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10-Year Old Actor from Northern Kentucky Moves On to New Role at Cincinnati Playhouse

After two years as Playhouse in the Park’s Tiny Tim in the annual A Christmas Carol production, young Crestview Hills actor Ty Joseph Shelton, 10, joins an adult drama.

Through November 14, Playhouse audiences will see him in a pair of roles in Mad River Rising, about generations of a family and their land and the threat of a natural disaster.

Mad River Rising centers on Angus Stewart, crusty, aging farmer and family patriarch who escapes from his nursing home to try to save his family’s home. The family values-infused drama is told with flashbacks, with Ty playing Angus as a young boy whose life is changed by the historic 1937 Ohio River flood. This time it’s a flood of urbanization threatening the family land.

These days, acting has moved to the top of Ty’s favorite things to do and there was a bit of drama to joining the cast of Mad River Rising. When he aged out of Tiny Tim this year, he was asked by Playhouse to choose Boy Scrooge in Carol or Mad River Rising.

“I chose Mad River Rising to build my resume,” Ty explained, but “I made sure that (Carol director) Michael Haney didn’t have his feelings hurt, he was very generous in helping me make my decision.”

Ty’s love of and talent for theater are a family affair. Elder sister Mia (now in college in Nashville) continues to be Ty’s manager; his mom Paige Shelton picks him up Tuesday through Friday from Blessed Sacrament School (where Ty is “very involved” with music and the end-of-year play) and drives him to rehearsals.

He has to leave school early and, “My principal, Mrs. Hannon, has approved this and my long hair. Blessed Sacrament School has been very understanding. My dad (Scott Shelton) has rearranged my golf days to Mondays instead of Wednesdays so I can still play -- we are always off on Mondays from rehearsals. Homework is always a bummer, but I have good grades. My mom and dad are big on that!”

The River City News asked Ty about his work in Mad River Rising:

RCN: Who do you play?

Ty: I play two different parts: A 2015 character, Nick Stewart, who is into video games but every once in a while he gets to visit his family farm that he grows to enjoy. I also play young Angus Stewart — I’m Old Angus Stewart’s memory — so my character is alive during the 1937 floods.

RCN: How do you connect with each of them?

Ty: For the character Nick Stewart, I enjoy playing video games too, but I mostly enjoy going outside with my friend Grant and scootering. For the role of Young Angus, I feel I’m able to connect easily. The costumes help, when you’re wearing the older clothes your brain re-channels to the two different characters. And I was given a lot of research about the 1937 flood. I love the outdoors and woods.

RCN: Is Mad River Rising different from anything else you've done?

Ty: I think this is very different because the cast is made up of six adult characters. I’m the only kid! When I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, I had a lot of kids who became my friends, and we still stay in touch but during A Christmas Carol we got to hang out under the stage and play games. Now I entertain myself with video games and kendama, much like Nick Stewart.

RCN: Do you learn more about acting with every role?

Ty: Yes, because this time I have very little lines and most of my part is movement. Also I’m working with a different director.

(Editor's Note: Blake Robison, Playhouse producing artistic director, has worked often with playwright Dana Yeaton starting when they were both at Vermont Stage Company; Robison premiered the original script there in 1998. The play has been updated to include new technologies and the action has moved to rural Ohio.)

Mad River Rising, through Nov. 14. Playhouse in the Park, Marx Theatre, Eden Park. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $35-$86 and subject to change. 513-421-3888 and www.cincyplay.com.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photo: Ty Joseph Shelton (left) and Sheila Tousey in Mad River Rising (Mikki Schaffner/provided)