While the arts are meant to entertain us they are also used to inspire. The talented individuals who have made the arts their vocation seek to move not only the public en masse but also each other. Each new generation of musicians, visual artists, actors, and others are given a palette with which to begin the creations. Canadian actress Ava Cummings is a strong proponent of assisting and inspiring future generations who might wish to follow in her footsteps of a career in theater, which is why when producer David Elford and writer/director Rodney Barnes cast Cummings as the only adult in their production “Little People, Big Things and a Great Big God” she readily accepted. The play which speaks to adults and youth about the potential greatness of young people also allowed her to speak first hand to her adolescent fellow cast members concerning their own inherent capacity to achieve incredible things. While a great deal younger than her character Mrs. Wimble who is nearing retirement age, the role gave Ava the opportunity to also communicate the contributions of the other end of the age spectrum. Critics and audience members alike responded with overwhelming praise and accolades to the performances and stories found within the play which reminds us that our own ability to make positive contributions to the world are never dependent on our chronological identity. With 1,500 in attendance at the premier, “Little People, Big Things and a Great Big God” was a message that many people were receptive to hearing.
The play’s director, Rodney Barnes explains, “We wanted to tell our stories from the children's point of view. Framing the overall production is the story of a feisty, yet compassionate teacher (present-day) encouraging one of her charges that she can be a hero, even at her young age. Mrs. Wimble uses Biblical stories to illustrate her point. Working with children has its own challenges but the cast of this show, along with the very talented Ava Cummings, made the show a joy to mount. Ms. Cummings in particular was tasked with the challenge of portraying a somewhat stern character who also possessed a sweetness and caring side to her. The subtle nuances of her portrayal truly created a pathway for the audience to relate to both generations. The opportunity to work with such talent and use theatre as a way to encourage the youth of today that nothing is impossible was a true highlight of my career.”
As the only adult cast member, Cummings brought a level of experience and maturity in the theater that assisted her younger cast members and raised the bar for performances. She admits that the process was a two-way beneficial street. She notes that younger actors have less inhibitions and ego. The fact that they will try something even if it seems foolish serves to remind those more accustomed to the theater that letting go is a desirable path to new discovery. The opportunity to mentor these younger actors easily outweighed any delays in the creative process in her opinion.
Ava appeared as Mrs. Wimble in the play, a feisty yet compassionate educator who feels that little ones can impact the world. She communicates her ideas on this topic via stories to her students. Her strong belief in them holds the students to a higher standard. The expectation is that they will look for opportunities to be used by God to impact their world. Her genuine love for her student is sometimes overshadowed by her feisty approach. Some of Mrs. Wimble’s interaction with other characters is touchy and aggressive. She always seems ready to defend her position no matter the subject, which often makes it difficult for others to receive her message. When relating to her students this is not a detriment. Mrs Wimble sees herself as a model teacher and an asset to the school. She considers herself a mentor shaping the young minds of the future. Kind and loving and this motivates her tough-love approach. She is well respected by the students. Mrs. Wimble is tough but feels convicted that this is the only way to get great results. She has a wealth of knowledge and looks for opportunities to share these with her students.
Cummings felt it was necessary to portray this duality in the character; one side being somewhat off-putting while also revealing a caring and sentimental side. The inspiration for Ava was her own great grandmother who often used scripturally based stories to encourage her to overcome personal challenges. Tough but loving was something that the actress was able to quickly access from her own life experiences.
Understanding the motivation of a character much older than yourself is one thing but placing yourself in the same physical state as them requires both a mental and physical forethought. Mrs. Wimble is nearing retirement age and struggles with common aches and pains of the aging process. The way in which she moved needed to be so intuitive for Cummings that she wouldn’t even consider moving in the manner of the much younger woman she actually is. Ava changed her speech pattern, timber, and rhythm to communicate this older woman who had spent years dealing with children in the classroom.
Although the story is focused on inspiring the younger generation, Ava sees it as serving another purpose as well. Society often fixates on those of a certain age. The contributions and potential for contributions of the very young as well as the older age groups are typically viewed as ancillary. Mrs. Wimble uses her stories to inspire her young class to not give up, to demand more of themselves. Her simple actions will have decades of profound effect on these future members of our world. In this sense, Mrs. Wimble is the catalyst for possible benefits that can be far reaching.
Ava Cummings may be much more approachable and nurturing than her character in “Little People, Big Things, and a Great Big God” but her goal is the same both onstage and off. She feels that the benefit of what she has gained through her life and professional experiences will serve the younger generation and those who follow them to aspire and strive for the greatness that she recognizes in them. To have someone you respect believe in you prompts one’s own self-belief and leads to manifesting that in reality. Whether the source is from your faith, your desire to be creative, or even both (as in this case), having someone who pushes you to be your very best makes everyone a winner.