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Chris Pressnell plays Gepetto in DreamWeavers’ musical “Pinocchio.” Two of his three children and several cousins also are in the production tonight at Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts.
DAILY Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Chris Pressnell plays Gepetto in DreamWeavers’ musical “Pinocchio.” Two of his three children and several cousins also are in the production tonight at Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts.

Family of players
‘It’s become something that we get to do together as a family and enjoy,’ man says of local theater

By Patrice Stewart
DAILY Staff Writer

pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

The Pressnells are a family of players.

They're not playing pool or cards. They've discovered that theater roles give them a chance to work together on a common hobby.

Shelby Miller, a villager, rehearses lines for “Pinocchio” with fellow cast member Elizabeth Cargile.
DAILY Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Shelby Miller, a villager,rehearses lines for “Pinocchio” with fellow cast member Elizabeth Cargile.
It's something all ages can do, and they can involve extended family, too. These lines from a song Chris Pressnell sings in "Pinocchio" express it well:

"It's the music, it's the lights,

It's the feeling that you're feeling when you have stage fright,

But when you walk out, then you know

That's a show! That's a show! That's a show!"

For "Pinocchio," which Dreamweavers will stage tonight at 7 at the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, Chris will play puppetmaker Gepetto, while daughter Julia, 14, is a princess and a villager, and son Cade, 7, is a toy soldier and a villager.

"I think everybody in my family has been in at least one play by now," said Chris. "It's become something that we get to do together as a family and enjoy."

For "Pinocchio," he encouraged his lifelong best friend and first cousin, Scott Shirley, and Shirley's two stepdaughters, Chelsie and Shelby Miller, to join the cast.

They both grew up in Decatur, where Chris remembers stepping on the stage at Austin High School for his first role in a production of "Li'l Abner." But theater took a back seat while he started a career in the ministry, married and began a family — including adopting sisters Julia (pronounced Yulia) and Oksana from Russia after a mission trip and visit to an orphanage in Kamyshin on the Volga River.

Cade was born about the same time, "so we went from no kids to three in a year and a half in 1996-98," said Chris.

"You want your kids to have positive experiences," he said. "Acting has helped them with language and interaction with others and gives them something to succeed in."

His wife, Tera, urged him to take up acting again about three years ago when they saw a newspaper story about "The Hobbit" needing cast members. "I'm a huge Tolkien fan, and Cade, who was about 4 at the time, loved 'Lord of the Rings' and knew all those characters. She said Cade would love it if I was in 'The Hobbit,' " he said.

Chris, 33, jumped in and got more and more involved with two local theater groups, DreamWeavers and Backstage, and then his children decided they'd like to try acting, too.

Acting is a family affair for, front row from left, Shelby Miller, Cade Pressnell, Chris Pressnell and Julia Pressnell; and back row from left, Chelsie Miller, Scott Shirley and Oksana Pressnell.
DAILY Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Acting is a family affair for, front row from left, Shelby Miller, Cade Pressnell, Chris Pressnell and Julia Pressnell; and back row from left, Chelsie Miller, Scott Shirley and Oksana Pressnell.
In "The Wizard of Oz," he played the head flying monkey and the farmhand who becomes the lion, while Cade and Julia were Munchkins. Then the whole family, including mom Tera and daughter Oksana, now 17, did the next play, "The Clumsy Custard Horror Show and Ice Cream Cone Review."

"After that, we even got my parents involved," Chris said. In "Honk!" he played the Ugly Duckling's father, Cade was a farm chick and his parents, Nicky and Debbie Pressnell of Decatur, played flying geese. And when they are able to attend, watching their family in a play is a good outing for his grandparents, Ted and Hazel Coker and Marvin and Jean Pressnell, all of Decatur.

Then came roles in "Seussical, the Musical" and "Pinocchio." Chris and Tera figure if you're going to have to drive the children to play practice and wait on them or pick them up later, you might as well be involved in the show, too.

But plays are helping him accomplish other goals. As minister at Flint Church of Christ for nine years, he thinks interacting through theatrical performances can show others that "You can be a Christian and have a great time. We're not so rigid and narrow-minded and serious that we can't have any fun."

And as the father of three, he thinks acting is a good hobby for children that helps them become well-rounded and multi-dimensional. "We wanted our kids to have some kind of an outlet and something fun to do. Julia doesn't like sports that well, so this is a good hobby for her. And Cade loves a lot of things and plays baseball and football, as well as games like chess that involve mental skills, but he loves to cut up and goof off and act."

His cousin Scott is finding that play-acting can bring you a bit of extra time for polishing other hobbies, too. His role involves playing chess with Michael James. "It's fun and a good chance to play chess for four hours a night — and the only line I have to remember is 'Checkmate,' " he said.

Second cousins Julia and Chelsie, 14, like this family endeavor, too. "I like it much better than sports," said Julia.

Chelsie, who plays a princess and a pizza maker, said she likes the opportunity to meet new people and to watch her uncle Chris. "He's very funny, and it's fun to watch him mess up. Besides, it's a way for us to get closer as a family."

Cade said he likes being in plays with his family. "My favorite was 'Clumsy Custard,' because all of my family was in that one."

Penny Linville, Princess technical director who has watched these family members in several plays, figures it's a case of "like father, like son."

"For a Church of Christ preacher, Chris is the biggest ham there is. And he has some colorful children — Cade manages to steal the scene no matter how many are out there on stage."

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