With due respect to the individuality of 15-year-olds everywhere, it’s safe to say that Dylan Chestnutt is not your typical 15-year-old — if there were such a thing.

Chestnutt, a ninth-grader at Waynflete School in Portland, acts in plays. Not school plays. Not community theater. Professional plays. He’s on stage this week in Mad Horse Theatre’s “Spring Awakening” at Lucid Stage.

Chestnutt made his debut in the fall of 2008 in Good Theater’s production of “On Golden Pond.” He followed that with “A Christmas Carol” at Portland Stage and two Mad Horse shows.

Last summer, he kept audiences in stitches with his interpretation of a fool-in-training in Fenix Theatre’s “Twelfth Night” at Deering Oaks.

Now, he’s turning heads in Mad Horse’s “Spring Awakening,” a once-banned, century-old play about teen tension, sexual awareness and coming of age.

He portrays Moritz, a student in the grips of a nervous breakdown.

The role is intense and full of dialogue. Our reviewer noted last week, “The audience feels his character’s anxiety and confusion. And the panic on his face and in his eyes is amazingly realistic.”

I sat down for a cup of coffee with Chesnutt last week at Arabica.

He said he’s been acting at some level all his life, or at least as long as anyone can remember.

“When I was small, I liked to climb up on something high — something like a stage — to try to communicate even before I could formulate words. My parents have always seen some element of my interest in performance.”

Chestnutt is deliberate in his words and actions, and mindful of his presence. He is dramatic by nature, and slyly precocious. He recorded his voicemail greeting in a faux British accent.

He exudes physical and intellectual confidence. At an age when many kids struggle with their physical persona, Chestnutt seems comfortable in his own skin.

He’s a trained dancer, and has learned to use his body to interpret his character. “I’ve always enjoyed moving,” he said.

His directors love working with him.

Christine Louise Marshall, who directs Chestnutt in “Spring Awakening,” first clued in to the young man’s talents at an Acorn Productions-sponsored audition. Chestnutt came in with a self-written piece and played a world-weary middle-aged man.

“Dylan has a quality that I consider admirable in an actor of any age, let alone someone as young as he is. He is an extremely active listener,” Marshall wrote in an email.

“What I mean is that he listens with great focus. He is obviously absorbing it all, and isn’t simply waiting for his turn to speak. As a world-class babbler, I admire that so much, and am reminded, when speaking with him, to try to choose my words with care, always.”

With each rehearsal, Marshall detected growth in Chestnutt’s onstage presence. It was fun and fascinating to watch him evolve the character with each passing day.

“He has created a character in Moritz that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. I will miss Moritz when this play is over,” she said.

Brian Allen, who directed Chestnutt in “On Golden Pond,” had a similar experience.

“Dylan was extremely consistent during the run of the show,” Allen said. “Sometimes younger actors start to experiment or stop listening on the stage, but not Dylan. He brought the same work ethic as the adult actors in the show. I think he’s an old soul and wise beyond his years.”

In addition to his acting, Chestnutt is working with New Hampshire filmmaker Alex Garnett on a movie called “Belle.” Chestnutt plays the primary character in the movie.

It’s about a father and son who live far out in the country in near-total isolation.

“I always try to throw out there what I can,” Chestnutt says. “It’s a great feeling to show so much of yourself and have people respond to it.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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