Now through October 18, you can enjoy a fantastic production of the The King and I at ZACH Theatre. This Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s musical is brought to life on stage with gorgeous sets and costumes, impressive choreography and vocal talents that will blow you away. The story is a classic, based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, about Anna Leonowens, who was hired to teach the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860’s.
The cast includes many talented local Asian-American and international performers as well as many truly adorable children, including Rylie and Zane Shieh. Their dad, James Shieh, is also in the cast, and we thought it was pretty awesome that they decided to participate in this show as a family! James was kind enough to take a little time to talk with us about this unique family experience.
Questions with Cast Member (and Dad) James Shieh:
Do512Family: How old are Rylie and Zane?
James: Rylie is 8 years old and Zane is 6 years old, the youngest in the cast. His next birthday is actually coming up during the run of the show. He barely made the age cut-off to be considered!
Do512Family: Do you or the children have previous experience in the theatre?
James: I don’t, but I did act in a commercial a few years ago. The kids, being so young, don’t have much direct theater experience, but do have related experience. Both are familiar with being on a stage. For their Chinese language school, there is a yearly poetry contest where the kids have to properly recite and express their chosen Chinese poems…kinda like Poetry Slam! They have not had a year where they did not place! They also have piano recitals and competitions where they are on stage or put on the spotlight. The two munchkins also have trained in Kung-Fu and gymnastics. Rylie has been involved in dance and been on stage for her recitals. Additionally she has been involved with Zach Theater’s and Austin High School’s Drama Department’s summer programs. At the Zach this past summer, she was also part of the group that performed in the Topfer Theater for the Red, Hot, and Soul Gala.
Do512 Family: What made you and the kids decide to audition for the play?
James: It really started with Rylie. She loves to sing, dance, and act…. and loves stories. She is also pretty fearless and doesn’t mind being put on the spot. When this opportunity came up, it seemed perfect for her since it took all the things that she loved to do and put it together. After she was picked and then performed at the Red Hot and Soul Gala, she couldn’t stop talking about all the people in the audience looking at them and how she loved it. As for Zane, although he’s a natural when it comes to dancing and singing, and already knew the songs, he was too young to audition since it called for kids seven years old and older. We were a little bummed since we felt this would give him lots of confidence going forward thru life. We later found out there was another child who made it in that was 6 years old but was going to be 7 before the show started. We talked to Zach Theater about Zane’s age and birthday being during the show. We also let them know about the other things he’s been involved in to assure them that he can pay attention and follow directions. Having Rylie, the older sibling, already in the show also helped Zane to be accepted. As for me… initially I had not even considered this. When Zane was selected, they had inquired a little about my experience, physical build, and abilities….then they asked if I would consider being part of the show. With my work schedule it was an easy NO! I thought about the “words of wisdom” that you hear from people about wishing they had spent more time with family and friends rather than chasing and closing the next big deal. With that, how can I say “NO?” When will I ever have a chance to be in a real professional production with my kids?! I get to be more than just father with my kids, but as a friend and coworker.
Do512Family: Is it hard to fit rehearsals and performances into Rylie and Zane’s regular schedule?
James: Hard? It was impossible to fit. Their regular schedule had to be completely dismantled and rethought out…. this became their regular schedule. From the moment they get out of school, time is ticking and there is no time to waste. They have to practice their piano, do their Chinese homework, take a cat-nap, and eat before heading to rehearsals and performance as early as 5:30 p.m. Between scenes they are doing their homework or eating dinner if we ran out of time before hand. Rehearsals and shows are weekends as well so everything took a back seat to this. On show nights, we don’t get home until after 11:00 p.m. Now that the performances have started, however, they do have a break between shows since Zach Theater separated the kids into two groups that alternate performances. The kids have made a lot of sacrifices to be in this show…. they are missing birthday parties, scouts, campouts, playdates, etc. etc. etc. There is a big winner in all of this though….my wife! She gets so much extra free time!
Do512Family: While I noticed many children in the audience, some of the subject matter gets a bit heavy with very emotional performances. Did that ever bother the kids? Would you say it’s a good show for all ages to watch?
James: I wouldn’t say that it bothered the kids…. it was touching to them once they got into the story. I think the way that these emotional moments are presented, in the form of a theatrical musical with humor, fun, love, sadness, and drama, is a great way for kids to be exposed to this. It was touching to see Zane, the youngest in the cast, to shed tears yet smile at the same time. He knows it’s all just a make-believe performance by his new cast friends, but the message to him was clear.
As for a good show for all ages to watch? As long as they can sit thru it! The show is about 3 hours long with the intermission. Rylie is dying to see the show from the audience when the other cast is performing. Zane, on the other hand, admits that he might not be able to sit still for so long!
Do512Family: What do Rylie and Zane think about the whole experience?
James: They absolutely love it! The kids at their school think it’s so neat and wish they can do this too. It has opened their eyes to so many things. Zane is actually interested in taking some dance classes now. Rylie is understanding the importance of being well rounded with her talents and excited to start musical theater classes. It is tough that they have to miss out on so many things and breaks my heart when they ask things like why we don’t have family movie night anymore or even just some time to build their Legos. With the performances finally underway and alternating children’s cast, they are getting half of their free time back, so they’ve realized that it was just temporary.
Do512Family: What have you enjoyed most about this experience?
James: For me, it’s being able to share such an incredible experience with my kids. It takes an immense amount of talent, from the performers to the orchestra, to the stage hands, costume designers, set designers, sound engineers, light engineers, choreographers, directors, kid wranglers, etc. to put on a production such as this. The three of us are woven into this, having to work together like clockwork. It makes me so proud to see them mature from wild kids to real kid actors that can also manage their schoolwork off stage. This goes for all the kids in the cast! I’m so proud of them all!
Do512Family: Do you anticipate that you or the kids will wish to audition for other plays in Austin?
James: The kids have already expressed interest in continuing some type of performance, and Rylie says she loves being on stage. We’ll be keeping an ear out for what is open to kids on stage and on camera and supportive if they would like to pursue it. In the meantime, after The King and I, they get to catch up with their friends, have fun at school, and take classes to hone their skills. As for me, I’m quitting my day job to move to Hollywood to be the next Keanu!
–> You can catch The King and I at ZACH Theatre now through October 18. Weekday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online here.
We have a pair of tickets to give away to one lucky reader for a Saturday matinee of your choice! Enter below. Good luck!
*This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to our winner and thanks to everyone who entered!