By Jody Key – Managing Editor
Participants at The Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta were excited about special guests Luca Padovan and Isabella Russo of Broadway’s School of Rock. These vivacious 15 year-olds are an inspiration to young musical theater performers as a testament to what can happen when you pair hard work with talent. As official correspondents of the festival, Isabella and Luca kept everyone up-to-date on all the action via social media. They graced the audience with their beautiful voices as they performed on the main stage. They encouraged participants to pursue their theater dreams with their insight during the “Pathways” session. Most importantly, they promoted the JumpStart Theater initiative by offering some amazing swag to be raffled off.
We were able to meet up with Isabella and Luca and ask them a few questions. Here’s what they had to say:
How do you balance theater and school?
Isabella – I’m homeschooled. It makes our schedule very easy because I do an online program. Depending on the work I’m doing it’s required to have a tutor. During School of Rock we had to have a certain amount of time for tutoring. It was easy for me because I could just go home and do my work on my laptop.
Luca – t’s definitely a big challenge, especially in high school. I haven’t done any professional theater since I started high school (Luca attends a high school of performing arts), but in middle school, I was in Newsies and School of Rock during school. It’s a broad statement, but you really have to work hard and put the work in. You need to take up every moment you have to finish up school work and study. I was extremely fortunate because the school I went to let me leave early for auditions and leave early on Wednesdays because of matinees. I was fortunate my school was so accommodating. It’s’ important to have a good relationship with your teachers and ask for extra help as well.
How did you get your start in professional theater?
Isabella – My parents are actors, and my dad was in the touring company of Wicked. Since I was one, we toured around the country for ten years. Right after that, I’d auditioned for School of Rock and booked it. That was the launching point for everything that’s happened.
Luca – My parents love musical theatre but they’re not in the business. The only person in the family that’s in the business is my older cousin, and he’s a stunt double. When he would come to New York to work, he would stay with us and tell us stories. I love hearing about the makeup — he was in zombie movies and would wear all kinds of interesting makeup, I love the stories of behind the scenes, how everything worked and I knew I wanted to be an actor. I’m obsessed with Disney so I watched every Disney movie, I knew all the songs. I would stand on a table with a pretend microphone and belt out all the songs. When I saw Newsies during kid’s night on Broadway I absolutely fell in love with the show and saw there was a kid who had a huge role in the show. I turned to my parents and said, “I need to do this now. I don’t want to wait until I’m an adult. I want to do this now.” They were so supportive, and they’re figuring all this out with me. We’re all figuring it out together and they’re so open. I’m really fortunate to have them. I don’t know many people who would believe a ten-year-old who says, “I want to be an actor.” They were really amazing and trusted in me. It was really fortunate in the end.
What challenges have been presented to you as a young actor?
Isabella – It’s tiring, but it’s so rewarding. It’s exhausting keeping up with the schedule, but we’ve always been very well taken care of, so it all pays off.
Luca – Bullying could be a problem at my middle school. I went to a great school, but most of the kids didn’t know what theater was. Most of them had never been to a Broadway show, so when I was 10 and 11 and in Newsies, people were really confused and would say, “So you perform every night?” Not many people got it. Also, I’m sure many theater kids have gone through the issue of people thinking theater is a “girl” thing and singing is for girls and football is for boys. I don’t believe in that at all. I think if you like something you should pursue it, no matter what it is. If it’s makeup, football, basketball, any of that you should pursue it. I like theater, and not many people got that. I did have some friends, that–even though they didn’t understand it–they were accepting.
What makes an event like JTF important?
Isabella – Everyone who comes and supports it. Everyone here, all the kids, are so passionate about theater. Everyone is so brilliant, and these kids are all so talented. Also, you can’t have a show without an audience, and the kids get super excited about our performances. The energy they give off is really awesome.
Luca – This is my 5th JTF. Everybody here, talent aside, is nice and accepting. Everybody knows and gets it. I’m with my people. There’s no bullying and everyone is accepting. I wish it could last longer. It’s amazing and brings so much happiness to so many people.
What advice do you have for young artists?
Isabella – If you have a dream, don’t stop reaching for it. At the time when you least expect it, something will happen in your life that makes it all worthwhile. Keep working hard, keep practicing, keep reaching for what makes you happy.
Luca – Work hard–that’s really important. Something I try and live by is “dreaming isn’t enough”. You’ll hear “don’t stop believing” or “don’t stop dreaming”, but if you really love something, you have to put in the work. When you put in the work it will come true. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the lead role, but if you want it, don’t just dream about it — put in the work.
Thanks Isabella and Luca for taking time to talk to us, entertain us, and inspire the next generation of Broadway stars!