Young Tommy balances school, acting career

  • August 24, 2013

STRATFORD, ONT. - Conor Bergauer considers himself more of a singer than an actor but the young teen jumped at the chance to play “the deaf, dumb and blind,” kid in the summer hit at the Stratford Festival. The Grade 7 Catholic student from Waterloo, Ont. is sharing the lead role in the hit musical Tommy through the summer and into the fall.

Bergauer, 13, who attends Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, has joined Paul Nolan, Stephen Patterson and Monique Lund to play the role of 10-year- old Tommy Walker in the musical scored by the British rock band The Who.

“It’s definitely amazing,” said Bergauer. “When I was growing up my mom told me about (the Stratford Festival) and my mom said we are going to go see a play there someday. Now I’m in a play.”

Directed by Des McAnuff, who also directed and co-authored Tommy with The Who’s Pete Townshend when it first appeared on Broadway in 1993, Stratford’s production has been packing the Avon Theatre since opening night May 30.

While Bergauer admits he’s more of a singer than an actor, playing “the deaf, dumb and blind kid,” as Tommy is referred to in the song “Pinball Wizard,” wasn’t completely new to him. Two years ago when Bergauer was a fifth grader he played 10-year- old Tommy Walker in a local high school production at the recommendation of the school’s musical director, who also happens to be his aunt.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh maybe I don’t really want to do this,’ but when I got into it I actually really enjoyed it,” said Bergauer. “I realized that I do really like theatre and not just singing.”

So when his musical director from KW Glee, a show choir made up of youth from the Kitchener- Waterloo region, suggested he audition for Stratford’s production of Tommy, Bergauer was up to the challenge.

“I said, ‘Well I like the play Tommy and I did it in a high school,’ so I just went for it,” he said. “I was nervous because I had to sing for them a cappella. It’s a lot harder to sing a cappella — without the track — so I was nervous and since there were a lot of kids trying out for the 10- year-old part I was nervous, but it ended up OK.”

Now that Bergauer has been performing in the Stratford spotlight for three months, those nerves have all but left the young teenager. The same however, cannot be said for his mother, Anita Bergauer, who’s flooded with emotions each time she sees the show.

“It’s very emotional,” she said. “I don’t care how many times I see the curtain calls I get misty every time, even from just thinking about it. It is just such an amazing blessing that he has been given.”

Recognizing this opportunity as a blessing is why Bergauer’s parents gave up on a summer vacation this year to spend countless hours driving to and from Stratford since February when rehearsals began.

“We knew right from the start that we wouldn’t be taking summer holidays this year and things like that,” said the mother of two. “To be part of this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For a kid his age to be able to do something like this there is no way I wouldn’t let him have that.”

And it’s not just Bergauer’s family that is helping him capitalize on the musical and theatrical gifts that God gave him. The Catholic education community stood behind him as well, from the superintendent at the board level, who did need a little convincing from Blessed Sacrament’s principal, to Bergauer’s Grade 7 teacher.

“We got the support that we need,” said Anita Bergauer. “He’s lucky that he had a teacher that really believes that kids should have a life outside of the school.”

With the play running until Oct. 19 and Bergauer entering his last year of elementary school this September, he knows new challenges will come with juggling his responsibilities as an actor in Stratford, a student at Blessed Sacrament and an altar server in his parish.

“This year it was kind of hard to keep up with my school work but in the end I did get caught up and I handed all my things in,” he said. “So I’m going to have to pay a lot more attention for the first, well, no the whole school year, but for the first two months especially because it is Grade 8. I have to be really paying attention to what they are saying and taking my books with me to keep a balanced schedule.”

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