Spotlights on local kids with promising careers in the performing arts
Musician Aaron Kleinstub
Aaron Kleinstub blows the room away with his blaring jazz trumpet solos, and there's no mute button for this performer.
"I have a passion for it," says the 15-year-old musician.
Aaron plays in the Tri-C JazzFest High School All- Stars, directed by Steve Enos. At this year's April festival, the band opened for Wynton Marsalis, at right, who singled out Aaron for some personal coaching and advice … in his dressing room, after the show!
"He asked me, ‘Where do you get your melodies from?'" and Aaron says that made him realize there are melodies all around. "I've noticed I'm hearing new melodies everywhere since he said that," he recalled in a phone interview from his home in Auburn Township
The All-Stars is a big band comprised of the most talented musicians in NorthEast Ohio, but Enos, director of jazz studies at Tri-C, says Aaron is a level above the other players.
"He has a great gift and a beautiful sound," says Enos. "I noticed he had a high level of concentration. I'd give him exercises, and he'd pick it up pretty quickly. You can see potential for greatness."
Besides raw talent, Aaron sums up his method in one word: "Practice."
"I practice every day, I warm up with long tones, then I work on different exercises," he says, He ends practice sessions playing songs from the playlists of his many bands.
In addition to the All-Stars, Aaron plays in his eponymous trio, a performance combo of five musicians, and a Latin jazz combo. These groups are primarily Tri-C college students. Sometimes Aaron is invited by traveling bands to sit in for a session.
His parents, Susan and Alan, introduced Aaron to classic jazz, including favorites like Freddie Hubbard.
Although he hadn't played in years, Alan Kleinstub picked up his old trumpet when son Aaron was 10; that sparked an interest in Aaron and younger brother Matthew, who is now 13.
At JazzFest, Aaron won a $1000 Scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston from International Association for Jazz Education.
Hear Aaron play July 23 at the Columbus Jazz Festival. When he placed second at the Hank Marr Competition in Columbus this year, friends of Marr invited him to sit in with them at the summer performance.
Showman Alex Wyse
With a slew of local acting credits behind him, Alex Wyse ranks as most nerve-racking a 10-minute audition he had for the acting program at Boston University.
"When I audition for a show, I tell myself, ‘If I don't get it, whatever; there'll be other shows,'" says the recent graduate of Beachwood High School, "but auditioning for the drama program was really scary. What if I don't get it?" But he did, and he starts the program in the fall.
Alex's stage credits include "Summer of '42" (pictured) and "Carousel" with Kalliope Stage; "Into the Woods" with Lakeland Community College; and "Lord of the Flies" with Beck Center for the Arts. He has performed with JCC's Halle Theatre and Cain Park, and he's played the lead in four musicals at Beachwood High School.
This summer, he's rehearsing "She Loves Me" with Cleveland Lyric Opera.
Whatever role he plays, he brings a part of himself to the performance.
"I'm essentially exploring different aspects of myself, but it's still me," he says, blushing as he talks about himself. "I've never had to play a role that I couldn't connect to on some level." Wiry and energetic, he jokes that playing a large lumberjack wouldn't work for him.
Once, The Temple-Tifereth Israel member played Jesus in "Godspell."
"I looked at it (the role of Jesus) as playing a guy with interesting lessons to teach n be kind to your neighbor n a person who's trying to do good in the world," he says.
Alex's room is decorated with framed posters from Broadway musicals, some signed by the cast. He drags out his collection of playbills from his closet, hundreds of them, encased in plastic sleeves the way other boys would showcase baseball cards.
When he's not doing a show, he might be singing, writing music or playing piano. He sang the national anthem at Beachwood's graduation n "because it was at Severance Hall," he quips. He also paints, and his work is displayed alongside the vintage poster collection of his parents, Denise and Robert Wyse.
Regarding his plans for a Broadway career, no one discourages him.
"People have faith in me," he says. "And as long as I can be involved in the arts in some way, I'll be happy."
Actress Emma Wahl
Whenever she steps onto the stage, 10-year-old Emma Wahl gets excited. Her recent Broadway debut in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," she says, is pretty much the same to her as playing "Annie" at Carousel Dinner Theatre or the Little Girl in the JCC's production of "Ragtime."
"It's just a show, and what I'm doing feels the same," she says. "But (on Broadway) they really take good care of you, and they treat you like a star. It's cooooool."
All the girls in the cast have a dresser to help them with their costumes and a "child wrangler," who leads them up to the stage "and gets us snacks and stuff," says Emma. She especially likes it when Broadway stars joke around with her, like she's one of them.
Which she is.
In the show, an eccentric inventor develops a magical car. Emma sings in the ensemble of children and understudies the role of Jemima.
She gets herself in character by finding points in common with the part she's playing. Like Jemima, she explains, she's a twin, and her brother Evan is her best friend.
Emma moved to a New York apartment in February with her mother, Carol Koletsky Wahl. Evan finished school at Orange, but will spend the summer in New York, playing hockey and basketball. Carol and her husband Jeff trade places some weekends and pass each other in the air between New York and their Pepper Pike home.
"It's really amazing living in the theater district because there's an energy, and you are part of it," says Carol by phone. But it's not always as glamorous as people think, adds Carol.
One perk Emma loves is giving backstage tours for visiting friends. When Park Synagogue's Confirmation class came to New York, Emma and her mom joined them for a Shabbat dinner at their hotel. The next night, after the class saw "Fiddler on the Roof," Emma arranged a backstage tour through Shaker Heights actress Betsy Hogg, who plays Tevye's youngest daughter.
Emma's busy schedule doesn't afford her the opportunity to see her friends in other productions. She's in eight shows a week, plus rehearsals and publicity events. Hawken sends her school work, and the theater provides a tutor for her and six other out-of-town cast members. Her only day off is Monday.
"We live three blocks from Central Park, so sometime I meet the kids (from the cast) and we go to the park and play," says Emma. The family plans to return to Pepper Pike together in the fall.
Ballerina Ali Block
The calendar for young ballerina Ali Block isn't defined by the school year, birthdays or holidays. It's set by what she calls "Nutcracker Season."
Dancing since age 5, Ali first appeared in the "The Nutcracker" when she was 6, and each fall she wonders what part she will get. She's danced the lead role, Clara, with the Radio City Rockettes; last year she was the Spanish dancer with the Cleveland Youth Ballet and the Chinese tea girl for the Pennsylvania Ballet performance.
The soon-to-be 15-year-old girl has laced up her toe shoes with the Russian Kirov Ballet and Cleveland's VERB Ballets.
"Any girl who dances wants to play the princess roles, like (Odile/Odette from) Swan Lake or Giselle," she says. "That's why I love dancing. It makes me feel like a princess."
It can also make her feel exhausted and tired.
She dances five or six days a week for a total of about 30 hours n plus extra rehearsals before performances. She often doesn't finish dancing until 8 p.m. Then she eats dinner with her family, showers and attacks her homework from Laurel.
"Every dancer has to make sacrifices, things we give up to be committed to dance," she says. "Because I love dance so much, it's worth it."
Ali realized she wanted to be a dancer at age 8, so she started taking more dance classes with The Cleveland School of Dance. Her teacher and adviser, Gladisa Guadalupe, makes sure Ali gets an audition when traveling companies come to Cleveland. This summer, Ali returns to Canada's National Ballet School, which auditions hundreds of dancers and accepts just 11 from all over the world.
Ali's parents, Staci and Richard Block of South Euclid, support her dancing dreams.
"When we see the feedback she gets from professionals, we feel comfortable allowing her to pursue this," says Staci. "I've never seen a child train this hard and be so focused. She's not being pushed by directors. It comes from within, and she is unstoppable."
In the professional division of The Cleveland School of Dance, Ali studies mainly ballet, but also a bit of contemporary and Flamingo, traditional Spanish dance, which she describes as footwork with "cool costumes and attitude."
The school recently showcased students in "Celebration" May 28, featuring Ali, her sister Amanda, and two other local dancers, Rebecca Weinberger of Painesville and Sarah Marks of Shaker Heights.
Dancer Jordan Leitson
It's a misconception that you can't make money as a dancer, says Jordan Leitson. Don't dismiss the idealism of this Solon 17-year old n his words are probably an accurate assessment of his chances to make it on stage.
This past winter, choreographer Marijke Eliasberg watched Jordan taking a master class with Jana Hicks at Dance Space in New York City. Impressed by what she saw, she invited him to perform in a modern dance concert at The City Center in the spring.
Next month, he'll perform in Columbus with the traveling troupe of "Red Hot Broadway." And there's a possibility of another show this month in Connecticut.
"I guess she (Marijke) likes the way I move," he says, sitting barefoot in his elegant living room. "I bring more dynamic interpretation to the movement." He explains that he varies the pace and intensity of his dance to build emotion for the audience.
Jordan could take advantage of the break because he's enrolled in ECOT, Electric Classroom of Tomorrow, an Internet-based school. The school work is not always easy, but it allows him the flexibility to travel and train. The City Center concert, for example, required a month of rehearsals in New York, and he plans to continue auditioning for shows here and in New York.
For every high school junior who dreams of sharing a New York apartment with a friend, Jordan admits it's not all it's cracked up to be. "I had to get used to eating my myself every day. It was kind of lonely," he admits.
"New York is so different when you're not a tourist," says Jordan, surprising himself when he realized that for all the adventures he'd planned on, he started to crave a normal routine. Asked what attractions and sites he took in, he answered, "Once I went bowling with my roommate."
Ignore the smooth baby face. Jordan's muscular build reveals his grueling training regimen. In addition to his intense rehearsal schedule, he took extra dance classes in New York in tap, ballet, jazz and modern dance.
Back home, he practices five days a week from 4 until 10 p.m., Saturdays he dances from 9 until 5, and Sundays he squeezes in a few extra classes. There's also strength training, conditioning and Pilates classes for flexibility.
"People don't understand how hard dancers work and what we put our bodies through," he says.
Jordan takes private lessons at Mary's Dance Studio with his teachers Mark Otloski, formerly of the Cleveland Ballet, and Mary Spaniola-Leitson, his mom, who is a trained ballet dancer.
To people who say a career in dance isn't the most financially practical option, Jordan has a ready answer. "People major in medieval studies in college," he notes. "How do you get a job with that?"
"Not many people can wake up and say I'm happy at what I do, but I am happy. I love dancing, and I can get paid for it."
"Not many people can wake up and say I'm happy at what I do.