Long Island’s Trent Kowalik is reaching the end of a two-year ride in the London and Broadway productions of Billy Elliott the Musical, and has essentially grown up while perfecting the title role.
“Everything’s changed immensely since the show started,” Kowalik, 14, told TheImproper before a recent performance. “I mean, I’m not going to school anymore, obviously my whole life is doing Billy.”
According to Kowalik, a life doing Billy consists of waking up early, getting tutored, and taking a class to hone his talents, whether it’s about dramatics, ballet, or physical therapy.
Kowalik lives in an apartment in the city during his work week, and returns to his home on Long Island on Mondays, his only day off.
On a typical show day, the talented youngster will head to the Imperial Theatre after being tutored (“Math is my favorite subject!” he says), and will pump himself up by listening to “pop, punk, rap, or basically anything.”
Kowalik considers himself lucky when it comes to getting ready for a performance. “Strangely enough, most of the kids in the show don’t actually put much make-up on at all,” he laughs.
“They can make up for it with the lighting now because the lighting is so good, so we don’t really need to wear any make-up,” he said.
He remembers hearing from kids in Shrek the Musical that it would take them over an hour to do make-up and hair. “For us it only takes five minutes!”
When prompted to reveal some of the backstage secrets of the show, Kowalik is stumped for a few moments.“The amount of people backstage is actually more than the amount of people onstage. There’s tons of things going on back there,” he says.
And those enormous dancing dresses that steal the show during the song “Expressing Yourself?”
“A lot of people don’t know that they actually go over the actors’ and actresses heads, so the costumes come down from the top of the ceiling and go right over the dancers.”
Most people would think Kowalik is ready to spend time with friends, or simply play some video games by the time the curtain has dropped.
However, work doesn’t stop there. When he’s not participating in a talkback or giving a tour of the stage, he can be found signing autographs at the stage door.
“I actually find a lot of times I’m more energized after a show,” he says.
“The show gives you a lot of adrenaline and it pumps you up. Physically I’ll be more tired, but mentally I’ll be more pumped up.”
Eventually, after a big meal and some chatting with his three older sisters and his mother, he’ll wind down for the night and go to bed.
Kowalik is surprisingly unruffled when prompted to discuss what it’s like to be a teenaged Tony-Award winner. Although he claims the honor hasn’t changed the experience of being on Broadway, it’s clear that he takes pride in the work he puts into his outstanding performance.
“It’s amazing to know that I’ve accomplished that much, but I think the experience hasn’t changed completely because of the award,” he says, his voice cracking slightly as its prepubescent change is evident. “I think it probably has determined me to work even harder!”
Although Kowalik doesn’t have any regrets about his work with Billy Elliott, he admits to there being some challenges that he has had to overcome.
“I’ve had to give up a lot. It’s hard because we’re constantly working, and there’s not much time to be a kid. You can’t always have time off to see your friends.”
Kowalik says the one thing he misses the most is being able to see his friends on a regular basis.
Despite the Tony Award sitting on his bedroom dresser on Long Island, Kowalik is quite the “normal kid.”
“I love playing video games, reading, playing basketball a lot, running, I like lots of athletic stuff like that,” he says enthusiastically.
“My favorite books are probably the Harry Potter books.” He even has weird pet peeves! “I really like to keep my electronics clean. I usually try to wash them as much as I can, because I have this thing about dirty screens!” he laughs.
It seems that the near future will bring him a bigger degree of normalcy, as he plans to finish out the school year in real classrooms while auditioning for new roles.
Kowalik is quick to say that he knows what he wants to be when he grows up.
“I definitely want to be an actor! Television, movies, theater, it doesn’t matter,” he exclaims.
The grounded young actor is grateful for his burgeoning career, but knows that he will have to continue to work hard to stay in the entertainment business.
He offers this advice to other teenagers who want to be on Broadway: “Just work hard at everything you do. It’s not always going to be exactly what you want. I lucked out. Just keep yourself open, and work hard at everything you do.”