Getting paid for doing what you love is a common goal for many. Some of us have the pleasure of realizing snippets of this dream by venturing into off-the-beaten-path careers.
But this coveted opportunity to make money from one's passion has already taken shape in the young life of Lake Zurich fifth grader Zachary Fewkes. The Seth Paine Elementary student already has appeared in seven professional theater productions.
And he has just been cast as the alternate, understudy "James" in the production later this spring of "James and the Giant Peach" at the Drury Lane Theatre.
It all started for Zach "way back" in kindergarten when he participated in a school play called, "Mrs. Wishy Washy," which was based on the book, according to the Fewkes family.
He loved it, and at the age of 7, he ventured into the ensemble of "Annie Junior" at the Cricket Theatre in Lake Zurich, directed by Mary Beth Euker and Robin Kern.
Zach's mother, Lisa Fewkes, said the family before had no background in acting when Zach became interested in it.
"The (older) kids were introduced to theater through Seth Paine and Cricket Theatre summer plays, so being in shows was a natural thing for Zach through his exposure," she said.
Other roles followed for Zach with Lake Zurich High School's Kaleidoscope Showcase and LZP Productions of "Les Miserables."
As with many performers, Zach's journey to his acting career started with being "in the right place at the right time," Lisa Fewkes said, referring to voice teacher Kathy Mirabelli's studio.
"The mother of a girl in the cast of Les Mis, Cindy McGowan, had heard Zach while she was at the studio and thought he would be good (as Gavroche)," Fewkes said.
Kathy's husband, Tony, helped Zach with audition prep.
"From that point on, it kind of took on a life of its own and opportunity presented itself," Fewkes said.
Zach has appeared as the character Oliver in "Oliver!" at The Citadel Theatre, Colin Craven in "The Secret Garden" at Lake Forest Theatre, Young Patrick in "Mame" at Light Opera Works, Hero Boy in "The Polar Express" from Rail Event Productions, Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol" at the Drury Lane Theatre, and Arthur in "King John" at the Shakespeare Project of Chicago.
Zach said he feels "good" on stage and that it is "very fun."
And his favorite role?
"I've liked a lot of my roles, but I think my favorite was Young Patrick in 'Mame' — the part, the humor," he said. "I just think it was really funny and I bonded a lot with everyone in the cast."
Besides acting, Zach studies piano and plays the trumpet. He said his favorite sports to play are golf and baseball.
So, how does one manage all of these exciting activities?
Lisa Fewkes said it comes down to finding the right balance.
"Trying to still stay a kid and have unstructured time," she said, adding, "But at the same time, his love of theater and the enjoyment he gets from it is his play time."
Zach said that even if he weren't getting paid for acting, he still would be doing it.
And he is wisely and "actively investing his earnings for his college years," Lisa Fewkes said.
The other challenge for Zach is dealing with the feeling of being "let down" once a play or project is finished, she said.
"Zach does get pretty emotional at the end of the shows," Fewkes said. "He gets very close to the cast and crew. ... Each one of these (plays) is kind of a gift. To go in with the right perspective is important. So many people have created such a positive experience in all of these places."
Zach's eyes sparkled at the thought of his next production.
"James is going to be a lot of singing. ... And it's going to be really high, too!"