Arlington Heights teen juggles school, 'Hatfield & McCoy' role
Haley Bolithon's family had just moved from Japan to Arlington Heights and she was bored, so her mom signed her up for theater camp at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.
It changed her life.
"It was the most fun I had in my life and I thought I should do this forever and ever," she said. "I just sought out every opportunity I could from then on."
Bolithon began working with Chicago's Stewart Talent, which helped her land roles in plays across the city. Her latest is The House Theatre of Chicago's "Hatfield & McCoy," a version of "Romeo & Juliet" set on the Kentucky-West Virginia border at the end of the Civil War. Bolithon plays Rose Anna McCoy, who falls in love with a young Hatfield and plots with him to reconcile their feuding families. The play includes original music.
Bolithon, now an 18-year-old senior at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, read the original Shakespeare play as a freshman, but said she much prefers acting the story out on stage.
"We didn't perform it or anything, we just did literary analysis of it," she said. "It's been a lot more fun to do it in this context and read it myself and some versions of it online."
"Hatfield & McCoy" debuted on Jan. 19 and Bolithon said she's become close with the 20 people in the show's cast.
"Normally I do shows with a lot of younger people," she said. "This time I'm the only actual teenager in the show. That's really different. I've never been the baby of the show, but this time I am. I've learned so much from the actors who are older and who have been to college and who have been doing this for a long time. It's an awesome learning experience."
She's also been learning how to balance acting and schoolwork.
"It's nice because my school is only a few blocks from the theater, so I just go back and forth," she said. "I use all the free time I can on the train and the bus and between shows to get my stuff done and take care of myself. My teachers are pretty nice about me asking for extensions and taking time off of school. I think I've handled it pretty well so far."
That hasn't always been the case. Last year, for example, Bolithon had multiple papers due during tech week of Chicago Children's Theatre's production of "Pinocchio."
"That was probably the most exhausting week of my life," she said. "I would show up totally sleep-deprived and people would say 'Haley, why aren't you sleeping?' and I'd say 'You don't understand.'"
Because she's been so busy, Bolithon has decided to take a gap year after graduation to focus on applying for colleges, where she expects to study theater.
"I found that the theater community is really like no other," she said. "It's just so friendly. I especially love the Chicago theater community. The people are just in it to make art and nothing else. ... I think at this point I don't question why (theater is) part of my life. It just is."
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"Hatfield & McCoy"
Location: Chopin Upstairs Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago, (773) 769-3832, thehousetheatre.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through March 11