If you’ve seen The Who’s Tommy here at ZACH Theatre you already know- the cast is, without exception, incredible. One of the standout roles in this action-packed and very emotional show is that of Young Tommy, played alternately by 10-year-old Will Sendera and 9-year-old Diego Rodriguez. While they may be young, each are stage veterans and posses a skill set and talent level that rivals many actors twice their age. Currently, Will Sendera is tied with Meredith McCall for “appearing in the most shows at the Topfer Theatre” and Diego was adored by holiday audiences in his role as the hysterical little brother in this season’s A Christmas Story. We caught up for a Q&A with the boys and their families to learn more about their experience staring in The Who’s Tommy:
How long have you been involved in acting and with ZACH Theatre?
Will Sendera: I took my first dance class when I was 5 and my first acting class when I was 7. I really liked being on stage. I took some more classes and then was in a show called 50 Years of Broadway in the ZACH’s Performing Arts School. My first professional show was in ZACH’s production of Ragtime when I was 8. Now I am 10 and I am tied for the most number of times performing at the ZACH Topfer Theatre!
Diego Rodriguez: I have been acting since I was 5, so for about 4 years now. I’ve been at ZACH since October preparing for A Christmas Story. Tommy is my second production at ZACH.
What has your experience been like preparing for this show, both for you two boys and for the parents?
Will Sendera: Rehearsals are long but really fun! There are really nice people in the cast and crew and I love meeting new people and making new friends. It makes everything that you do at rehearsal fun even though it is hard work.
Will’s Mother, Heather Sendera: Will loves being at the ZACH! He grumbles every once in awhile when he is missing something fun with his friends but when he is there, we struggle to get him to leave. It is always us standing by the door while he talks to one last person. Even the late nights are fun for him…he loves being able to stay up late and thinks it is fun to tell his friends that he didn’t get home until midnight…every 10 year old boy’s dream! We were a bit worried about the dramatic content in the show but the creative team was incredible about communicating with us beginning immediately after he was cast. And they have handled every aspect of it with grace, respect and care for the young actors.
Diego Rodriguez: The experience has been very hard and very fun and kinda of confusing at times because there is so much going on at once. Say in “Acid Queen” or “Pinball Wizard,” for example, there are so many people on stage doing different things, different dancing. The fun part is that the whole play is just a good play. I’m going to say that – I love the play. There’s so much action on stage, there really is. When we do the part in the first act with the shrinking door and the doctors, I get to eat dove chocolate from an ice cream sample thing. One of my favorite parts is Cousin Kevin because it’s fun to be a human jump rope, and I love the trash can part, that can never not be fun for a kid. It never gets old. I like that he’s supposed to also be the Cheshire Cat. It’s exciting – it’s like being a stunt-man.
Diego’s Mother, Kate Rodriguez: We live in Georgetown so it’s a bit of a haul to come to Austin every day and it’s a ton of work but he LOVES it. To be 9 and have a true passion is amazing. My daughter acts as well. He loves the people and the process and I can say that as his Mom, some of the content in the show is very adult. We talk with our kids about the show themes and the Uncle Ernie scene in kid-appropriate language. We watched the rehearsals and my mind was placed at ease. The cast and crew have bent over backwards to make the boys comfortable and I can see why he loves it. It’s a huge time sacrifice, but this is what he loves and anything good takes a lot of work. It’s been a great experience.
Diego’s Father, Art Rodriguez: Initially we were both concerned with the content and his participation, but the ZACH staff, Victoria (Victoria Coady, Production Stage Manager) and Dave (Dave Steakley, Producing Artistic Director) and Lisa (Lisa Goering, Stage Manager) and everyone told us from the get-go that this would not be an overtly sexualized version of events for Young Tommy. It’s all tactfully done and they created a very safe environment for Diego and that provided Kate and I with a lot of comfort in the way they handled the material.
What’s your relationship like with the cast and creative team?
Diego Rodriguez: It is just probably one of the best things in my life. Everyone is so nice and treats me great. I have to say that for my Mom and Dad too – I think they both agree. They are nice and they will do anything to keep me comfortable so I won’t have anything to worry about when I’m doing the acting. Whenever you get to know a cast it makes them easier to work with – I’ve learned that from past shows, so this is easier than I thought it would be because I knew everyone so well. It is weird to be the only child on set with so many adults. We have different personalities because of our ages and I don’t know what adults do to kill time. We made The Candy Club – I’m the president and Mr. Michael, (Michael Valentine who plays the Adult Tommy) is the Vice President. We bring in candy, we discuss candy and we bring some for everyone to share.
Kate Rodrigues: The cast and creative team are wonderful with him. There is no other classroom with such incredible inter-generational learning opportunities.
Will Sendera: I knew a lot of the creative team and crew before we started so it was nice to work with them again. The cast is so enthusiastic and everything that they do is so cool. I love to see how much hard work they put into all of this. They are all really fun people but really hard workers. Backstage the cast talks and acts silly and plays games. It is fun in the green room but sometimes I’m there alone because everyone else is onstage and then it is lonely but I listen to them on the speakers.
Heather Sendera: This is Will’s 4th mainstage show at ZACH and he has been part of the education department for almost 3 years now so he knows lots of people on the creative team and behind the scenes. He thinks of all of these amazing people as his friends and the ZACH really is his second home. And the cast has been just fabulous with both of the young Tommys…they have so much fun with everyone and the cast is very sweet and protective of them. We are moving to Pittsburgh at the close of the show and it is going to be very hard for us to leave the amazing team at the ZACH!
For the boys – What is your dream role? Is it a specific character or show? Something with singing and dancing?
Will Sendera: I really wanted to be Chip in Beauty and the Beast. That was one of the first shows I saw and I couldn’t believe how lucky he was to be on stage and he was only 8. That was what really made me want to take more classes and learn more about acting. But now I might be too old to play Chip! So maybe I could be Tommy someday and then I would have been both Young Tommy and Adult Tommy!
Diego Rodriguez: I would like to be in the show Newsies and be Jack Kelly because I think that would be an interesting role. I don’t know why – maybe the dancing and that it’s so athletic and I want to do that when I grow up.
What’s your favorite part of the show?
Will Sendera: It is either the scene where Cousin Kevin beats me up or any of the scenes where the cast does acrobatics. There are so many cool tricks in the show. The cast is really amazing!
Heather Sendera: I love it all! The show really draws you in and the interaction between the cast and the audience is perfect. I love watching the reactions of the audience because so many people know the Tommy album and to see them get into the music while watching the onstage action is just fantastic. And, emotionally I love the end of the show because you really see the story come full circle.
Diego Rodriguez: My favorite part is probably Cousin Kevin, when he rolls me in the trash can. That really is fun.
Kate Rodriguez: There are so many. There is one scene I love, whether in rehearsal, with Will or with Diego. Right before Cousin Kevin, when Adult Tommy, comes up behind Young Tommy and sings “See Me, Feel Me,” and Diego puts his little head on Michael’s his chest, I can see any child in that chair and really connect to that. It’s a very heartfelt moment, to see that connection between the Adult Tommy and the Young Tommy.
Art Rodriguez: I enjoy the finale – the young boy being a man, the forgiveness. It’s inspirational.