LOTS TO LEARN FROM CHARLIE BROWN
On opening night of MTYP’s holiday production of A Charlie Brown Double Bill, Ben Ridd, who plays the titular role, has the audience firmly on their side, even as they choose the saddest tree in the lot.
“My job is to have the whole audience supporting Charlie. It’s scary and amazing to experience at the same time.”
The character of Charlie Brown has resonated deeply with readers of the classic comic strip, since it was first published in 1950. Charlie Brown has a continuous streak of bad luck but remains the ultimate loveable loser. He’s nervous and lacks self-confidence. Charles M. Schulz said he created the character as a caricature of an average person, adding, “Most of us are more acquainted with losing than winning.”
“I love his character so much,” admits Ridd, who is currently in his fourth year studying musical theatre at Toronto’s Sheridan College.
Ridd believes that his character’s resilience is what makes people identify with him. “He’s this little boy who is so sad. Charlie Brown is clearly depressed, but one of the amazing things about him is he’s not running from it. He tries to figure out why he feels this way. His flaw is that he thinks if he just does everything right, then he will be okay.”
“Charlie is just sad, but he’s not angry,” says Ridd. “He’s not taking it out on anyone else. That’s powerful. I don’t remember seeing that represented when I was a little boy. It was always sadness disguised as anger. I love that this show is him being sad.”
This is not the first time that Ben Ridd has played Charlie. They were cast as the “blockhead” (as Lucy Van Pelt calls him) in a production as a young teen. He feels his affinity with the character comes naturally.
“I was always trying to be the perfect little kid,” says Ridd. “I tried not to need any maintenance. I thought I’ll be happy and if I am sad I’ll just sort it out. I have been like this all my life. A couple of years ago, I realized how much of a toll that takes.”
Ben says that seeing MTYP’s A Year With Frog and Toad as a six year old had a huge impact on him. “I liked it a bit too much,” they laugh. Ben made his parents take him back, but they drew the line when he asked to go a third time.
Ridd grew up as a theatre kid. In Grade 11, he joined MTYP’s Musical Theatre Company and performed in The Pirates of Penzance, followed by Mamma Mia!.
“Mamma Mia! was so much fun to do. It’s a blast of a show,” he says, recalling that when not onstage, the performers sang backup vocals into microphones set up backstage. “The best part was that we were the back-up vocals. There’s a harmony part for Take a Chance that is so fun to sing.”
Ben was home schooled until Grade 11, and then attended Grant Park High School for their final two years in order to qualify to attend college directly after graduating.
Ridd’s talent has been widely recognized. They were initially accepted into both the highly competitive National Theatre School as well as Sheridan College, but is now thriving with the choice they made. He feels proficient as an actor and singer, but knew he needed to work on his dance skills. “They let you work on what you’re bad at,” he smiles. “The program fills in your gaps. One of my favourite classes is historically informed performance practice. I’ve been learning about the history of musical theatre, including Black artists in musical theatre and holding those artists up and celebrating them.”
The young performer, who recently changed his pronouns to they/he, feels that even though Charlie Brown’s pronouns are masculine, “Charlie feels a lot like me. The friendship that he has with Linus is special. I think if I had seen more representations like Charlie when I was growing up, I would have had an easier time coming to terms with what masculinity means to me.”
A Charlie Brown Double Bill runs until December 23! Tickets are nearly sold out. To purchase your tickets today, head here.