The Adderley School for the Performing Arts was created by Janet Adderley in 1993 in an attempt to help her daughter break out of her shyness. The school has been operating for the past 25 years on the West Coast and moved to Austin in 2015. The Austin school has taught over 200 kids annually in six locations. The school is now aiming to “level the playing field,” by announcing it’s new status as a Texas non-profit which will go simply by The Adderley School.
We had the opportunity to speak with Janet about her beginnings, Broadway dreams and what inspired her to create The Adderley School.
Can you talk about your journey with the performing arts and how you got started?
Janet: I have an older brother Marcus who is four years older than I am that was a painfully shy when he was young. My mom wanted to help him find something to help him come out of himself. She enrolled him at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas. She took my brother and it worked. One by one myself and my sister all ended up at the Alley Theatre. It was my first formal exposure to acting training. We all did that for three years while also going to dance lessons, playing musical instruments, attending the Houston Ballet and Broadway shows when they came to town. I went on to audition to the newly formed High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and became part of the first graduating class.
I had my heart on going to Yale drama school which is considered the finest drama school in the country. I met my husband while attending Yale. He was a musician and I was an actress. We clicked, fell in love and got married. My husband moved back to Houston when I was pregnant with my first daughter because he was on the road touring with Luther Vandross. I ended up doing children’s theater in Houston and garnering the attention of the Alley Theater where I had my first professional equity roles. I ended up doing “A, My Name Is Alice” that got me and agent, New York and Broadway.
People dream of making it to Broadway. What was it like performing in New York?
Janet: That was a dream come true. I was always told along the way, “Janet do you know how many people don’t make it in this business?” “Do you what the odds are?” I remember when I was attending high school, Elia Kazan came to our school. He was one of the most prolific stage directors of all time and worked with everyone. He sat us all down and said if there’s anything else in life that will make you happy do it! I’ll never forget that. It’s a treacherous road and all of that. With all warning and forebodings I just kept going. I cannot believe that this dream, this bubble of an idea and a hope and a passion was realized in my life. It was a huge sense of calm. There’s a song, my whole life is a song, from the musical that launched Liza Minnelli’s career, the song “A Quiet Thing.” In my life the moments that have been the most profound, the most hard fought, the desires and dreams that come true, it’s a very quiet reverent thing and that’s what it felt like when I got the call from my agent that I was chosen to be in the musical. Fast forward to opening night, my parents fly up from Houston, Texas. They get to see their baby in the lead role in a Broadway show. My daughters were there with me. It was a spiritual moment for me.
How did The Adderley School for the Performing Arts originate?
Janet: My mom felt a person was not an evolved well-developed, well cultured human being if they were not exposed to the arts. She believed that the arts are just math turned inside out. We had moved from New York to California because I was doing film and TV work. My older daughter, Akina started a new school and within two weeks she was the center of attention. My younger daughter Alana was not doing very well. My younger daughter is my older brother. I sort of knew what I needed to do because I had my mother’s model to embrace. I started being a volunteer mom in her classes. One teacher had always wanted to teach history through music. She had this idea to call it ‘Decades’ and create some sort of play or musical with music from various decades as anchor to tell history. She didn’t have a way to implement it. I said I’ll help you do that and I did. This was amazingly successful thing and the parents were very excited about this and asked me to start an after school program with the kids who were interested in pursuing this. I thought well this would be a great way for me to keep an eye on Alana and help her get acclimated to her surroundings and meet new friends.
A light bulb moment popped in my head. This was exactly what saved my brother from his shyness who went on to become a heart surgeon and now speaks at various events. It was clear what this training had done for him and that was the way forward for my daughter. I was putting the school on hold to go do jobs and leaving these kids in the lurch. This is another musical reference in a chorus line where one of the oldest women in the chorus line talks about hanging up her dance shoes and opening up a dance studio. She says, “I don’t know, am I copping out or am I growing up, I don’t know.” I had a couple years thinking the same thing. I realized that my primary job in life was to mentor my children and therefore I’ll just mentor for a living.
You are changing over to non-profit status and going by The Adderley School. What made you decide to go in this direction?
Janet: One thing that has sort of itched at me for many, many years is that by virtue of where I lived I never had a direct line to exposing this transformative theatre program to very many people of color and people from underserved communities. And that has been a huge thorn in my side. It’s been a burning desire for me to figure out a way to do that and the only way to do it is as a non-profit and so I’ve taken a leap of faith. Something that I have owned my whole life I’m giving it to the community and changing it from a for-profit to a non-profit so we are able to do our due diligence to be something that is there for the whole community at large.
When we announced the non-profit status to our current students one of the student’s mom sent back a congratulatory message with a hashtag that I’ve stolen with her permission. It encapsulates the why and the what of what we’re doing. The hashtag is #LiftingAsWeClimb. That’s so profoundly spot on and beautiful. In my life I’ve always wanted to lift others as I make the journey myself.
The Adderley School is partnering with the Austin Film Society hosting ‘An Afternoon with Jack Dylan Grazer.’ He recently starred in the highly successful remake of “It” and is set to star in “Shazam!” next. “The Adderley School was and still is one of the key factors that inspired me to become who I am today and pushed me to discover that I am capable of reaching my greatest potential within my craft,” Grazer said. The event takes place on Saturday, February 3 from 3 – 5 PM. You can get your tickets here.
The Adderley School will also produce “Les Miserables” at the Zach Theatre on April 27 and 28 featuring 40 gifted students from ages seven to 18 from all over Austin, and “A, My Name is Alice,” in collaboration with Kathy Valentine at The Townsend on June 1 and 2.
Find more information visit www.theadderleyschool.org.