Elaine Schwartz: Raising a Broadway Actor Part 1

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PART I

Ayla Schwartz is an 11-year-old theatrical phenom currently starring as Young Elsa in Disney’s FROZEN the Musical. Born and raised in New Jersey, she has been studying performance arts since the tender age of 4. KidGooRoo was thrilled to catch up with Ayla and trace her journey to stardom.

Connect with Ayla:

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When did you first recognize Ayla’s incredible talent?

Ayla started speaking at 10 months old and singing shortly after! We always knew she loved singing but it only became apparent that she was meant to do this when she was around 8 years old. She wanted to start auditioning for Broadway and I didn’t want her to start too early. We wanted her to be ready for everything that came a long with it (hard work, rejection, late nights).

I called Broadway Artists Alliance and asked them for a “career coaching” session to see if Ayla was ready to audition for Broadway. I was so embarrassed when they asked how old my daughter was and I said 8! Then they told me not to be embarrassed as parents with kids as young as 6 are calling for career coaching. We had a session with them, ran through Ayla’s song book and got feedback. They said she is SO ready to start auditioning! After that I knew she was ready.

Has Ayla always loved singing, dancing, and acting?

Singing will always be Ayla’s first love! At 15 months old she would be singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” when her brothers had not even started speaking at that age. She was a very shy little girl so it was shocking when she started coming out of her shell on stage! She started voice lessons just before she turned 5, because that’s all she seemed to want to do. Tap was her first dance class when she was 3 or 4, and then she took ballet and modern dance when she was 6 or 7. She really didn’t start taking dance seriously until she was 8 or 9 when she realized she would need to be a stronger dancer to book a Broadway show. She has always enjoyed her acting classes and improved most when she was working on the sides for auditions.

What was her childhood like- did she participate in any other activities before she focused on musical theater?

When Ayla was born, her dad wanted Ayla to be athletic and play soccer. He felt that sports might help her feel strong and accomplished. So along with all her girlfriends, at around 4 years old she tried kiddie soccer. Within a year or so, the only thing she enjoyed about soccer was wearing her pink shin guards and cleats. The good news is her dad still got his “strong girl.”  She’s just a strong girl on Broadway!

What initially got Ayla into theater? A lot of us give our kids voice and singing lessons, but how did you translate that into performing live?

When Ayla turned 4, she was old enough to start taking theatre classes at Essex Youth Theatre, a theatre arts school for kids in Montclair, NJ. Each class culminated in a musical play in a theatre of approximately 150 seats. Ayla played “Jip the Dog” in one of her first performances. After that, she started training at Performers Theatre Workshop where the program offered her a variety of performance opportunities including an annual showcase at the Don’t Tell Mama cabaret.

A terribly shy 5-year old, Ayla sang “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” in the quietest voice imaginable at her first cabaret. Year after year, she continued to train and perform periodically at other venues in NYC. When she was in 3rd grade, Ayla was cast as Edwina, the lead role in her elementary school play. At 8 years old, Ayla was accepted into the Broadway Youth Ensemble (BYE), a NYC based children’s choir. Her first performance with BYE was at Carnegie Hall!

Do you ever remember Ayla being nervous to perform?

Ayla doesn’t seem to get nervous. She may get a little more nervous for a cabaret performance compared to a Broadway performance as I think the intimate setting of a smaller venue feels a little more intimidating to her. She said for Broadway she just feels like her role comes so naturally she doesn’t really get nervous.

Has it been difficult to get Ayla “noticed” by producers, directors, etc.?

It was very difficult for Ayla to find an agent or a manager that was willing to take on an 8 or 9- year-old girl with light brown hair and blue eyes. We were told the market was saturated with many girls that had Ayla’s attributes. She participated in an “Agent/Manager Showcase” at A Class Act NY (ACANY), where each participant gets about three minutes in front of 20-30 agents and managers to perform 16-32 bars of a musical theatre song, a short monologue and a script from a commercial. She didn’t get one call; no one was interested. Eventually she met her manager, who believed in her from the minute he met her and took a risk on a girl who’s demographic was saturated.

A year later, about a month before Ayla booked FROZEN, we were still trying to secure an agent. Most of them loved her but would tell us they’ve “combed (their) roster and couldn’t find a place for her.” While Ayla was in callbacks for FROZEN, an agent saw her perform at Carnegie Hall with Broadway PCI and he asked to work with Ayla. The next day, he sent her on an audition for The Miracle Worker, which she booked, and two week after she booked Miracle Worker, Ayla booked FROZEN.

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