Big Roles for a Young Chevy Chase Actor
For middle schooler Henry Baratz, the stage is a second home
Photos by Scott Suchman
Henry Baratz, a surprisingly shy seventh-grader at Westland Middle School in Bethesda, likes to eat any kind of pasta, post videos on YouTube, go on Snapchat and Instagram, and play with his dogs, Maisy and Olive. In ways, he’s like your typical 13-year-old.
But while many kids his age spend their weekends playing sports or chasing Pokémon, Henry is usually onstage. This winter he starred as Colin Craven in The Secret Garden, a musical at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in the District, and he’ll play a character called “the little boy” in Ragtime at D.C.’s Ford’s Theatre beginning in March.
“I always say that he came out of the womb with jazz hands,” says his mother, Karen, who calls herself and her fellow theater moms “drama mamas.” “There isn’t a pause button—there’s always a song in his head.”
Henry’s father, David, a photo editor for USA Today, describes their Chevy Chase home as “a little performing arts center,” where Henry used to run to the basement costume box, set up a stage near the kitchen and put on shows for family and friends. Now he prefers the privacy of his own room, where he plays his keyboard and teaches himself the ukulele.
Henry tried soccer, basketball and baseball when he was younger, but sports never sparked his interest, so his parents signed him up for dance lessons, instead. He still takes ballet and jazz classes whenever he can. He also makes time for voice lessons, and participates in the pre-professional program at Adventure Theatre-MTC in Glen Echo, which meets every Saturday for four hours.
Photos by Scott Suchman
Henry Baratz of Chevy Chase as Colin Craven in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Secret Garden
“I like becoming someone new, and being onstage and telling a story with other people around me, sharing messages and themes with the audience,” he says. In that audience, you’ll often find his 16-year-old sister, Amanda, a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, and some of his school friends.
“You never really know until you are actually doing it, but right now I think that I want to do this as a profession,” says Henry, who hopes to someday appear in Pippin and Waitress. “I don’t want to sound too cliché about this, but some older people in the shows I’ve been in are really inspirational because they did theater when they were younger and kept doing it. I think that’s motivational.”
Even though Henry would rather sleep in on weekends than get up early for a rehearsal or matinee, he never dreads going. He seems to thrive on managing school, acting and just being a kid.
“I tell him, ‘If your grades slip a little, it’s not a big deal,’ but he’s always like, ‘No!’ He’s a real perfectionist and wants to get those straight A’s,” says Karen, who runs her own public relations consulting business. “We know that some things just have to give, so we make sure that he gets enough sleep, and we work hard to keep him healthy. …We just want Henry to be able to do what he loves. So many people go down a path and then say, ‘I do this because it’s a job and I make money,’ but I love seeing how happy he is onstage.”
Some theaters offer young actors a tutor to help them keep up with assignments when they have to miss school for rehearsals. Henry, whose favorite subject is French, does his homework with his tutor or as soon as he gets home from school, during the free two hours he has before an evening show.
“On school nights when I am performing, I get home, I’m usually really tired, [so I] go to bed and sometimes go to school a little late,” says Henry, who wears horn-rimmed glasses that his mom says make him look like his dad. “It’s nice to have a little break sometimes, but I enjoy balancing it more because it’s kind of like a little distraction from life.”
Twice, Henry has managed to juggle three shows at once, including his fifth-grade performance in Guys and Dolls at Bethesda’s Westbrook Elementary School, Adventure Theatre-MTC’s annual Spotlight musical review, and Carousel at the Olney Theatre Center. His family helped him practice his lines.
“I tell Henry that he can do at his age what a lot of adults have difficulty with, which is standing in front of an audience, being confident and expressing themselves,” David says. “I tell him, ‘There aren’t many jobs where people applaud you, often standing, at the end of the day.’ ”