LONDONDERRY -- Dustin Cournoyer Jr. wasn't born in the 1980s, but playing a preteen from that era was hardly a challenge for the Londonderry sixth-grader, who loves the Beatles and hopes to dance one day under the bright lights of Broadway.
Cournoyer, 11, recently landed the starring role in a short film based on "Down Down the Deep River," a song on the newly released album from the progressive indie rock band Okkervil River.
Set in Meriden, a village in the small town of Plainfield, "Down Down the Deep River" tells a coming-of-age tale based on the real-life experiences of Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff, a Plainfield native, who wrote the song and is directing the film.
The album on which "Down Down the Deep River" appears, "The Silver Gymnasium," came out last week, though the film - which Sheff hopes to screen on the festival circuit next year - won't be out until spring.
Cournoyer's introduction to the performing arts began three summers ago, when he enrolled in theater camp at the Londonderry Dance Academy. His younger sister, Danielle, now 9, had previously attended the dance academy, and Dustin, too, soon became bitten by the performing bug."I was playing the violin before then, but I really wasn't very good at it," he said with a grin. "Then my sister kind of got me hooked on (Londonderry Dance Academy)."After that first camp ended, Cournoyer began attending hip-hop and ballet classes at the academy's Buttrick Road studio.
"He's really committed to his art," said academy owner Barbara Mullen.
Several months ago, Mullen's daughter Kate, who directs the summer camp program, learned Okkervil River was seeking a preteen boy to star in the "Down Down the Deep River" video.
After performing in an audition held last spring at Kimball Union Academy (the private school in Meriden where Sheff was a student and his parents taught), Cournoyer soon found himself hiking to the top of a mountain for the film's initial shooting.
Barbara Mullen accompanied him to the opening of the five-day shoot, where they were met with a full-on production crew atop the peak. Four of Cournoyer's Londonderry Dance Academy classmates, Melissa Mihajlica, 14, MaryAnnah Semanek 12, Molly Carlson, 10 and Sophia Coakley, 12, had smaller roles in the video.
"We're always hoping to open doors so our kids can spread their wings," Mullen said. "It turns out Dustin was a natural in this role. He was just so relaxed on the set."
Further filming is planned for October and January.
Cournoyer, who doesn't speak in his role and relies solely on facial expressions to convey his churning emotions, said the story is one of "an essential moment in childhood."
His character, he said, is "being tormented by bullies and a monster is tearing his life away."
The youngest son of Caryn and Dustin Cournoyer Sr., Dustin Jr. hopes his recent success hints at a bright future.
"My two favorite things right now are the theater and writing," he said, adding that he hopes to pursue a master's degree in literature while continuing to dance and act.