Local boy, 11, appears in Cleveland Play House’s ‘Shakespeare in Love’

Photo Courtesy Jen Bilczo Actor by night – Sheffield Lake’s Tommy Bilczo waits for rehearsal to begin for Shakespeare in Love in which he is cast as John Webster.

By MICHELE MURPHY

When the Cleveland Play House’s production of “Shakespeare in Love” opens this weekend, 11-year-old Tommy Bilczo will be center stage as a member of an otherwise largely New York-based cast.

By day, Tommy is like other 6th-grade students at Sheffield-Sheffield Lake’s Brookside Intermediate School. He arrives each day by 7:45 a.m. and, after a full day of classes, lunch and recess, he heads home at 3:20 p.m. For most kids his age, their work day is over and it is time to play or relax.

But for Tommy, his day is only half over and it is time to start preparing for his night jo

b as an actor. He completes homework, eats dinner, then one of his parents drives him 27 miles to downtown Cleveland. He is dropped off at the stage door with other veteran actors and crew. For the next several hours, lines are delivered, costumes are fitted, and the many details required to mount a successful performance are worked to perfection.

Then it’s back in the car for the

Photo by Michele Murphy Student by day – 11-year old Tommy Bilczo (center in glasses) listens to instruction during a science class at Brookside Intermediate School.

return trip and to bed.

Tommy started his stage career when he was selected to play Randy, the little brother in the holiday classic “A Christmas Story” staged by TrueNorth Cultural Arts Center. He was 8.

Since then he has appeared in 10 more plays, all with speaking roles. Several have been at the Cleveland Play House.

In “Shakespeare in Love,” he plays 10-year-old John Webster, whom he called a “weird, funny child.” Tommy’s mom, Jen, seated next to her son, explains John Webster was an English playwright known for his “dark and gory plays.” Tommy adds Webster’s darkness is humorous and his presence is annoying to other characters who largely dismiss him. “But, I keep coming, back,” Tommy said with a wicked grin.

Delivering a few lines as he sits at his family’s dining room table, Tommy said he has worked diligently and appreciates that the director gives him some latitude in how he says his lines. “I can play around with it,” he said.

Tommy said realizes this will be the first time he performs before a largely adult audience. He said it may be harder to get a laugh out of adults so he uses his body movements and delivery to emphasize the ridiculousness of a dark 10-year old whose purpose in the play is to draw laughs.

He said a challenge of the role was learning to deliver lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He again launches into a few lines, this time using a distinctively British accent.

He isn’t bothered by long days and the personal commitment it takes to both do well in school and on the stage. His mom said he regularly makes honor roll and last year was elected to student government. “He is really dedicated,” she said.

After she adds that he has missed a few birthday parties and other special activities to perform, he responded, “I’m used to it.”

Tommy’s mom recalled when his school held its first-ever dance for fifth and sixth grade students last spring, Tommy had to get special permission from Cleveland Play House for a night off. At the time, he was understudy for the role Fletcher in a regional touring production of Freaky Friday and was one of a scant few local actors who landed a part.

Asked about his favorite part of being cast in “Shakespeare in Love,” he answered without hesitation that it was the cast, director and crew. He admits he just might have a favorite, however. It is the dog, and this dog has quite a resume, including starring on Broadway as Toto in The Wiz. While asserting the entire cast is amazing, and that the play is funny, his final thought about attending a performance was, “Come see the dog.”

“Shakespeare in Love” is a romantic-comedy about Shakespeare as a young playwright. He is experiencing writers’ block while attempting to write Romeo and Juliet. Then he meets Viola. The play opens 7:30 p.m., Saturday. It runs at varying days and times through Oct. 1. Tickets and additional information can be found at: playhouse.com or by phoning 216-241-6000.

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