Balancing act: Kid performers find harmony between studies and stage

When school starts, some kids are pulling double duty managing academics and a demanding performing arts schedule. Practice time can absorb 16 to 20 hours per week. The time commitment during a performance week can expand even more.

How do they do it? Kids who dream of Hollywood, Broadway and more share common traits, including a commitment to their craft, time-management skills, self motivation and the good fortune of having enthusiastic, supportive parents. With so much to remember, balancing it all requires a cooperative and collaborative family effort.

Embracing time management

For 16-year-old Annabelle Stern of Tempe, making time for ballet and modern dance isn’t a distraction, but a privilege.

“I love having the opportunity to participate in a different community,” Annabelle says. “I do get home late, so I have to be on top of my classwork.” She tries to make the most of her hours, doing homework during school whenever she can and taking the initiative to ask questions of her teachers. She also uses practical tools, including a good planner, and says her mom helps her keep track of performance commitments.

Some might argue this puts additional pressure on a child, but she doesn’t think so. “Dance is a stress release and an activity I adore,” she explains. “If you really love to do it, you will find a way to manage your time.”

“Most kids who are very active in extracurricular activities — whether it is theater, sports or dance — are usually motivated, organized and go-getters,” says Meryl Rose of Phoenix, whose 16-year-old daughter Allie performs at Disneyland and Universal City, as well as Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre. “Allie has to make the most out of car rides, down time in class, rehearsals or shows.”

Krystie Krugman of Phoenix says her 10-year-old daughter Noelle also has become efficient with her time and manages to make the principal’s list each semester despite a schedule that in peak season can involve 20 hours per week in formal rehearsals for chorus and violin and more hours of practice at home. During a performance week, the time commitment can be 25 to 30 hours.

Krugman says Noelle has missed out on many parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, weekend getaways and sleepovers with friends, but makes the best of it by “hanging out with her theater friends, who create their own special activities that work within their schedule.”

Ways to cope

When the pace gets frustrating, both parents and kids have to figure out ways to cope and power through. Knowing what works to relieve the pressure is important.

Annabelle, who admits she rarely has the luxury of “reflection at the end of the day” because of her packed schedule, makes the most of “off” days by taking some time for herself.

Krugman tries to help Noelle focus on the big picture. She reminds her daughter to “remember the end goal, which is having fun, a great performance or run of the show and creating lasting memories.” Music, laughter and celebrating each day’s achievements are rituals to relieve the pressure.

Krugman says it is important to remind your child to have fun “and remember what a joy and privilege it is to be able to do what you love.” It is also good to be supportive when a kid just wants to be a kid and play with friends or have down time, she adds.

There is “no magic recipe, but organization, calendaring, patience and deep breaths” get them through Allie’s schedule, Rose says. “When a child is the one who is passionate about the activity, that makes all the difference.”

When Allie had an entire month of rehearsals, performances, a showcase, important auditions and quarter-end tests, it was a tough period, and there were moments of tears, Rose says. Allie turned to her father (who Rose says “works wonders” on both of them). By speaking calmly and restoring normalcy and peace, he helped Allie focus on tackling one project at a time.

Ultimately, Noelle says, “Theater isn’t just an activity, it’s a family. It’s a family because at the end of the day, the work you put into rehearsal is like a ball of energy that passes to everyone, and gives everyone happiness about each other. Theater won’t just be in you, it will change you.”