Tyler Bowman makes his Arena Stage debut playing the youngest of three siblings in Lillian Hellman’s 1941 play Watch on the Rhine. The children have traveled with their mother and father to Georgetown from Germany to visit their maternal grandmother. But all is not gemütlich. Set in 1940, less than a year before the United States entered World War II, Watch on the Rhine is taut with tensions wrought by Hitler’s rise to power in Europe. And Hellman did not write roles for three young naïfs. She has the kids know what’s up.
By way of introducing DC audiences to the play, I thought it might be interesting to look at it through the eyes of the young actors who are in it. How are they wrapping their heads around it? Curious, I drafted a set of questions, and they each kindly agreed to compose answers.
Second in this series is Tyler Bowman who has been acting since he was six. Local audiences saw him recently at Signature Theatre playing the role of Fletcher in the world premiere of Freaky Friday. Young viewers of PBS Sprout could have caught him in a commercial for the “Let’s Move!” campaign. And on film, as he blogged:
“I got to play one of the leads in “Shepherd”, a new short written and directed by C.W. Prather and produced by Joseph Pattisall. The film is a suspenseful, super-natural thriller about a very bad day for one family. I had such a great time playing Holden with my new movie family that the two 12-hour days of shooting just flew by!”
John: How old are you and what grade are you in?
Tyler: I’m eleven years old and I’m in the sixth grade at Forestville Elementary in Great Falls, Virginia.
What made you want to act, and what was your first experience performing on stage?
I went to a summer camp at Adventure Theatre Camp in Glen Echo, Maryland, one year and really enjoyed it, so I went four summers in a row. After that my first professional performance on stage was Lost in the Stars with the Washington National Opera. My first time on TV was a commercial for Capital One when I was six, and after that I got to do a commercial with First Lady Michelle Obama.
What are some of the shows you’ve been in and some of the roles you’ve played?
I’ve performed as Edward Jarvis in Lost in the Stars with the Washington National Opera, Fletcher Blake in the world premiere musical Freaky Friday with Disney Theatrical/Signature Theatre, and several shows at Adventure Theatre Camp (Return of the Glass Slipper, The Hundred Year Snooze, Joust, and Treasure Island).
What character do you play in Watch on the Rhine? And how would you tell a friend who your character is and what your character does in the play?
I play Bodo. He has an older brother and sister but doesn’t get along with them very well. He listens closely to his parents and uses very adult words in his conversation but usually misuses them! He also likes fixing electrical things.
Watch on the Rhine takes place in 1940, shortly before the United States entered World War II. Your mother is American and your father is German. What do you think it means to your character that your father is against fascism and the Nazis?
Bodo feels that his father is doing the right thing even though it goes against his native country, and Bodo is proud of his father.
How can someone your age relate to the themes that are in Watch on the Rhine?
There are times when kids just do normal, everyday things like baseball, knitting, fixing things, etc., even though the world is changing.
You are working with many Broadway veterans and stars, including Lise Bruneau as your mother, Sara Müller; Andrew Long as your father, Kurt Müller; and Marsha Mason as your maternal grandmother, Fanny Farrelly. What are you learning from them and what do you admire most about them?
They’re all very conscientious about their work and are very nice and fun to work with. They have great personalities and make me feel comfortable when I’m working with them.
What suggestions has Jackie Maxwell the director given you about your role?
She’s asked me to work on my German, which I’ve never done before, and asked me to act more confused during certain scenes, since I’m just a kid.
What advice would you give to a young actor like yourself who is preparing to play your role?
Be calm and relaxed. Also, be confident in yourself and have fun.
Why would you urge theatergoers to see Watch on the Rhine?
Because it tells them about events in history and why they happened. They need to know it was a difficult time and remember not to make the same mistakes.
Watch on the Rhine plays February 3 to March 5, 2017, at Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage – 1101 Sixth Street SW, in Washington DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 488-3300, or purchase tickets online.
Meet the Three Young Actors in ‘Watch on the Rhine’ at Arena Stage: #1 Ethan Miller.
Meet the Three Young Actors in ‘Watch on the Rhine’ at Arena Stage: #2 Tyler Bowman.
Meet the Three Young Actors in ‘Watch on the Rhine’ at Arena Stage: #3 Lucy Breedlove.