Learn How Broadway's Youngest Stars Juggle Classes and Homework While Starring Onstage

News   Learn How Broadway's Youngest Stars Juggle Classes and Homework While Starring Onstage
 
Singing and dancing onstage, and finishing homework backstage make for busy days for Broadway's youngest stars. As part of Playbill.com's Back to School week (#BwayBacktoSchool), the children of Fun Home. The King and I and Finding Neverland, as well as the adults who care for them at the theatres, discuss their busy schedules and backstage study halls.

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When the school year begins, and the curtain goes up on the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home, the story of lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel and her father, who is also gay, 11-year-old cast member, Oscar Williams, who plays Christian, the Bechdel family middle son, will have already put in a full day of work — school work that is.

It's double duty for kids like Williams, who work on Broadway. From 8:15 AM to 2:46 PM, Williams attends school at the Profession Performing Arts School (PPAS), and then performs at night. On Wednesdays, he leaves school early for the matinee performance.

Such long days may seem hard and stressful, but such professional children, are by their nature very driven, Fun Home child guardian (often referred to as the wrangler) Vanessa Brown says. "These are kids who get things done."

Oscar Williams, Zell Steele Morrow, and Sydney Lucas in <i>Fun Home</i>
Oscar Williams, Zell Steele Morrow, and Sydney Lucas in Fun Home Joan Marcus

It's the job of a guardian to supervise children in a professional environment like the theatre. "We make sure they are a safe, functioning cog in the wheel — not just for them, but for their parents," Brown says. Parents are not allowed to accompany their children backstage, and they are asked to take an incredible leap of faith entrusting them with guardians backstage, Brown says.

Williams tries to finish homework before he goes to the show, but uses parts of his offstage breaks to finish any leftover work. Still, he has had to stay up late to finish a project or homework. But PPAS is equipped to handle the schedules of children working on Broadway. If necessary, Williams says his teachers are flexible with deadlines.

Originally from Vermont, Williams says he finds it easier to fit in with the kids at PPAS because of their shared interest in the arts.

"Most of the kids [at my old school] did soccer and sports, but I like to do theatre," he told Playbill.com. "I'm terrible at sports. But I like playing soccer now, because the kids play at my level."

Jackson Demott Hill
Jackson Demott Hill

Preparing for the new school, Williams says, seventh grade is going to be wild. He expects a lot more work, which he says high schools will review when the time comes for him to apply.

Jackson Demott Hill isn't exactly excited for the new year either. Hill attends middle school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and alternates between playing the roles of George Llewelyn Davies and Peter Llewelyn Davies, the sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, who inspired Peter Pan playwright J.M. Barrie, in Finding Neverland.

"I am not looking forward to getting up early every day. I do enjoy school and seeing my friends, but it does get difficult because I do get tired," Hill says.

The hardest part of juggling his two jobs, school and Broadway, is keeping up with schoolwork, especially on days when he has to leave for a performance or rehearsal, Hill says. It takes a lot of coordination between his parents and teachers. When Hill misses classes, for a matinee or rehearsal, his mom gets the classroom work from his teachers, which then they review together.

Zell Steele Morrow, who is 8.5 years old, plays John, the youngest Bechdel son, in Fun Home. Originally from San Lorenzo, California, he is currently homeschooled and is looking forward to school beginning again in the fall. His fourth grade teacher from his school in California, Corvallis Elementary School, sends him his school work. His favorite subjects are math, reading and art, inspired by Fun Home cartoonist, Alison Bechdel.

"I like my subjects, and I get my work done really fast, like done, done, done," Morrow says.

Sydney Lucas, Zell Steele Morrow, Oscar Williams and Gabriella Pizzolo of <i>Fun Home</i>
Sydney Lucas, Zell Steele Morrow, Oscar Williams and Gabriella Pizzolo of Fun Home

Morrow prefers being homeschooled because, he says, if he is home and taking a test, no one can copy his work.

And he is always learning, performing in Fun Home. "Vanessa [the guardian] helped me learn my state capitals," Morrow says. Before shows open and they are in rehearsals, children are provided with with tutors for at least three hours a day. The goal is to keep kids on track with their school's curriculum, so that they may return to their normal school without falling behind once the production is open.

Lauren Hirsh is the head guardian of 13 the children cast members, 12 of whom perform in each show, age six to 14, in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, the story of British schoolteacher, Anna, and the King of Siam.

While the children are being tutored, they learn in, what Hirsh described as, a one-room school house. There is one leader tutor, and an additional tutors who specialize in certain subjects, for all of the children.

The production values the children's' education as much as they do their performances, Hirsh says. But, during rehearsal, balancing completing tutoring hours and working on the production can be especially challenging. Hirsh often says, to directors for example, "You can have them [children] now, but you can't have them later."

Kelli O'Hara and the kids of <i>The King and I</i>
Kelli O'Hara and the kids of The King and I Photo by Paul Kolnik

Amaya Braganza, who will turn 13 in September, plays one of the children in The King and I on Broadway. The key to balancing school work and Broadway performances is getting a lot of sleep, she says — more than eight hours every night.

Home schooled, Braganza says she enjoys being tutored during rehearsals because she was able to socialize with all the other kids. However, it was harder to concentrate than when she is working one-on-one with her mom to complete her week's lesson plans.

Both Brown and Hirsh encourage children to attend regular school when they can in order maintain a sense of stabilizing normalcy. But Hirsh says homeschooling may be an easier option for managing a Broadway schedule.

Caroline O'Connor, the child guardian for Finding Neverland, encourages families to consider all of their options for schooling children on Broadway. "One size does not fit all."

School is just a part of the deal kids have to make in order to be on Broadway, Hirsh says.

But what they get in return, Braganza says, "I'm doing what I love, with the people who I love."

 

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