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From the Green Mountains to the Great White Way: A Young Teen Experiences the Bright Lights of Broadway


Published May 2, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.

Oscar Williams - MATTHEW THORSEN
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  • Oscar Williams

Name: Oscar Williams
Age: 13
Town: Charlotte

You may have already heard of Oscar Williams. The Vermont teen was just 11 years old in December 2014 when he got a part in Fun Home, the Broadway musical based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. Oscar played Alison's brother, Christian. The show went on to win five Tony awards, including one for Best Musical.

By the time Oscar wrapped up his yearlong gig last spring, he had performed Fun Home more than 400 times: eight shows a week.

"Most people would think it would get boring after the first 50 shows," said Oscar in a recent interview with Kids VT at his home in Charlotte. "But it never did because you never know what kind of audience you're going to get."

Oscar's acting career started closer to home. The Charlotte teen, who has striking dark hair and big saucer eyes, performed in Very Merry Theatre's The Hobbit at age 7. Since then, he's done about 25 shows with Very Merry, as well as many shows with Flynn Youth Theater Company and other local troupes. Just before leaving for New York City, he played the lead in the Middlebury Community Players' production of Oliver!

What does he love about theater? "The bonds you make," he said, "and getting up on stage, performing and singing and having people watch you. It's really fun." The rehearsal process is rewarding, too, he said. "I love working through it, building the show."

The Fun Home gig didn't come out of nowhere. Oscar spent more than a year traveling with his family to New York City two or three times a month to audition for Broadway shows before he was hired. "He auditioned for probably every Broadway show that had kids in it," his mother, Zoe Williams, recalled.

When he got the job, his family, which includes his dad, Tom, three younger brothers, a dog and a cat, rented a nine-foot-wide railroad apartment in the Big Apple. Despite the cramped quarters, they loved the experience.

"It was awesome," marveled Oscar. "I could walk to my school; it took about three minutes. I could walk to my dance classes. I could walk to the theater." He loved the variety of food in the city, and he especially loved spending his one day off per week going to other Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, thanks to the generosity of a family friend who paid for his tickets to support his theater education. Williams estimated he saw about 50 shows.

His favorites: Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, The Color Purple, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Spring Awakening.

On top of performing six days a week, Oscar attended a public school where many of his classmates were also working on Broadway, including in Kinky Boots and Finding Neverland.

Did the Broadway experience make him a better actor? "Yes, definitely," said Oscar, attributing his growth to "repetition and adapting to change."

"And learning from the best," mom Zoe added, noting that Oscar's fellow actors, including the Tony-winning Michael Cerveris, took him under their wings.

"Broadway is such a tight community," she said. "Just like the theater community here, they're all tight and they care about each other." Oscar recalled the warm welcome he'd get from the actors in other Broadway shows because they'd all seen him in Fun Home.

"That's why he loves doing the Flynn shows here, too," Zoe said. "There's a real community of actors."

Oscar was excited to get back into acting when he returned to Vermont last summer; he performed in Flynn's James and the Giant Peach. Then, in January, he played the lead in Very Merry's production of 13.

Oscar is continuing to audition for Broadway shows, but he's prepared for a little "blackout period," which his mom described as a difficult time for teen boys to get acting jobs. "It's much easier to hire a kid who's 16 and finished school than to hire a 13-year-old," she explained. "Especially for a boy, because their voices are changing, their faces are changing."

In fact, it's the reason Oscar had to leave Fun Home last spring. He had grown three inches since he began the show and no longer looked like the little kid he was hired to portray.

Still, Oscar isn't skipping a beat here in Vermont. He'll star as con man Harold Hill in Charlotte Central School's production of The Music Man this month. And he's gearing up to play Ugly, the lead in Flynn's summer youth show Honk, Jr. "Yes," he confirmed. "It's about ducks."

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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