Tuacahn’s child actors talk about the ups and downs of professional theater
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Every night before the show, Jonathan Wagner gathers the children of the cast into a group.
He encourages them and helps energize the group for performance; then they all pat each other on the back and say, âI’m taking care of you, I’m taking care of you. “
And then they all sway on the Tuacahn stage in front of almost 2,000 people – and yes, the children themselves play all the instruments.
The show is “School of Rock”, playing until October 22. Wagner stars as Dewey Finn, an aspiring rockstar who turns a class of prep school students into a rock ‘n’ roll force to be reckoned with.
Wagner (who is not a child) made his Broadway debut as an understudy for the role he now plays in “School of Rock”. Like many adult actors who perform at Tuacahn each year, he is a member of the Actor’s Equity Association and (aside from the devastating effect of COVID-19 on the performing arts industry) performs regularly in theaters. professionals across the country.
The pre-show ritual that he conducts before each performance of “School of Rock” at Tuacahn has become so beloved by the child actors in the production that three of them – in separate interviews – have spoken without commenting on it. be invited.
âIt’s important to log in before the show so we know everyone is supporting each other on stage,â said Lydia Ricks, 14, who plays backing vocalist Marcy and backing liners as bassist Katie Travis and Summer Hathaway.
Adrienne Amanda Morrow, 14, plays drummer Freddy Hamilton and also stars as Katie Travis. She said that Wagner’s tradition helps her calm any nerves she might be feeling before taking the stage.
âEveryone out there, if you ever get stuck or need help, they’re always there to grab you or support you,â she said.
Jordan Sullivan, 12, who plays tech-savvy student Mason Ward, said he also found the cast group to be calming before the shows. He added that it’s just nice to know that the other actors are behind him.
It’s no wonder that Lydia, Adrienne and Jordan appreciate the support of their fellow cast members. In addition to the responsibilities common to their age group – school, family, social life – they also deal with the pressures that come with performing with Southern Utah’s best-known professional theater, one that regularly recruits talent. Broadway level for its exterior performance.
For some, like Lydia, it means being the face of multiple musicals. Lydia first got involved with Tuacahn in 2018, when she was cast as the main character in “Matilda”. This summer she had the lead role in “Annie”. She’s not the only talented child in her family either – her younger sister, Penny Ricks, 11, currently plays student and roadie Sophie in “School of Rock,” her first Tuacahn play.
For others, like Adrienne, being in Tuacahn means leaving home for months. Adrienne arrived in southern Utah from her home in California in late May and currently lives in accommodation provided by Tuacahn with her mother. Her father comes every few weeks to see her play. She will be attending school online while the show runs through October.
For actors like Jordan, musical theater is family business. Her parents, Shari and AJ Sullivan, pursued a theatrical career in New York and Los Angeles before moving to southern Utah to work with Tuacahn. Shari, a Radio City Rockette alumnus, started out as an actor before becoming an assistant producer, while AJ is now a stage manager.
Jordan has been performing at Tuacahn since the age of 4 and has now appeared in six shows. His little brother, Hudson Sullivan, 8, is Chip’s stunt double in Tuacahn’s “Beauty and the Beast” (until October 23).
The days can be long for Lydia, Adrienne and Jordan – and their nights even longer. With several shows at the same time, their schedules are sometimes tight and complicated.
But neither of them uttered a word of complaint. Instead, they talk enthusiastically about why they’re juggling all the stress and pressure: because they love musical theater.
Jordan said he enjoyed improving his voice and learning new skills like tap dancing; Adrienne said she likes to combine her talents on stage.
Lydia said it’s the cast members that make everything worth it, especially the other kids.
âI feel like everyone in the cast is always so sweet and professional, and I feel like I learn so much from adults and kids,â she said. “[The kids] are so great. You can always find a party when the kids are around.
To be involved
Lydia’s mother Ruby Ricks said her daughter had always been a singer, and she and her husband soon learned that Lydia had a knack for choosing songs for musicals. In 2018, when Lydia was 11, a voice teacher encouraged her to try Tuacahn’s “Matilda”.
Ruby said she thought the audition was a long shot – Lydia’s only previous experience was in a few community theater shows, and she had never taken dance lessons before this summer – but the next thing that ‘she knew, Lydia had been chosen as the character title.
After the nationwide tour of âMatildaâ ended, Tuacahn was the first place the show was presented, according to the Broadway World Theater Information website.
âSo it was really exciting for me to be able to be the face of ‘Matilda’,â said Lydia.
Since then, she has juggled a variety of music and dance lessons between school, family life, and participating in other Tuacahn musicals. For “School of Rock”, her grandfather gave her bass lessons for her role as Katie Travis’ understudy.
Her summer was intense: for a period of six weeks, she rehearsed for “School of Rock” from noon to 6 pm, then performed in “Annie” from around 8 pm. Pinning the curly red wig before shows helped shift the mind between musicals, Lydia said.
Now, with back to school and rehearsals no longer taking her afternoons, Lydia said a typical day for her starts around 7 a.m., which can be difficult after late performances. She attends three class periods in person, then comes home for two online classes, which gives her some flexibility. She’s in grade nine this year, but she’s taking grade ten classes online in hopes of moving forward with her education.
âGrades are a priority in our family,â she said.
For Adrienne, this summer has been more relaxed. As she is away from home, she is not currently involved in extracurricular activities like dance and music lessons, so she had plenty of free time after rehearsals for “School of Rock” were completed. Now she is attending online school and will be returning to her school in California, the Orange County School of the Arts, next semester.
Adrienne has stated that âSchool of Rockâ is her first Tuacahn musical. She auditioned after a friend at a community theater show thought she might be a good fit for a production that requires its actors to perform live music.
She’s been a thresher for about three years, Adrienne said. His “School of Rock” character, drummer Freddy Hamilton, is usually played by a boy.
“I think people find it really cool [that I play Freddy] because they usually don’t see the girls playing the drums, âshe said.
For Jordan, there’s hardly ever been a time when he hasn’t balanced acting with the rest of his life. Shari, his mother, said he was memorizing songs at the age of 2; when he was 4, Tuacahn was looking for more boys to be in “The Wizard of Oz”, and it became Jordan’s first Tuacahn show.
She added that she tries to be aware of Jordan’s limitations and what he wants. Once, while performing in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in a community theater, he juggled musical engagements in addition to piano, flag football, and school activities. Shari asked Jordan if she had programmed him too much – but her answer was an emphatic “no”. This belief did not change as he continued to play with Tuacahn.
“[The kids] love each other and they love to play, âShari said.
Ruby, Lydia’s mother, echoed concerns about the tax schedule. Musical theater is something kids have to really want, she said, and it’s important for parents to listen if their kids say they don’t want to play anymore.
âIt’s so much work. It’s only worth it if you really like it, âshe said.
She also said she was grateful for the way Tuacahn protects her child actors. There are two âkid feudsâ with the kids at all times, who keep her constantly updated, Ruby said. Children also have a changing room separate from the adult actors, and everyone is checked.
âI feel like they provided a very safe environment for the kids,â Ruby said.
For Lydia, Adrienne and Jordan, the theater is their present, but their future can contain a variety of activities.
Adrienne said that when she gets older she would like to practice a profession in medicine or law while playing next door.
Jordan is not sure yet what he would like to do when he grows up; for now, he is happy to continue playing, he said.
And Lydia said her future may contain a mix of acting and other jobs. Her father is a civil engineer and she might like to work for him someday. Perhaps, she said, she will end up earning degrees in theater and engineering.
His advice for children who want to get into the theater? Go big with your character choices at the audition, but never come home – keep trying.
“Just make your character really tall no matter how tall he is [the role] is really and how many lines you have because it doesn’t matter, âshe said. âPeople go to the movies to escape real life. And so you have to bring the imagination and bring it all to the audience.
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