Flashback to Aldis’ Early Years on Broadway

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This article was shared with me today by LuvsParker. After reading it, I was once again touched by his family’s story. Aldis has mentioned the struggles of his early years and this is one good example of why he is so active in charitable causes like the LA Mission. So hopefully this will give you further insight into how he became the person he is today from his mother’s perspective and realize why the LA Mission is such an important cause for him.

Broadway Is Bursting With Energy And Youth

By PAUL WISENTHAL Published: April 28, 1996
FOR the six days every week that 11-year-old Larissa Auble is on Broadway in “Show Boat,” her mother, Louise Auble, must make the 70-mile round-trip commute from their Livingston, N.J., home to get her daughter to and from the Gershwin Theater on West 51st Street. Yolette Hodge, a single parent, and her sons, Edwin, 11, and Aldis, 9, battled poverty and periodic homelessness before the boys also won parts in “Show Boat.” Gerry and Willow Chang also say their life has changed since their son John, 10, who, with no previous acting experience, was cast in a major role in the new “The King and I.” And Patricia Pearl said she had to leave her husband and their comfortable home in Singapore in 1994 so that their son, Simon, could join the road production of “Les Miserables.” Last year, the mother-son team moved to New York when Simon, now 10, took the role of Gavroche in the Broadway production. With “The King and I” open and “Big” opening tonight, those tales should increase substantially as more than 25 youngsters, many of them with no prior stage experience, join the young members of such casts as “Beauty and the Beast” on the Great White Way.

“With ‘King and I’ and ‘Big,’ there will be 43 kids performing on the Broadway stage,” said Price Berkley, the publisher of the Theatrical Index, a weekly trade paper. And already there has been what he called “a substantial increase” in the children’s attendance figures on Broadway because those shows are geared toward families and kids. A “Show Boat” spokesman said that 20 percent of its audience was 16 and under. “This is the largest number of young actors to reach Broadway in recent memory,” Mr. Berkley said. According to many experts, these children and their families now face the challenge of trying to balance a home life with the demands of schooling and acting, singing and dance lessons. And that must be sandwiched between auditions and as many as eight performances a week. The parents — in many cases, one parent is most affected — must endure weather, traffic and long hours to meet the show business needs of their children, ages 3 to 16, who strut their stuff onstage with the hope of one day gaining stardom. “You get used to it,” said Leila Bondoc of Jamaica, Queens, whose daughter, Lexine, first acted four years ago, at age 3, in “Miss Saigon.” Now 7 and three and half feet tall, Lexine has been cast as Princess Yaowalak in “The King and I.” “I enjoy taking her and picking her up at the theater,” her mother said. The parents of 13-year-old Brett Tabisel said they finally are becoming comfortable with the idea of their son making the daily trek alone from Long Beach, L.I., via the Long Island Rail Road and the city subway system to get to the Shubert Theater where he plays the role of Billy in “Big.” “Brett had to take responsibility for his career and commute into the city on his own since he was 12,” said his mother, Ross Tabisel, a social worker for the West Hempstead (L.I.) School District who underwent major back surgery last year and, along with her husband, Lenny, who is a classroom teacher in the Bronx, could no longer transport the youngster to auditions. “A major upheaval hits the family when their child makes it to the Great White Way,” said Nancy Carson, a Broadway talent agent who wrote “Kid Biz” (Warner Books, 1986), a guide for parents and young performers wanting to break into theater. “The parents must look at schooling, health issues, who gets their child back and forth to auditions and to the theater.” To cushion the transition, Broadway producers, by contract, must provide tutors and child advocates known as wranglers during tryouts, rehearsals and previews involving children. The wranglers’ many duties include monitoring the psychological states of the children, coaching them on their lines, watching them at work and play and, in some cases, supervising their homework. But the brunt of the workload and sacrifice falls on the parents. For Louise Auble, it means starting the day at 7:30 A.M. to get her daughter, Larissa, ready for school at 8:40 A.M., and the two of them not returning home until at least midnight. Six nights a week following the “Show Boat” performance, Larissa waits at the Gershwin Theater stage-door entrance for her mother to pick her up. The young actress, who made her Broadway debut as young Kim in October 1994, and her mother then hurry to the family’s mini-van parked across the street, which contains a makeshift bedroom, rigged with soft pillows, a thick comforter and her favorite dolls. “Time to get into your pj’s, dear,” Mrs. Auble said, as the van pulled into the Lincoln Tunnel on a recent weeknight. “I try and create a healthy balance between Larissa’s stage career and giving her a normal home life.” Ms. Hodge described the life as a day-to-day struggle. In 1988, she took a medical discharge for asthma from the Marines and moved with her two boys to New Jersey. For four years, they visited numerous agents and managers and performed in auditions, with modest success. “We were homeless many times,” said Ms. Hodge, who grew up in Tampa, Fla., and joined the Marines to escape poverty and what she described as an abusive home life. “We slept in the car in the winter and we lived off Big Macs. Then a commercial would come through and we could afford to stay somewhere.” “I was determined to give my boys a better life than I had,” Ms. Hodge said. She and the boys moved in with her mother, Alma Mulkey, in Trenton for a while and commuted to auditions in Manhattan, but that proved too hard on them, she said. “I tried to get us into the city shelter system, but we were rejected five times,” she continued. “They said I didn’t look like the type of person that could be in a shelter.” In 1990, she had a job as an accounting assistant. With the earnings from one of the boy’s commercials, they managed to rent an apartment in Clifton, N.J. “For three months we slept on the floor and kept our food in a small cooler,” she said. “We couldn’t afford any furniture.” Over time, the boys started getting some print and television commercials. Two years ago, Edwin was cast in “Show Boat” and in September Aldis joined the cast. With this new found financial stability, Ms. Hodge was able to furnish her apartment and even buy a computer. Since then, they have worked in “Die Hard With a Vengeance” and “Sesame Street.” Edwin, who has also been on “New York Undercover,” joined the actors Samuel L. Jackson and Geena Davis in their newest movie, “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” Aldis, meanwhile, did voice-over work in the current hit “Dead Man Walking,” as well as “Just Cause,” and has appeared in “Bed of Roses.” Ms. Hodge still worries, despite these successes. Her asthma has gotten worse and she is five months pregnant. She said she knows the tide could turn any day. She still drives a 1988 Toyota, which she parks outside the theater after each night’s show to wait for the boys. “I can’t afford to spend money on parking or going to restaurants,” she said. She doesn’t know what will happen when the boys outgrow their parts, she said. “I can’t rely on anything else but my faith in God,” she said. “So far, He has gotten us through.” Growth is a problem for stage families. According to most Broadway contracts, when a child actor grows more than two inches or experiences a voice change, that child must leave the show immediately. Having a supportive environment for young stage actors is important to a child’s development, said Dr. Donna Gaffney, the co-director of the Center for Child and Adolescent Health and an assistant professor of nursing at Columbia University. “Balancing a child’s professional stage career with school and home life counts for a lot,” she said. “Family comes first.” She warned that parents should not let their children live only in the theater. “There is a real risk to the entire family when school life and outside social activities are put aside in order to develop one child’s stage career,” Dr. Gaffney added. The family of 10-year-old John Chang could be facing that dilemma in the coming years. “Our lives were turned upside down,” said his mother, Willow Chang, the curator at the China Institute in Manhattan. In January, after a long series of tryouts, her son, who had never acted or sung before, was cast as Prince Chulalongkorn opposite Lou Diamond Phillips in “The King and I.” “I was really against him getting into this business,” said Gerry Chang, his father. “It meant rehearsals six days a week, missing school, catching up on homework, adjusting work schedules and cutting back our social activities.” Mr. Chang, who is president of Pacific Holidays, a wholesale travel agency, said his main worry now is that his son’s new career might impact adversely on his education. But he also admitted that he has seen a change for the good in his son. “He has become much more focused and disciplined just within the last month,” Mr. Chang said. “As long as he keeps up his studies, I will support him in his new career.” John, a fifth-grader at Public School 6 on the Upper East Side who wants to be an astronaut and a rich actor, is already seeing stars of another kind. “I like working with the other actors, especially Lou Diamond Phillips,” he said. “He treats me like a son.” There can be other rewards. Kimberly Jean Brown, 11, of “Show Boat” is the only actor known to have appeared in three major Broadway shows by the age of 9. She appeared in “Four Baboons Adoring the Sun” at 7 and later joined the cast of “Les Miserables” and then “Show Boat.” Today, at her ripe old age, she also appears regularly on the soap opera “Guiding Light,” a role for which she has been nominated for an Emmy. But for each of those successes, there have also been rejections, warned Ms. Carson, the talent agent who said she tries initially to discourage potential clients from getting into the business. “This is a business of rejection,” she said. “Almost every kid is rejected all the time. It’s hard on the kids. They really have to love themselves.” “Only one person gets the prize,” she said. “There are no second or third prizes.” New York Times

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