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Future looks bright for the youngest paid employee at Eight O'Clock Theatre

Dalton Hamilton, 16, working as technical director for The Drowsy Chaperone in May, controls the lights during a rehearsal at the Largo Cultural Center.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Dalton Hamilton, 16, working as technical director for The Drowsy Chaperone in May, controls the lights during a rehearsal at the Largo Cultural Center.

LARGO — As the actors rehearse the seance scene, the teenager in the baseball cap strides across the darkened stage, slipping behind the set.

While the three characters with their eyes closed sit at a living room table pursuing their talk with the dead, a pretend wind rustles a bush outside a window.

The characters hope to speak with John Barrymore. They are searching for his Shakespearean secrets.

Boom! Windows and doors fly open. Lights flicker and go out. The shadowy profile of Barrymore appears on a wall.

The teenager in the baseball cap sneaks back to his seat at the computer near the front of the stage.

How'd he do that?

"Fishing line,'' said 16-year-old Dalton Hamilton. "And I used a little filter in a light for John Barrymore's image. It was a little challenging to create such an atmospheric mood on stage.''

Hamilton is still in high school, heading into his junior year at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. But he has been hired as technical director for the Eight O'Clock Theatre, making him the youngest person to hold a paid position for the theater.

He replaced C.J. Marshall, who was hired earlier this year by the Tulsa Performing Arts Center in Oklahoma.

"He is a prodigy,'' said Kate Gaudet, director of the theater's next show, I Hate Hamlet, which opens Friday. "He's got a technical eye, but he has this creative mind.

"For I Hate Hamlet I gave him ideas for what I wanted, and he gave me back stuff, like the seance scene, that is better than I could have ever imagined,'' she said.

Hamilton first got involved with community theater as an actor. At 7, he was part of the chorus in The Music Man for the City Players of Clearwater.

"I was one of the little kids,'' he said.

Over the years, he has been in many shows, including the lead role in Oliver for the Francis Wilson Playhouse and as Young Patrick in Mame for the Eight O'Clock Theatre. He received Lary Awards for both.

More than acting, however, Hamilton has developed an affinity for other aspects of the theater, said his mother, Missy Hamilton.

"When Dalton was 2, we'd take him to see shows at Ruth Eckerd, and he would always, always sit very still through the whole thing, watching everything going on,'' said Missy Hamilton, 45. "Not all kids do that.''

Betsy Byrd, Eight O'Clock Theatre's business manager, remembers when she performed with Hamilton in Mame in 2008.

"I remember way back then he understood everything, not only his acting part, but how to get certain looks with the lighting,'' she said.

Hamilton, whose first involvement backstage with Eight O'Clock was in 2008 as a spot operator during The Fantasticks, considered Marshall a mentor.

"(C.J.) encouraged me to keep going on this,'' Hamilton said. "Before he left, I was able to shadow him during Big River. We worked closely on the low-lying fog to create the river effect, and also with many intelligent lighting fixtures we used for the production.''

After Marshall's departure, Hamilton moved into his paid spot, serving as technical director in Bye Bye Birdie, The Drowsy Chaperone and now for I Hate Hamlet.

"This is a great opportunity. We're the only community theater, for example, that deals with moving lights,'' he said.

Byrd believes Hamilton has a solid career path already sketched out.

"I'm in awe of his commitment. I've always been in awe of him, since he was very young,'' she said. "He's so serious and driven, and he truly is able to come in, meet with a director and then 30 minutes later, he has started making the lighting come to life.''

His mother stresses that the hours spent in the darkened Tonne Playhouse would not be for every child. But theater is definitely Hamilton's passion, she said.

"But he really is a typical kid. Just take one look at his messy bedroom, which is especially bad during a show,'' she said. "That means right now, his room is a disaster.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@sptimes.com.

If you go

I Hate Hamlet

Eight O'Clock Theatre presents I Hate Hamlet, Friday through July 17. Show times are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets cost $20 for individuals, $12 for students 19 and younger, $18 for groups of 10 or more. For more information, call (727) 587-6793.

Future looks bright for the youngest paid employee at Eight O'Clock Theatre 07/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 5:36pm]
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