Alexandria native Owen Tabaka is becoming a star. The local dancer and actor has toured nationally in A Christmas Story, performed in a New Jersey theater’s A Raisin in the Sun, and is a tap-talented member of Studio Bleu based in Ashburn. Did we mention he’s only 11 years old?
In his newest role, Tabaka will take on the character of another child star: Billy Elliot, in a Signature Theatre production of the classic play. Like the character, Tabaka stumbled into dancing. When Tabaka was little, he’d follow his older sister to classes at Alexandria’s Strictly Rhythm Dance Center. “I used to run around the studio,” says Tabaka. “Then my mom was like, ‘Maybe Owen should try dance.'” While his sister moved on, he was hooked.
Tabaka heard about the call for Billy Elliot while he was in a production of Oliver! in Connecticut, but he still managed to make an audition in New York to get the leading role. “What [the director] loved so much about Owen was how authentic he was,” says Kelly d’Amboise, the production’s casting director and associate choreographer. With young performers, d’Amboise adds, “you’re really looking at what they are right now as children and thinking how special that is. [We] get to sort of help them mold and shape their characters based off who they are.”
Tabaka says it’s “a dream come true.” In rehearsals, his biggest challenge was figuring out the stunt work that would make him fly onstage—literally. “It is kind of scary at first, because you have no idea what you’re doing [and] you have to do different positions,” says Tabaka. “You have no idea what could happen, especially with different sets where something’s hanging down and you could hit it.” Thankfully, he’s mastered the skill with practice in time for the show.
After being on the road and away from his family, Tabaka loves the chance to perform in his hometown.“Now I get to talk to them in person and I get to sleep in my own bed, which is amazing,” he says. Elliot actually has an almost entirely local cast of kids: 18 of the 19 young performers are from the area, many coming from Alexandria’s Metropolitan School of the Arts. Tabaka will be sharing the lead role with Liam Redford, a co-Billy from North Hanover, New Jersey.