Becoming Billy: Inside “Billy Elliot” with Ben Renfrow Becoming Billy: Inside “Billy Elliot” with Ben Renfrow
Pictured: Ben Renfrow as Billy in “Billy Elliot.” Photo courtesy of Spinning Tree Theatre. Our “Inside” series takes you behind the scenes of productions... Becoming Billy: Inside “Billy Elliot” with Ben Renfrow

Pictured: Ben Renfrow as Billy in “Billy Elliot.” Photo courtesy of Spinning Tree Theatre.

Our “Inside” series takes you behind the scenes of productions through blog posts written by the artists in the trenches. To read past “Inside” pieces, clickhere.

By Ben Renfrow

Tackling the role of Billy Elliot has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! It certainly has come with many challenges but, between the awesome direction at Spinning Tree and the encouragement from my family, fine arts mentors and my middle school teachers & administration, I’ve found a place that I feel like I can truly become Billy Elliot.

I have loved working with Spinning Tree Theatre and the amazing creative team. From the first day of rehearsal it was clear that they care about the character development just as much as the steps and the staging. During the rehearsals we would have time to just sit and talk about the characters and the director would ask me questions that helped me really find the depth to Billy. He’s so much more than a kid who likes to dance! We would talk about each character’s relationship to all the other characters and what every line means to Billy. Then, when I was at home preparing, I’d take what I learned in those conversations and apply it the lines, dances or dialect I was practicing.

Along with character research, we of course had to learn all the songs, choreography, lines, dialect and blocking. Our rehearsal process was less than three weeks long so as you can imagine, this was a very exciting but stressful time. Going to school during the day and driving straight to rehearsal made for long days! And because the rehearsal process was so quick, I certainly didn’t want to show up to rehearsal unprepared! Acting alongside the fantastic seasoned actors in this cast was an incredible opportunity and I wanted to show everyone that I was worthy of this role. Juggling school and rehearsals was tricky. I attend public school so I don’t have the flexibility that some other young actors who homeschool have. Luckily, I’ve had great support from my school and so some days I can go late or leave early and make up the work at home.

Pictured: Ben Renfrow. Photo courtesy of Spinning Tree Theatre

During the show, Billy goes to an audition at The Royal Ballet School and he is asked, “what does it feel like when you’re dancing?” He responds to this question by singing the song “Electricity” where he explains that to him, dancing makes him free and it feels like he is flying. I think this response is the main reason I can relate to this character so well. To me, performing on stage makes me feel free, and makes me feel like there isn’t a struggle in the world. My absolute favorite thing to do in this world is perform. So performing every day of the week makes me ecstatic. I truly do believe that performing is the best way to release all your emotions, and Billy Elliot thinks the same way. When he is angry, he dances. When he is sad, he dances. Performing is a way to express who you are.

The message of Billy Elliot is so powerful because everyone can find a way to relate to the story. Though it is set in a small mining town in England, the story is just so beautiful. It’s definitely a show you want to go see. I think everything from our cast to the venue we perform in helps tell this story. It is so raw and heartfelt while still having that good comic relief that everyone loves.

I am beyond thankful that I have gotten the opportunity to be in this show, and to learn from one of the greatest casts and teams ever to step foot on this earth.

Ben Renfrow is making his Spinning Tree debut as Billy. Past credits include The Coterie: Rudolph (Elf/Ensemble), Newsies (Les) The White Theatre/TTIP: Mary Poppins (Michael Banks), UCM: The Secret Garden (Colin) Center Stage Academy: The Lion King Jr. (Simba), Aladdin Jr. (Sultan). Last spring, he performed as a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall with Camp Broadway. Ben is an eighth grader at Warrensburg Middle School and has been dancing with Center Stage Academy’s competitive dance team since he was five.

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