From ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ to ‘Grease’ — Gilbert’s journey through theater

Finn Gilbert (12) performs as a robot in “Cliffhanger: Return of the Blue Ghost.” This movie replaced the 2021 play and can be viewed on YouTube in a six-part series.


Finn Gilbert (12) performs as a robot in “Cliffhanger: Return of the Blue Ghost.” This movie replaced the 2021 play and can be viewed on YouTube in a six-part series.

White Station students rehearse for their performance of “12 Angry Jurors.” The play focused on the responsibilities of 12 ordinary people as they contemplated the verdict of a man accused of murder. (KATE METCALF//THE SCROLL)

Standing on stage, the air thick with anticipation — and a little anxiety — Finn Gilbert (12) performs on stage for the first time, igniting a passion he believes will stay with him forever. 

At eight years old, Gilbert performed as the sheep in a small school production of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and since then has devoted his time to the world of theater. 

“[Acting] has always been something that called to me,” Gilbert said. “No matter what [afterschool event was available] I would always pick theater, and when I got to middle school I started auditioning for whatever I could.” 

Gilbert has found ways to participate in theater both in and out of school through classes, clubs and after-school programs. He is a part of the thespian society, allowing him further access into the world of set and costume design as well as directing. 

“I’ve touched a little bit on every part of theater that I could just because I’ve loved it, every single part,” Gilbert said. 

While acting in “12 Angry Jurors,” Gilbert was able to test his resolve during long and stressful hours of rehearsal. Although the process was intense, the actors’ work paid off with a standing ovation for their performance. 

“It was a great experience for everybody because we were back in school,” Matthew Kelley (11) said. “Finn was very reserved, we all were in the beginning, but in the end we were all very comfortable, and [Gilbert was] definitely a major part of us as a cast.”

White Station has played a large role in Gilbert’s acting because of the specialized classes and teachers, but especially Brandon Lawrence, who has helped shape students’ confidence and nurture their love of acting. Although Lawrence left to pursue a teaching job in Iowa, his support left lasting impacts on students. 

“I was never scared to mess up [while acting], because one of his rules for theater is ‘if you don’t look stupid while doing it, you’re not doing it right’,” Gilbert said. “You always need to look silly, you always need to have fun and if you can’t laugh at yourself you’re not doing it right.” 

Support in the theater department at White Station is not limited to just the teachers. Castmates and classmates alike provide assistance — whether it be with memorizing lines or just a shoulder to lean on, students are there for each other. 

“[In] any production I have been in, I’ve been surrounded by incredibly supportive people who, whenever you’re feeling down or it seems too tough, [are] there for you,” Gilbert said.

While creating set pieces and designing costumes, all actors become a part of the community. No one is limited by race or gender because all actors are able to share a sense of togetherness through the art of theater. 

“The diversity [is the best part of acting],” Kelley said. “I mean the different people … that you never thought you would interact with, you do because of theater.”

Creating the time to pursue acting while maintaining his schoolwork can be difficult for Gilbert. He finds himself putting his all into performances, which can lead to moments where his focus drifts from both school and acting to a one-track mind of his lines, his costumes and his next performance. 

“Whatever you do, you have to put 100 percent into it,” Gilbert said. “So while you’re trying to keep your grades up you’re also working on memorizing your lines or rehearsing scenes … You need to prove that you have that work-life balance.”

In Gilbert’s presence, his classmates are able to find someone with a calm and friendly nature. He welcomes new ideas with tact and new people with natural ease. 

“[Gilbert] has always been very receptive to constructive criticism, which is a difficult trait to come by,” Kelley said. “They’ve always been really [interested in] what they’re doing wrong so they can improve it.”

After graduation, Gilbert plans to audition and volunteer at local Memphis theaters like Theater Memphis and Playhouse on the Square so he can continue to pursue his love of the arts.  

“I’ve come really far [with acting] and I’ve become so much more than I used to be,” Gilbert said. “If I could major in it and make some money from it I would. Otherwise, this is always going to be something I’m going to have on the side that I can continue throughout my life.”