Author: Henry Hodges & Margaret Engel
Publisher: New York: Disney Editions, 2013
Genre: Autobiography for kids
Audience Age: 10 to 18
Themes/topics: Acting advice for kids, autobiography of a young actor, working in Broadway productions
Opening Sentences: I stood in New York’s busy Times Square, staring up at its famous JumboTron. There I was singing on its huge screen, as a twelve-year-old, with thousands of people watching. That was a thrill, and was just one of many unexpected perks that being a performer has brought me.
Synopsis: This fascinating book was written by the young actor who originated the role of Michael Banks in the long-running Broadway musical, Mary Poppins. You can read more about the production on the wonderful website Broadway Musical Home. Henry has also been in many other productions.
The book is written in an engaging, conversational style, with all sorts of inserts, photographs, commentary, and Q&As.
His story is one that shows how involvement in theatre can truly empower a person. School was difficult for him. He was the smallest kid in his class, he dealt with the problems that dyslexia creates in reading and learning, and just felt that he didn’t fit in. He found a new life, a positive life, when he got involved in theatre. School didn’t go away, but with the help of his tutor, he began to learn in ways that had seemed closed to him before.
Henry’s career as an actor started small, but he put everything he had into learning everything he could. He took ballet lessons, even though there were very few boys doing so. He seemed always to be looking for something new to learn – even teaching himself to ride a unicycle – aware that any skill could come in useful in a future part. He eventually worked his way from “youngest prince of Siam” in the many children cast in a production of “The King and I” to roles on Broadway and in touring companies, as well as appearing in Shakespearean plays, opera, and even stints as a voice actor for animated films.
Not only does he tell his own story but also gives sage advice throughout the book to kids who want to get involved (or more involved) with theatre. He covers everything a kid needs to know about such topics as auditions; stage etiquette; theatre traditions; working with other cast members, managers, and agents; being tutored backstage (school work must still be done!); dealing with critics’ words; and so much more. There is also advice from many professionals of all sorts.
I highly recommend this book for any kid who is interested in pursuing an acting career (and for their parents). It’s also an excellent book to read for any kid who loves theatre, and just wants to be involved in any way, with local productions, or further afield.
For Further Enrichment: Henry’s book includes a fantastic list of books and websites as additional resources.
The best way to learn about theatre is to get involved. Try out for school productions, or get involved in the backstage crew. Attend local workshops and acting classes.
A great resource for acting tips and exercises is The Drama Notebook, an online resource that I featured on this blog a year or so ago. Teachers can purchase a membership that gives access to an amazing range of resources, while there are free resources available on the website, as well. Their Facebook page often posts drama exercises and other tools that are great for young, aspiring actors.
Availability: Readily available in paperback. Here’s a link to The Drama Bookshop in New York. You can order it from them, as well as finding it at stores all over the country.