Family of Stars:Winthrop Siblings Lead in Two Productions

By Beth Treffeisen

Jackson Tolliver, Madelaine Tolliver, Deana Criess, Mike Descoteaux and Skipper the dog, are a family of stars in Winthrop.

A new family of stars has emerged in Winthrop, with two siblings starring in the lead roles for the middle-school and high-school productions.

Madelaine Tolliver an eighth grader will be starring as Kim MacAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie” in Winthrop Middle School production in December, and Jackson Tolliver a eleventh-grader, will be starring as Drew Dillenbeck in the Winthrop High School production of the “Rock of Ages” starting on Nov. 16.

The students reign from a family of performers. Their mother Deana Criess is the director of ImprovBoston’s National Touring Company, who is also a performer and a cast member of ImprovBoston’s Mainstage.

Criess’s partner Mike Descoteaux is ImprovBoston’s Artistic Director and is the co-creator and Music Director for the Off-Broadway show, “Blank! The Musical.”

“We all love this,” said Criess. “It’s weird to have brought kids up who love acting as much as we do but we are excited that they can.”

From a young age both children took part of ImprovBoston classes and enjoyed it, making it easier for them to get comfortable on stage before most kids do.

“They’ve always liked it,” said Criess. “Jackson sang before he talked and basically hasn’t stopped since. They’ve never been pushed to act but they just love it and do it.”

Criess said her kids grew up in the ImprovBoston village. “You know the saying ‘it takes a village,’ well in this case it was ‘it takes a comedy theater,” said Criess. She said every babysitter the kids ever had was a comedian at ImprovBoston.

“It’s not your typical community,” said Descoteaux. “But it was like having an extended family.”

About three years ago the family moved from Cambridge to Winthrop because of the good drama program, and the newly built middle and high schools.

“We never imagined both kids would end up being this good,” said Criess. “It was crazy this year to have both get lead roles.”

In the recent weeks leading up to the school’s productions, the kids have been working hard at late night rehearsals, practicing lines and songs, all on top of their regular schoolwork.

Criess admits that in the thick of the busy season when everyone has shows it can be hard to see one another during the week, which means a lot of frozen food or leftovers for dinner.

“They figure it out,” said Criess. “But mostly it’s a lot of fun and a lot of music.”

Madelaine Tolliver said that often times their schedules don’t line up when everyone is at rehearsals or at a show.

“There are days when I don’t see anyone,” said Madelaine. “But I’m used to it by now.”

Jackson Tolliver said that their home life is probably not that typical. At any given time his sister could be downstairs playing the flute, and he’ll be upstairs on the piano.

“There’s just always music,” said Jackson.

The never-ending music and acting might have played a role in his career and his sister’s in acting.

Madelaine said that when she is not doing homework or practicing for band, she receives some help from her Mom and brother in reading lines and singing. Her role as Kim is the first big role in a production.

Jackson said when he learned his sister also got a leading role this year he was really excited for her.

“She works just as hard as I do at theatre,” said Jackson. “I’m really proud of her for this role.”

Jackson said he has been acting and singing for as long as he can remember. At only three-years-old he starred as the scarecrow in the “Wizard of Oz” and ever since has acted in plays such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Last year, Jackson was in “Antigone” at Winthrop High School that won the State Championship last year at the Massachusetts Educational Theatre Guild Competition.

So far, Jackson’s most current role as Drew in “The Rock of Ages” has been the hardest one yet, in terms of technical singing.

“We do a lot of work but it pays off,” said Jackson. “We try to produce really high-quality shows. Since I’ve moved here I’ve been really impressed by the technical crew, the cast and all the talent we have, it’s crazy.”

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