In the Moment: A Chat With Ethan Van Slyke on His Career and Understudying For ‘Watch On the Rhine’ at Arena Stage

A joy for a theater writer is to bring notice to young up-and-coming actors.   In the past year I have the good fortune to see Ethan van Slyke perform with several professional theater companies in the DC area. His next theater work is as the understudy for two roles in the Arena Stage production of Watch on the Rhine.

I took the opportunity to interview Ethan about his upcoming work at Arena Stage and to learn more about his journey to become a working actor. A quick factoid about Ethan; he is a 14 year-old freshmen at Freedom High School in Chantilly, Virginia.

David: When did you first realize, you wanted to perform on stage? 

Ethan Van Slyke.

Ethan Van Slyke: I first realized I wanted to perform at a very young age. I have been able to grow up in a very musical family. My mom being a High School choir teacher and my dad being a voice coach and performer himself has given me a lot of influence. I would watch my mom run music rehearsals with her students for the school musical and I would be mesmerized with the work going on. Growing up and getting to watch my own father perform also gave so much motivation to follow in those footsteps.

What was your first stage performance?

My first stage performance was as Chip in Beauty and The Beast with the Herndon IVA) High School summer theater program. It was such a memorable experience. Before I made my first appearance in the show I thought that what I was doing was a hobby that I could do for a while. As soon as I went onstage and saw the audience though, I realized that what I could do was something I never wanted to stop doing. I immediately started wanting to give the audience everything I could.

Are you training with someone now? Are you studying theater at Freedom High School?

I take theatre class at Freedom High School which is the only kind of acting training I have at the moment. I am grateful to have my dad as my vocal coach. He is a voice teacher in the area and can always help me with auditions and for all kinds of vocal training. I am currently playing Ryan in High School Musical at Freedom and plan on performing in as many productions as I can during my high school career.

What recent roles have you performed?

Gavroche (Ethan Van Slyke) and Company in Les Misérables at Reston Community Players. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

I have so many great roles in my career such as Gavroche in Les Misérables at Reston Community Players. That was an exciting role and production for me and was honored to receive a WATCH Award nomination for playing that role.

At the wonderful NextStop theatre I have played Colin in The Secret Garden and Snoopy in Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. Last year I was lucky enough to play Noah in Creative Cauldron’s production of Caroline, or Change. That was such an incredible experience to perform in a show that was so relevant to today’s society.

Ethan Van Slyke (Noah) and Iyona Blake (Caroline) in Caroline, Or Change at Creative Cauldron. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

Before Caroline, or Change I was asked to be in the ensemble and understudy Oliver in Arena Stage’s production of Oliver! Last year. I made so many new friends and the time I had at Arena was an absolute blast. Performing 8 shows a week at Arena stage as a child was not only fun because I got to jump off ladders and tables, but because of the influence it had on me.

In my next DC appearance. I performed in a concert at The Kennedy Center which included the music of Award-winning composer Scott Evan Davis. I had the privilege of singing two of his beautiful songs, a solo called “If the World Only Knew” and a trio “Walk a Little Slower” alongside the magnificent, Tony nominated Sally Mayes, and NY Cabaret artist Joshua Lance Dixon. To be able to sing such wonderful music at The Kennedy Center as a freshman was more than I could have ever asked for.

Why did you audition for Arena’s Watch on the Rhine?

I decided to audition for Arena Stage’s production of Watch on The Rhine because the casting by directors had already known me from Oliver and had asked me to come and audition for the play. After one audition I was offered the spot to understudy Bodo Muller and Joshua Muller in the production. I thought that the experience of being an understudy for a show like this, in a venue like Arena will only open me up to better understandings of the theatre world and process for the future.

Ethan Van Slyke and Maggie Slivka in The Secret Garden at NextStop Theatre Company. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

What is an understudy? How do you prepare?  

An understudy is an actor who is basically the one who would fill in for a part of the main actor were to miss a performance. An understudy will prepare for a short period of time for their part, or parts, and will potentially have a put in rehearsal. A put in rehearsal is where the understudy gets to perform the role in a rehearsal with the cast as if it were a performance. Once the learning process is over the understudy is required to always be available in case they are put on the spot to perform.

Anything additional you would like to provide our readers?

I am just so grateful to be where I am today. As a young actor who goes to school normally I am lucky to have such great friends and family who support me and help me do what I love. I am hoping to do much more professional theatre as my life goes on. I am also very interested in majoring in musical theatre in college. I hope to someday live in New York and do what I love as an actor. I can’t wait for the opportunities I might get anytime soon, in college, and after that. I love acting, singing, and dancing, so it will be exciting to see what lies in store for my future.

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.


Caroline, Or Change at Creative Cauldron reviewed by Julia L. Exline.

Les Misérables at Reston Community Players reviewed by Beverly Fleisher.

Meet the Children in Reston Players’ Upcoming Les Misérables by Diane Schnoor.

In the Moment: Parents Chime In On Their Kids Appearing in NextStop Theatre Company’s A Charlie Brown Christmas by David Siegel.

Ethan Van Slyke is honored for his performance in Caroline, Or Change.

Ethan Van Slyke is honored for his performance in The Secret Garden.

Ethan Van Slyke is honored for his role in Les Misérables.

Interviews by John Stoltenberg on DCMetroTheaterArts:
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.


  1. Way to go Ethan. You have the same wonderful talent as your Dad, who we have known forever. Keep up the wonderful work.

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