Sofia Roma Rubino, 14, is one of almost 20 young performers in the original cast of the Tony Award-nominated musical School of Rock, currently playing at the Winter Garden Theatre. As a swing, Roma Rubino is always ready to perform five different roles. “I cover Summer, Chanel, Marcy, Madison and Sophie,” says Roma Rubino of the tracks she covers, rattling off with excitement a list of high-pressure responsibilities that would intimidate any performer, young or old.
Kelly Gonda, producer, philanthropist and long-time champion of kids on Broadway founded a new tradition to shine light on the contributions of young performers like Roma Rubino. “I want the children to be celebrated and to realize their importance in a production and on Broadway,” says Gonda.
In collaboration with The Actors Fund, a national human services organization that helps performing arts professionals, Gonda founded Ziggy Bear. Named for the great Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Ziggy is a large teddy bear wearing a jean jacket, and he recently began a journey to visit every Broadway cast featuring more than one performer under 16.
“Like the Gypsy Robe that is passed on from chorus to chorus [between Broadway shows] with the opening of a show, we wanted to create something the kids would love,” says The Actors Fund President and CEO Joe Benincasa.
The Gypsy Robe dates back to the 1950s and is awarded to the member of a musical’s chorus with the most Broadway ensemble credits. After accepting the robe during a ceremony before curtain on opening night, the winner makes their way to each dressing room wearing the robe.
“The idea is to kind of go to each dressing room and ‘bless’ your show,” says Alan H. Green, awarded the gypsy robe on School of Rock’s opening night. “And then you pass it on to the next show.” Along the way, the robe is decorated with panels from each musical. The same idea goes for Ziggy Bear.
On May 2, Ziggy Bear made his debut before School of Rock’s Actors Fund Special Performance, where his jean jacket was ceremonially decorated with a School of Rock pin designed by Roma Rubino. “I wasn’t really expecting it,” says Roma Rubino about learning her design had been chosen from those submitted by her fellow castmates. “I just drew the School of Rock sign and music notes and stuff that I thought represented the show.”
Soon, School of Rock kids will pass Ziggy along to another show featuring young performers on the night of its special Actors Fund performance, and his jean jacket will feature a new pin designed by a member of that cast.
Ziggy will also serve as a way to introduce The Actors Fund to the kids of Broadway.
“We want everyone to know early in their careers that The Actors Fund is there to help them at all times,” says Benincasa. He and Gonda want Ziggy to be a symbol of inspiration and comfort for Broadway’s kids.
The Actors fund also hopes Ziggy can act as a step towards bringing their L.A.-based Looking Ahead youth program to New York as a resource for young Broadway performers (ages 9-18) and their families. As Benincasa says, “We’ve always talked about making sure that, [from] The Actors Fund, the message is: If you’re a young person working on Broadway, the Actors Fund is here to serve you and your family, as well.”