Center for Creative Arts.
Acting heroes: Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and Dick Van Dyke.
Favorite musicals: "Singing in the Rain" and "Newsies."
Favorite role: Ursula in "Bye Bye Birdie."
Dream role: Glinda in "Wicked."
In the last three years, Bennett Kutchins has acted in seven productions for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, Chattanooga Christian School summer acting camps, Girls Preparatory School and the Center for Creative Arts. Friday, she will take on the role of Ursula Merkle in "Bye Bye Birdie" at CCA, where she also recently founded a student-led acting troupe. In August, she will travel to Los Angeles to take part in the filming of a pilot episode to be pitched to the Syfy TV network.
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Bennett Kutchins was so eager for an audience that she came into the world nine weeks early to take her place in the spotlight.
Due to health complications when she was born prematurely, Bennett spent six weeks under a lamp in a hospital incubator.
Her mother, Carol Kutchins, said she thrived on the attention even then.
"That was her first stage, and she loved it," Kutchins said, laughing. "The more people around her, the happier she was."
Bennett began taking acting classes in Illinois at age 3 when her mother realized that, without an appropriate outlet, Bennett, now 11, would turn every bench and table into a stage.
The Kutchins family moved to Chattanooga five years ago, and Bennett began relentlessly auditioning for productions at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre in second grade. The fact that she was too young for the roles never slowed her down, her mother said.
"[CTC education director] Chuck Tuttle went to her and said, 'Bennett, you have to be in fourth grade for me to cast you,' " Kutchins said. "And she looked right at him and said, 'I'm going to keep auditioning for you until you take me.' "
When she reached fourth grade, Bennett began taking on roles. She has since performed in CTC Main Stage and Youth Theatre productions as well as at Girls Preparatory School and summer acting camps at Chattanooga Christian School.
Friday, she will take the stage as Ursula Merkle, Conrad Birdie's most enthusiastic fan, in a production of the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" at Center for Creative Arts, where she is a sixth-grade musical-theater major.
Bennett said her greatest joy as an actress is taking on a new persona, whether as a singing dog ("Go Dog Go") or a Colonial witch hunter ("The Crucible").
"I love to be different people," she said, her hands moving in wide, expansive gestures. "Bennett is nice - it's fun to be Bennett - but it's really fun to pretend you're somebody else."
Last month, Bennett and three of her friends formed an impromptu performance troupe, The Triple Threat Quartet, and began learning pieces from Broadway plays. Once they have finalized their repertoire, Bennett said, they plan to perform at nursing homes and hospitals.
As thoroughly as she submerges herself in a role, Bennett said she sometimes finds it difficult to transition back to being herself.
"After a play, I'll keep doing the dance moves and keep saying the lines," she said. "I keep being that person until I'm in a new play, and then I'll be the next person."
GPS drama teacher Catherine Bolden began working with Bennett through the school's Camp Kaleidoscope summer program. Since then, she has called on Bennett to perform in the play "The Devil's Storybook" and to provide voice-over work for radio programs through her acting Marzipan Studios.
Even as an elementary school student, Bennett's understanding of character and larger-than-life approach made her hard to ignore.
"She was just an absolute, total standout," Bolden said. "Every directorial note I've ever given her she takes it, and it blooms into something bigger. I would say she has the magical 'it' that we look for in theater.
"If you give her a character, you won't see Bennett up there; you'll see the character."