Of all the people we have met during our family’s “reality show,” Tim Federle is one of my favorites.
Tim was one of the choreographers on staff for the Broadway production of “Billy Elliot” when our son, Ben, was part of the ensemble and the Michael understudy in New York. “Billy” was one of those shows where the kids rehearsed constantly to remain on top of their dance skills, and Tim taught a number of the classes.
Most of the time, the parents interacted only briefly with the staff, waving hello and goodbye as we did the drop off and pick up at Ripley Grier Studios, so I didn’t formally meet Tim until after Ben made his debut as Michael in February 2011. When we returned to Virginia after that heady weekend, he sent us an email complimenting our son on his attitude and his debut, which was almost unheard of in our experience.
Later, we had a chance to meet and talk briefly, and exchanged email from time to time. What I didn’t know, during this period, was that Tim was working on a young adult novel called Better Nate Than Ever.
Tim wrote the main draft of the 30-chapter book, which tells the story of a child’s pursuit of the lead role in a Broadway musical, in a 30-day whirlwind before he left each day for “Billy” rehearsals. Rooted in Tim’s own experiences and inspired by his work on “Billy,” Nate is a hysterical, realistic, sentimental story of a young boy’s can-do spirit and desire to perform.
Before it was published, Tim sent us an advance copy of the book, and we loved it. Nate’s story is a universal tale of a child pursuing his greatest passion in life, albeit with an insider’s knowledge about Broadway auditions. For that reason, it is enjoyed just as much by adults as its intended demographic (ages 9-12); think of it as “Toy Story” for theatre lovers, without the CGI.
Reviewers and audiences felt the same way we did. Nate was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2013, a Slate.com Favorite Book of the Year, and a Best Book of the Year by both Amazon and Publishers Weekly. The just-released sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, is on the same path. It was named a Best Book in January by Amazon and has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.
Last week, on the one-year anniversary of Better Nate Than Ever’s publication, Tim taught master classes at Metropolitan School of the Arts (MSA) in Lorton and Alexandria. He was ending a two-week tour to promote both books, having come in from Milwaukee the night before.
Audiences on the tour have been receptive to the books, which was wonderful to hear after Nate generated minor controversy last fall. The book references the main character’s emerging sexuality (albeit in an age appropriate, chaste way), a development that led to some cancellations from schools, including Tim’s own suburban middle school in Pennsylvania.
No such problems have been reported in this area, and MSA welcomed him with open arms. The school is where all of my kids have received their dance training, and founder Melissa Dobbs connected with Tim after our family and her fellow teachers raved about the book.
For high school students at the MSA Academy in Lorton, Federle taught a dance combination, advised students on their singing and monologues, and offered audition techniques they can use. He then went to MSA's Alexandria studio and conducted a second class for about 40 students ranging from elementary to high school.
At both sessions, you could hear Nate’s voice come through Tim; yes, he admits, he was writing about what he knows — musical theater. He told stories of his Broadway experiences and provided sound advice for the students about pursuing their passion and dreams.
As much as I enjoyed watching the classes, I was even happier to see the students and teachers benefit from Tim’s knowledge, wisdom, and humor. Sometimes, good guys do finish first.
For more photos from the visit, go to my Facebook album here.