Fifth grade student Grace Schneider has already had her cinematic and theatrical debuts, a feat which is not usually accomplished by actors until their early years of adulthood. While most kids her age are nervous when it comes to performing in front of audiences, Schneider has a desire for the stage, whether it be singing or acting.
After auditioning at the Sylvia Young Theater School in March, getting a call back, and going for a second audition at the Cecil House in Camden, Schneider got a role as ‘young Kim’, in the major West End production of Oscar Hammerstein II’s Showboat the musical. Close to 200 girls auditioned, and Schneider’s talent and hardwork got her the part along with three others.
Show Boat the musical, playing at the New London Theater, revitalises the original musical from 1927. At it’s time, the musical was groundbreaking, as it was the first racially integrated play in America. Being a famous and historic musical, it was a great opportunity for Schneider to make her debut on the theatrical stage.
Kim serves as the daughter of the two main characters, and Schneider is on stage for the beginning stage of the second act. As well as having multiple lines, she also has a duet where her singing talent shines. Before going onstage, Schneider has her hair done by the ladies in the wig room, but she does not wear make up. She then gets mic’d up, and towards the end of Act 1 she gets into costume. Although nervous to go onstage, Schneider has never missed a cue, or mixed up her words, and she often repeats her lines in her head before appearing before the audience. Despite a clean slate when it comes to mistakes, “I did trip once, but I was able to cover it up,” said Schneider.
The four girls who play the role of Kim are split into two different groups, Team A and Team B, and the teams switch off performing at the show. Schneider, who is on Team A, serves as a standby for her partner Mia Long, and Long does the same while Schneider performs. The standbys are in case the actress gets sick or cannot perform, to make sure the musical can still go on.
Besides working with the actresses her age, Schneider has had the ability to work with the older members of the cast, and learn from them through the process of rehearsing as well as just being together throughout the show. The age difference has not made any significant alterations to how the cast interacts, and to Scheider it’s always fun when the cast gets to work together. “I get to do the warm ups with all of them, and sometimes we get to hang out and it’s really fun…the cast is so friendly. It’s like a big family.”
The cast rehearsed for one full month before the show opened, and although people can view rehearsing as a boring process, Schneider feels opposite, and takes every opportunity to improve her skill. “Rehearsals were fun. I liked getting to learn the different parts that I was going to do and, I loved every minute of it.”
When not rehearsing, the cast has lots of free time at the theater. The cast often plays games or watches movies together, but Schneider also spends time doing homework and filling out packets assigned by her teachers. One sacrifice made in order to be apart of the cast, was Schneider usually has to miss school once or twice a week. “When I have to go for the matinees I miss half of school so I have to bring a packet to do at the theater or I just do the homework, and they catch me up in class,” explained Schneider.
Managing the workload could be seen as an obstacle, but Schneider said that it isn’t that bad, and doesn’t really affect her performance in school. Aside from school, being in the cast is also a conflict with her daily life. For matinee shows, Schneider has to be at the theater from 1:00 pm to 10:00 pm, and for night shows she has to be there from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm. The biggest sacrifice for being a part of the musical is that while on her six month contract, Schneider cannot leave London in case one of her fellow actresses gets sick, or just in case she has a show in general. This commitment conflicts with Schneider’s plans for the summer, and will prevent her from spending the summer in the US, where she usually stays.
Acquiring a passion for both singing and acting at a young age, Schneider had interests in a singing career, but as an acting opportunity came her way, she didn’t miss a great chance to showcase her talent. In 2014, the casting crew for the film Miss You Already, starring Drew Barrymore, contacted ASL seeking a young American actress. After auditioning and getting the role as 10 year old Jess, Schneider worked with fellow young actress Eleanor Stagg, who introduced her to the management company A&J Management. The management company is one of the UK’s leading theatrical agencies, and fostered stars like Russell Brand and Victoria Beckham. After getting signed to the company, the management continues to work on getting Schneider auditions when new opportunities come her way, just as the audition for the musical Show Boat did.
Although it is an enormous commitment, it is worth it to Schneider, as she gets to spend time doing what she loves. Between Miss You Already and Showboat, Schneider has seen two sides to the acting industry, but to her, they are too different to compare. “Miss You Already only took one day to film, and then I got to see the results on film. Show Boat is ongoing – my contract is for six months. I don’t get to see the results in the same way as a film.” Even though it’s difficult to make a comparison, Schneider explained that experience of Showboat was more exciting, “Performing in front of a live audience is my favorite part.”
To Schneider, her stage presence, and the fact that she is comfortable being on stage, are her strengths when it comes to acting. These traits are ideal for musicals, and Schneider also has a passion for singing and dance which fit right in with the idea of being in a musical. As much as she loves acting, Schneider also loves singing, and is interested in pursuing a career in either of the two. But as of now, Schneider is in no rush to choose a career path, and she is more than content with the work she is doing, “I just like doing all the jobs, and meeting new people. I just think that’s really fun.”
Despite being a fifth grader, Schneider has showed hard work and talent can take you places, and if you really love something, nothing should stop you from achieving that. Many people can look to her for inspiration, and as she puts it, “I feel so lucky to have these opportunities, and I would encourage everyone to follow their passion.”