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Student Feature: Drake Wunderlich and Beatrice Valenzuela Shine in Lyric Opera’s “Fiddler on the Roof”

Top: Drake Wunderlich wearing a mask and playing violin, bottom: Beatrice Valenzuela smiling and holding her violin
Drake Wunderlich (top) and Beatrice Valenzuela

It’s no secret that in addition to being accomplished young musicians, CYSO students are incredibly talented and versatile individuals in many other ways. To shine a spotlight on the exciting things our students get up to outside the rehearsal, we’re introducing a new monthly student feature!

Today’s spotlight is a two-for-one getting to know Drake Wunderlich and Beatrice Valenzuela, who play the role and understudy of the Fiddler in Lyric Opera’s current critically-acclaimed production of Fiddler on the Roof. Drake, 10, is a violinist in Concert Orchestra and Beatrice, 11, plays violin in Debut Orchestra. Read on to hear how they balance school, music, AND their on-stage roles, along with their experience behind the scenes at a professional musical theater production.

How long have you been in CYSO and what do you like about it?

Drake: My first year in CYSO was 4 years ago in 2018. I was in 1st grade at the time and didn’t know much about orchestra. I like rehearsing with the orchestra all together because it feels satisfying. I also like when my conductor walks us through “the story” of the music, of each phrase and all the different parts, and how they work together.

Beatrice: I joined CYSO in fall 2021, so this is my second season. I like meeting and making music with my fellow young musicians. I also like learning from Maestro Green about how to be a better member of an orchestra.

The character Tevye leans against Drake as the Fiddler in a scene from rehearsal
Tevya (Steven Skybell) and Drake Wunderlich as the Fiddler. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Tell us about what it’s like being in a professional production. How did you get the role and have you done other musical theater?

Drake: Back in June, CYSO staff forwarded an audition notice for Fiddler On the Roof to students and families. I had no prior experience in theatre and at that time I was preparing for my big piano and violin recital with my private teacher. Some of my friends at CYSO had already submitted their tapes and encouraged me to do so. So after my recital, I rented and watched the movie of Fiddler on the Roof and recorded my audition. I had no expectations, as I had heard my friends playing the excerpts wonderfully.

The first Fiddler rehearsal was mind blowing for me! My mom told me that when she picked me up, I looked completely stunned. I told her that it was a lot harder than you’d think! The scale of the stage, the complicated sets, the power of the singers’ voices, and the dancers really amazed me! All of this was going on all while telling a big story and working seamlessly with one another. The director’s vision for every detail—visuals, sound, movement, and emotion—was amazing! And all on the first day! It almost terrified me! When I came back on the second day, I was much more mentally prepared and didn’t need any extra encouragement. Instead, I was committed. No more being shy or hesitant even though I knew my acting was immature and maybe a bit awkward. I took notes of all the directions and critiques given to me. When I finally got to the actual violin part, it felt so rewarding!

Tell us about what it’s like being an understudy in a professional production. How did you get into it? How long have you been doing it?

Beatrice: This is my very first professional theater production. I actually found out about the role through CYSO, too. Being an understudy is a little more difficult than being part of the main cast. I had to attend and watch all the main cast rehearsals and then also attend understudy-only rehearsals. It is a tremendous time commitment but it was such an amazing experience and a lot of fun.

Left: Beatrice Valenzuela wearing a mask and her Fiddler costume. Right: Beatrice sits in a rehearsal scene with her violin as the character Tevye leans against her
Beatrice Valenzuela, left, in her Fiddler costume and right, posing in the same scene shown above with Drake during an understudy rehearsal.

What have you learned from being part of Fiddler?

Drake: I learned a lot from being in the show, being around the cast, and observing how they work. Musically, both Director Kosky and Maestro Grigsby have said that the playing needs to go beyond what is written in the score to reflect the character and the plot in order to tell the story. Oh, I also learned how to ride a scooter! (I got a 2-minute scooter lesson during first rehearsal, that was tough). I also learned a bit of sign language during a break with some of the other actors.

Beatrice: I have learned that there is a huge amount of work that goes into a theater production. The audience enjoys the final product, but a lot more goes on backstage than on stage. There are a lot of people who are involved to make sure that the show runs smoothly. For example, there is a scene called “Tevye’s Dream.” There were pillows involved that were supposed to release feathers. It looks fantastic on stage. However those same pillows had to be refilled with feathers for use next time. That detail is just one of many.

Are there any connections between your theatre experience and music? Do you think one makes you better at the other?

Drake: I think so. My violin teacher always guides me through the pieces that I am learning with an imaginary story, a film, or scenery. It brings out different colors from the same instruments. Music is so important in storytelling and the story itself, the director’s vision, each character, they all come together and influence the sound of music.

Beatrice: I feel that in a way, there is definitely a connection between music and being in theater. Both require practice and attention to detail, as well as being comfortable on stage. Having the chance to participate in both has helped improve my ability to perform in front of large crowds.

A trio of three young musicians
Beatrice and Drake (on piano) play a trio with former CYSO cellist Noah Salmi

Is it hard to give your time and attention to both theatre and music? How do you balance it?

Drake: Yes it is, but if you enjoy it, that will give you the dedication to move forward.

Beatrice: It was challenging when rehearsals started. The rehearsal schedule was intense. However, it was because there was only five weeks before opening night. During that time, I tried to make sure I got my violin practice done in the morning before going to school. Then after rehearsals, if it’s not too late, I try to sneak in a short practice session for things I may have missed in the morning. Balancing everything was difficult, but I love doing both so I try to make time.

A group of actors pose in front of a Lyric step and repeat
Beatrice and other Fiddler on the Roof understudies post at the show’s opening night.

Besides Fiddler, do you have any other exciting performances or events coming up?

Drake: We still have six more shows to do in the next couple weeks, so I am committed to that. Afterwards, I have recitals and competitions in October, which I am afraid I am in a bit of trouble for, haha!

Beatrice: At the moment, I am preparing to participate in the Sejong Competition. Fall is a busy time for me as far as performances and competition preparation. Later this year, the International Young Artists, Walgreens and DePaul Concerto Competitions are the ones that my teacher recommends that I participate in.

Anything else that’s interesting or unusual that you’d like to share?

Drake: Just that if you are on stage, don’t fall into the pit!

Beatrice: I truly loved my experience as an understudy at the Lyric Opera. The costumes, the sets, the lights and the music were all fascinating. I am hopeful that I am given another chance to perform, maybe as part of the main cast next time!

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