by Morey Storck –
Alex Louis is a 12-year-old seventh grader in the Tarrytown Union Free School District. Among the extracurricular activities he enjoys are acting and drumming, a skill he has been studying for four years. Toward the end of third grade, he appeared as Charlie in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory as his initiation into theater.
The Tarrytown district had a special program at the end of the third grade year called Heritage Day when students are encouraged to talk about what country their family originally came from (grandparents, great-grandparents, or later), and the different cultures that they may have brought with them. Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow are multi-cultural villages, and the many stories are diverse. Original plays are then written and performed by the students from their narratives, all under the direction of Peter Royston, an outside contractor employed by the local Y and the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow school system.
It was that program, and his participation in it, that prompted Louis to say, “Mom, cancel swim camp. I want to enroll in acting class this summer!”
The acting itch never abated, and music lessons continued with drumming plus new attention given to piano, guitar and several other band instruments. Actually, band participation became a vital part of his social after-school activity. Acting and music skills began to fuse in very constructive ways.
Between the fourth and fifth grades, Louis auditioned for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, “a 20-week performance-based training program for committed, early career actors who have a passion for Shakespeare, and want to develop the skills necessary to create innovative, collaborative theater in extraordinary spaces.” Only six to eight actors are invited into the program each season. Louis was one of them. The following season, Louis was invited back to do The Winter’s Tale. So, at this time, looking around for an agent seemed appropriate.
During this learning and nurturing stage, Louis had heard from some of his fellow acting students and friends about something called open auditions for a Broadway hit show, School of Rock. “Why not?” he thought. And, after seeing the show on Broadway, he definitely was excited. But into each life a little rain must fall, and the audition did not go well. Up until then, Louis had experienced unusual success, but this was something new. A few months later, an agent’s call produced more auditions and call-backs, which brought down the number of viable candidates to two, of which Louis was one. But, in the end, the director decided to keep the actor already in the part.
Last August, Louis received another call while vacationing at Cape Cod with his parents. They wanted him to audition for the School of Rock national touring company. “No, absolutely, no! Alex has had enough highs and lows to last for a while. Leave the kid alone now,” Pamela, his mom, insisted. But she had not conferred with Alex. “I want to go. This is my big chance. The third time is the charm!” he pleaded. And, it was.
Now, the rush. The adrenaline. The script readings, the fittings, the wardrobe, the scheduling, the cast meeting, the rehearsals and the logistics were all jumbled into a very short time frame. On top of all of that were new rules and regulations. Louis was hired as a “swing actor.” So, along with 15 other swings and understudies, he was now back-up to four on-stage actors who, for some reason, one might not be able to go-on for an immediate performance. Backstage decisions were often made suddenly and swiftly. Therefore, the ensemble cast, swings and understudies had to be fully rehearsed and ready at all performances. That was a lot for a 12-year-old, new-kid-on-the-block, to absorb and sort out.
From Chicago, Louis recently commented on his touring adventures, that, so far, had taken him and his mother to Rochester, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Hartford, and now, Chicago. “Awesome!” he exclaimed, “Everybody is cool, willing to help, and do. I’m learning a lot, meeting new people, seeing the country and different cities, trying new foods, and making new friends. So fun!” He is contracted for six months, and has an option for six more, if everything works out well. Perhaps, what put the icing on the cake, was his four, on-stage perfor mances in Chicago, in front of a big-city audience. “Awesome.”
Not everything is comfort food. By law, the show must provide 15 hours of school instruction per week, plus additional study periods. Therefore, three tutors are on staff. A typical day: up at about 10:30 a.m., breakfast, tutoring and study, rehearsal, dinner, make-up and performance back-up (if needed), and if there is no open-mic planned, to bed to be ready for tomorrow. What is an open-mic gig? Pamela Louis points out that whenever they get to a new city and get their new accommodations set up, Alex opens his door, and the other musicians of the ensemble come in to jam. “They’re good. Very good. Whenever and wherever it’s possible, open-mic venues are found locally for the kids to play. Jaws drop when they do, and a good time is had by all. On those nights they get to bed a little later,” she said.
Note: Alex was recently diagnosed with Synesthesia. According to Psychology Today, it is a neurological condition in which a person experiences “crossed” responses to stimuli. It occurs when stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway (e.g.,hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (e.g., vision). That may explain his perfect pitch, recognizing the sounds of separate musical instruments within a performing orchestra, and the seeing of different “colors” during conversations and musical performances.
But for now, there’s sunny beaches and clear, cool water, plus all that other stuff. Awesome.