Raising Tiny Tim


A busy child actor means a busy family By Hilary Masell Oswald

Photo Courtesy of Goodman Theater  Mrs. Cratchit (Lisa Dodson), Bob Cratchit (John Lister) and Tiny Tim (Allen Alvarado) in a scene from the Goodman's "A Christmas Carol" production in 2002.

Allen Alvarado folds his hands on wwthe table and tilts his head earnestly. His large brown eyes search the ceiling for the words to explain why he enjoys acting. "It's like having the chance to be a bunch of different people, even when it's not Halloween." The 7-year-old shrugs, as if to indicate that only an adult would ask silly questions about why a child likes donning a new persona once in a while. "I just love it. I get to turn into someone else."

This month, Allen, of Palatine, turns into Tiny Tim, reprising his role in the Goodman Theatre's production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Allen played the coveted role for the first time last year and can hardly wait to get back on stage.

He says performing at the Goodman ranks high among his professional achievements during his three-year career. Allen has starred in numerous national commercials, including several for Ball Park franks, McDonald's restaurants, Ziploc containers and Bob Evans restaurants. He is the college-bound youngster on the Illinois Bright Start commercials who proclaims, "I want to go to rocket science college, clown college and dog-catcher college." You've probably seen his face in various print ads, and he had a small-albeit comical-role in the film "On the Line," released in 2001 by Miramax.

Allen Alvarado is one busy child. And that means Wendy Alvarado is one busy mom.

Allen is the only child of Wendy and husband, Rick, a manager for Potbelly Sandwich Works. She supports their son through a professional arena that can be difficult even for adults to navigate. Because Wendy is a stay-at-home mom, she accepts much of the daily responsibility for Allen's career: answering phone calls about potential roles, driving to auditions and rehearsals, running lines with him and communicating with Allen's teacher about events that might require him to miss school. She does it all armed with a quick sense of humor and a few tidbits of wisdom she learned along the way:

• Family comes first. With the demanding rehearsal and performance schedules at the Goodman, Wendy and Rick have to be creative to ensure they have family time. Allen has Mondays off, but rehearses Tuesday through Sunday. During the school week, he has to be at the Goodman by 4 p.m., and he spends most Saturdays and Sundays at the theater. "Families do not need a planned activity to spend quality time together. We'll spend a lot of time waiting for Allen's next cue, but at least we're together," Wendy laughs. She and Rick make time at the end of the day to read with Allen, and they give him plenty of opportunities to tell them about his day.

• Roots support his wings. Sometimes it's easy to forget, when talking to Allen, that he is 7 years old. Then he slips off to play for a few minutes and reminds the casual observer that he is a child. When asked about Allen's uncanny ability to handle the rigors of a professional acting career-enduring long hours, working with adults, taking direction quickly and quietly-Wendy attributes it to Allen's roots. "We support him. We tell him we love him all the time, no matter what he does. And we respect him. I think he feels very comfortable in his own skin, in his ability to handle situations."

Kate Buckley, the director of "A Christmas Carol," seems to agree. She describes Allen as "a little white light." She first cast Allen as Tiny Tim because she fell in love with his positive attitude. "He brought ideas to the role, and he was willing to try anything," she says.

• Academics come before acting. Allen misses more school than most children, and Wendy and Rick keep a close eye on their second-grader's education. Allen is an excellent student, and his parents spend time enriching his education at home. "If Allen was struggling academically, he would not be pursuing an acting career," Wendy says.

• Allen chooses. Whenever an opportunity arises for Allen to shoot a commercial or audition for a play, Wendy asks Allen if he wants to do it. He always chooses acting, but Wendy and Rick agree that if this professional pursuit ever ceases to be fun for Allen, he will stop. "Kids shouldn't have to participate in extracurricular activities they don't enjoy, and a parent cannot force a child to perform. I meet so many parents who want their children to be a part of this business, and I always tell them that the child must be passionate about performing." Allen agrees, "Yeah, maybe you shouldn't force a kid into it. It's a lot of riding in the car."

• Disappointment happens. Despite his larger-than-life personality and the talent he displays even in casual conversation, Allen does not get every role. Wendy and Rick learned early how to help Allen deal with disappointment. They simply told him, from the beginning, that sometimes he will get a part and sometimes he will not. All he can do is try his best. Occasionally, Allen will recognize a line or two on a television commercial and mention that he auditioned for the part. He can explain to anyone who will listen, however, that a person just can't ever tell what a director wants. "If the director wants a blond kid, well, I'm not the kid for him," Allen shrugs and laughs.

He is the kid, however, who will raise the curtain when "A Christmas Carol" opens at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. And Wendy and Rick will continue in their adventure, raising Tiny Tim.

"A Christmas Carol" runs Nov. 22 through Dec. 27. Tickets are $30 to $55. For more information, call (312) 443-3800 or visit www.goodman-theatre.org.

Hilary Masell Oswald is a freelance writer living in Naperville.

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