Broadway · Inclusion · Performances · The Human Connection · Wise Words

A Little Something More Than Heaven: A Conversation with Sarah Charles Lewis

When I was growing up, I wanted nothing more than to live in the fantasy worlds in my head. I wanted to be characters in books, television shows, and movies, and act out alternative realities for them in imaginary play. With my sense of imagination, I could be anyone. I could write any storyline for any character. One of my favorite books growing up was Tuck Everlasting, a fantasy novel by Natalie Babbitt which begs the question of immortality. When it was announced that this show was being turned into a musical, my inner child lit up and I got to see the fourth preview of this show. Winnie Foster was one of my childhood heroes, and Sarah Charles Lewis portrayed her beautifully. It was such a treat to see Sarah live out my inner pre-teen’s connection to this character.  I was so excited to get to hear about her experiences as a young professional in the theatre world, and was so impressed with her outlook on life at such a young age.

S: How did you get into theatre, and what makes you want to stick with it?

S: My parents are musical people. They met in a band, so my whole life I’ve been exposed to music. I was always singing and dancing and wanted to be on stage. My brother is also musical; it’s in our blood. I guess I’ve stuck with it because theatre is just what I love to do! I enjoy everything about it, on the stage and off. I know that’s the path I’m going to take with my life.

S: Do you ever get frustrated, and if you do, how do you deal with that?

S: Well, I think everyone gets frustrated at times. During Tuck Everlasting, the creative team would keep saying things like “Don’t grow” and that would really frustrate me. I cannot control my growth. I just kept telling myself to really live every moment until I was replaced. That time never came, thank goodness, and I was able to go on for every show until it closed. I went into a growth spurt right afterwards, though. I was so relieved it didn’t happen during my contract! Growing out of roles is just normal as a kid on Broadway. It’s really the worst part. Many of my friends in Matilda and School of Rock would get measured and it’s super stressful and sad when they would get replaced.

S: What advice would you give to kids your age or younger?

S: If you want to be a triple threat, then you have to work on your weakest link. It’s hard to do, but you just have to do it. My Tuck director told me that one day, and I’ll never forget his advice. And, just be nice. Pay it forward. I’ve seen many awesome actors get cut because of the energy they brought into the room. So, work hard at what you love to do, be nice and pay it forward. Give back to others, it feels really good to do that.

S: What is it like being a professional already? Is it all business or is it fun?

S: Some of it is business, but—come on–most of it is fun! It’s even better when you get to work with other kid actors, because we totally understand each other. There isn’t any weirdness or fan stuff. We are just normal friends and that’s the best. I really miss my Broadway friends. Everyone is just so chill and cool, but insanely talented, focused, and hard-working. You have to be, because the competition is fierce. Everyone in New York City is AMAZING.

S: How do you balance school and performing, and what does that look like with an 8-show week?

S: Schooling was hard, especially since Tuck was an original show and I was the lead role. Every day I would have new lines, until the show was frozen. Sometimes it was even just a few hours between shows and I would get new lines, changed lines or new lyrics. But, it was super fun, too, because my “class” was in my Broadway dressing room! It was all just such an awesome experience. And I loved my on-set tutor so much. I learned to really balance my time better. That was a HUGE help for middle school.
S: How do you take care of your voice when you’re performing?
S: Silence, hydration, and rest. Basically, don’t talk, drink tons of water, and rest whenever you can. It’s the only way to preserve your voice when doing that much singing. Being quiet it hard!

S: What part of this job does the audience not get to see, but should be aware of?

S: I don’t think the audience often gets that there are so many people off the stage that are part of the show, too. The audience only sees the actors, but really the cast is just a small part of the whole TEAM. From the designers, writers, producers, pit orchestra, my dresser, to hair, makeup, understudies, spot light, directors, theatre cleaners, wranglers, casting, choreographers…the list goes on and on.

S: What’s the stage door experience like for you?

S: Oh my gosh, it’s so incredible! Some people in the cast were often too tired, sick, or had to preserve their voices, etc. Two show days are rough. But I always went out, because it’s really fun to meet everyone who watched the show and to hear their feedback. Obviously, signing the playbills was awesome, too. And most of the people at the stage door were MY AGE, so it just felt like I was one of them. I go to stage doors all the time!

S: How do you keep your confidence up when having to perform in front of so many people?

S: Well, when I would mess up a line, blocking or harmony part, my cast mates would lift me up /cover /improv – we took care of each other. It became instinctive and comforting. Everyone has bad days, but we try to leave it all at the door and become our character when we enter the theatre. However, it’s live theatre and things happen. A prop breaks…which reminds me of one time that I lifted my fishing rod in the rowboat scene of Tuck and my fish was NOT ON THE ROD! Pa Tuck said something great and winged it. We laughed afterwards. I think your cast family keeps your confidence up. It’s truly a family. I miss them the most.

S: Some of my students have a hard time navigating social situations—making friends, talking to new people, and you get to do this for a living. Do you have any advice for them on how to do this?

S: I have a hard time with this, too. The best thing I’ve found that helps me is to just break the ice sooner than later. Be the one to walk up, look them in the eye, give them a (good) handshake and introduce yourself! Although we don’t often shake hands in school. Being the brave one is really hard and it gets tiring, but we can all be ourselves and have a smile on our faces and still do it. That’s what I do.

S: I like to give my students and readers weekly challenges. What would you
challenge my students or readers to try?

S: I would challenge them to meet at least one new person this week. And I’ll do it, too. Don’t worry; I’m right
by your side! Remember to be yourself. Being different is really the coolest.

I am truly grateful that Sarah took the time out of her busy schedule to chat about these topics. Part of my job is to see the world from the perspectives of others—mostly my students and their families. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be so young and already trying to strike a work/life balance, but Sarah seems to have a solid handle on that. Her honest answers were truly remarkable, and when I saw her perform last spring, her character is more than evident. I look forward to seeing what she does next, and for my students and readers to tackle her challenge.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

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