HARLINGEN — George Matthew Gutierrez has stepped into a character that is totally not him — and that’s why he loves it.
George, 13, plays Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda Jr. the Musical” at the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory.
His timing and acting chops reveal an experienced stagecraft, but so far his presence hasn’t become a familiar talent to local theater goers.
But that’s about to change.
The amiable young George immediately turns into this hideous school principal stomping around classrooms in pleated skirt and trench coat, grimacing at everyone she meets.
“Don’t just stand there like a wet tissue, get on with it,” Trunchbull bellows to a timid yet conscientious teacher named Miss Honey, played by Azeneth Corrales.
George, an eighth grader at Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences, has put a lot of work into developing his character.
He brings to the stage several years of experience in the Harlingen school district’s “Summer on Stage” program and various other productions, so he’s no stranger to the rigors of theater practice.
“This recent week before the show opened, tech week, was probably one of the most tiring weeks because we had to get out of school and practice here at the PAC from 4 to 9,” he said.
Getting into Trunchbull’s character required insight, discipline — and a sense of humor.
“She’s really, really rude, and she loves getting her way,” he said. “That’s probably what makes her character even more fun because I really don’t relate to the character. I don’t think that I’m like that.”
This naturally leads into his joy of acting.
“It’s good to be someone you are not,” he said. “You get to show what you are made of.”
And it takes a lot of work, the kind of work that requires a sincere devotion to craft and production.
“It’s very, very important to be dedicated and to have commitment into this,” he said. “It’s like one of the key things in theater. You need to have commitment to your role, you have to have commitment to the production and put that first above anything else.”
That loyalty to purpose has demanded sacrifices.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to go to different places,” he said. “There was a trip that my sister went on and I was invited, too. I turned it down because I thought I’ve got to put Matilda first. It’s just what I’m dedicated to, it’s my passion, acting.”
So strong is that passion he hopes to pursue it into his future, undaunted by the challenge of breaking into the profession.
“I know that a lot of people don’t make it into the acting world or Hollywood,” he said. “I’m just grateful for any opportunity that I have.”
But there’s more to theater than acting.
“I’ve also decided that as much as I like acting I also really like directing,” he said. “There is so much you can do as a director to make the performance magical. For me I think I have a lot of creative ideas I can do.”
In fact, during the production of “Matilda” he shared some of his creative ideas with the directors. Those ideas were strong enough to be incorporated into the performance.
For him, taking part in a musical on Broadway is at the top of his bucket list.