2018 TRUE WEST AWARDS, Day 9
A 16-year-old high-school graduate plays double-duty on stage
– and in the orchestra pit
It just seemed kind of cute – at first. The 16-year-old kid playing old-man Doc in an all-youth production of West Side Story barely got done telling Tony how he’s frightened enough for the both of them when the young actor leaped into the orchestra pit and started playing a virtuoso violin for Tony and Maria’s naïve wedding song, “One Hand, One Heart.”
You just don’t see an actor (of any age) playing a role in a big musical while doubling as a member of the orchestra. But that’s just what Edward “Teddy” Meyer did in his ninth and final production with the Wolf Theatre Academy, which provides grown-up performance opportunities for young actors at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center.
Turns out Co-Director Billie McBride needed Meyer onstage just as much as Musical Director Donna Debreceni needed him in the pit playing alongside her and two other professional, adult musicians. “We only had seven boys in the cast, so yes – we both needed Teddy,” Debreceni said. West Side Story with seven boys and 33 girls – you can see the challenge. But this was no stunt orchestra casting, either. Meyer already had 12 years of violin experience. That’s right: He started playing at 4.
“And he is off-the-charts good,” Debreceni said. “Whenever I got lost, I would just ask Teddy where we were at. He nailed it every time.”
Neat story. But it turns out this adorable bit of theatrical double-duty is actually one of the least impressive things about this young man’s very impressive life to date. After all, he conducted the Redlands (Calif.) Symphony Orchestra when he was 11.
Then there’s this: Meyer graduated from Cherry Creek High School last May. Yes, at 16. And maybe college is not the the best place for a 16-year-old. So surely Teddy earned himself a gap year resting by the swimming pool, right? Hardly. Instead, Meyer has spent his gap year so far participating in the Beijing International Music Festival and Academy in August, where he learned under the baton of Herbert Greenberg, head of strings at John’s Hopkins University’s Peabody Conservatory. Next came three months trekking throughout Southeast Asia with Where There Be Dragons, an immersive, Boulder-based Study Abroad program. “He’s been studying the region and continuing his mastery of his Mandarin while studying the ecological and socio-economics of Southeastern China, Laos and Cambodia,” said his proud mama, Jody Meyer.
Did we not mention? Meyer speaks four languages, including Spanish, Chinese and English. And his mother says it is his remarkable ear for music that makes everything else come so easily to him. “His ear is extraordinary. He has perfect pitch,” she said. “That’s why he is able to speak the languages he speaks with such perfect speech and intonation. It’s because there is a musicality to it.”
Teddy Meyer is, Debreceni puts it simply: “The smartest and most talented person I have ever met in my life.”
But she also says it is really, really important to make one other thing perfectly clear: “The coolest thing about Teddy is that he’s just a great guy,” Debreceni said. “There’s no ego about him at all. And he’s really funny.”
And he has a passion for musical theatre. The Wolf Theatre Academy has given Meyer a chance to act, often alongside his now-sophomore sister Lucy, who played Anybodys in West Side Story.
Teddy’s first role was as no less than a 10-year-old barber-slicing Toby in a Sweeney Todd, a production many say was was legendary in Wolf Academy annals. He went on to play, among others, FBI agent Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can and an Asian laundry boy in Thoroughly Modern Millie. “That’s actually where Teddy first learned to speak Mandarin,” his mom said. Because Teddy didn’t just learn the words he was assigned to say – he learned the entire language they were spoken in.
West Side Story was an especially meaningful farewell show for Teddy. “He saw that show as the most incredibly rare opportunity for him to play Leonard Bernstein’s masterful score during the centennial year of his birth,” Jody Meyer said. “And then to be working with such professional musicians just made the experience that much more special. Teddy is so grateful to Donna and his directors (McBride and Terrell Davis) for making that happen for him.”
You might be wondering at this point: How does any of this happen? Jody Meyer says it starts with arts education in the schools.
“If my husband and I have tried to impart any safe advice to our children, it is that a complete life – a full life – should be a blend of commitment and work ethic and passion and, most of all, fun,” Jody Meyer said. “I think for our children, having the chance to pursue their passion for the arts has really afforded them some wonderful travel opportunities and helped broaden them into the really academically curious young people they are.”
When Teddy lands back in this country, his attention will shift to college applications. You know, like any other 16-year-old. (Not!) After all, how many kids graduate high school, take a year off and then go to college – while still the youngest kid in class?
One can only imagine where Teddy Meyer might be in 10 years.
“Saving the world, I guess,” Debreceni said. “I mean, he can do anything he sets his mind to.”
About The True West Awards: ’30 Days, 30 Bouquets’
The True West Awards, now in their 18th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2018 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre magazine in 2011. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org