Teen actor finds rewards in treating each of his roles as if it were his job

Teen actor finds rewards in treating each of his roles as if it were his job

February 14th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Laura Maynard, left, and Christopher Cooper pretend to be Power Rangers while playing the improv game "Freeze" during the Theater Quest class at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


* Name: Christopher Cooper.

* Age: 14.

* School: Eighth-grader at Center for Creative Arts.

* Favorite book: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.

* Favorite movie: "Footloose" (2011 remake).

* Pets: Australian shepherd and cocker spaniel, Oreo and Al, and a cat, Poof.

* Dream role: "Some sort of evil, possessed kid in a horror movie."

* Favorite role: Jonas from "The Giver."

* Place he'd like to visit: Hawaii or California.

* Two people he'd like to meet: Actors Steve Carell and Chris Cooper.

* Hobbies: Paintball, swimming, video games and reading.


Christopher Cooper will next appear on the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's Circle Stage March 23 in "A World of Her Own," a student-written production by the members of the TheatreQuest young actor club. He also will be in Center for Creative Arts' spring production of "Once Upon a Mattress" May 3-5.


Do you know a child age 15 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

It takes a special kind of young actor to get inside the mind of a machete-wielding child murderer one day and a harried music agent the next.

Last year, Christopher Cooper, 13, had to juggle wildly divergent roles for overlapping productions of the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" at Center for Creative Arts and the intense stage drama "Stoning Mary" at the Ensemble Theater of Chattanooga.

Managing to keep those personalities straight, along with their lines, was a rewarding challenge, Christopher said.

"I fought the world to get through those; it was very difficult," he said. "The more I told myself, 'Don't goof off, be serious, this is what you want to do,' the easier it became for me.

"I can do more things now because I thought of acting as my job."

Christopher's parents and directors who have worked with him said his versatility onstage and his commitment to his craft set him apart from other young thespians.

Ensemble Theater of Chattanooga founding producing partner Garry Posey has worked with or overseen Christopher for numerous productions since meeting the young actor in 2009.

Posey said he was introduced to Christopher when he was recommended by a teacher at CCA for the major supporting character Colin Craven in a production of the musical "The Secret Garden" by Chattanooga State's Professional Actor Training Program.

The show featured a cast almost exclusively composed of actors of college age or older, but Christopher demonstrated remarkable poise for someone so young, said Posey, who was the production's stage manager.

"One of the things that's unique about Chris is that he plays with the big boys; he's not really intimidated by the other talent ... that's in the room," Posey said. "It was interesting to see how he interacted with the other students, not with intimidation and fear but getting right down on their level."

Christopher first took the stage earlier that year as an ensemble cast member in a Chattanooga Theatre Centre Youth Theatre production of the musical "Schoolhouse Rocks Live Jr."

He said he initially felt ambivalent about acting, but before the curtain closed on opening night, that opinion had radically changed.

"At the end of the first night, I told them it was the most fun I'd had in my life," he said. "At the end of the show, it was like, 'Wow, we did it.' "

Since then, Christopher has been acting nearly nonstop.

By May, he will tally his 15th and 16th roles as a jester in a school production of the musical "Once Upon a Mattress" and one of the lead roles in a student play being created and produced by TheatreQuest, a teen acting club at the Theatre Centre.

Christopher said he likes the challenge of roles that force him outside his comfort zone.

"I feel like I do angry characters very well," he said. "It's the least like me ... [but] you have to work hard for something to get something good."

Christopher's parents, Kay and Christopher Cooper, said they sometimes worry their son is almost too devoted to the theater, but the benefits acting has imparted far outweigh the potential negatives.

Acting caters to Christopher's desire for collaborative spirit, his father said.

"[Before acting,] he had always played sports, football, baseball and soccer, ... but he would get upset that other kids would have to lose for him to be successful," Cooper said. "In a play, that's not the case."

Thanks to all the time he has spent preparing for upcoming productions, Christopher has become a seasoned veteran, and he has started mentoring younger actors, a role his mother said she is proudest of.

"He really helps other kids memorize and gives them ideas of how to do lines," she said. "He's like a big brother."

And even if Christopher's dream of acting professionally never comes to fruition, she said, the experience should pay dividends.

"He'll be able to rock interviews," she added, laughing.