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Bullied boy battles back
Dance and theatre open doors to recovery
Updated: Friday, 17 Aug 2012, 7:11 PM CDT
Published : Friday, 17 Aug 2012, 6:52 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - When professional actor and dancer Jared Titus appears on the stage at KidsActing Sunday, he will mark a triumphant moment in his life.
Titus, 23, just concluded a stint with a touring Broadway company, performing in “ Monty Python’s Spamalot.” He would never have gotten that far without KidsActing in his background.
Moving to Austin from Wichita, Kan., with his family when he was in the fourth grade, the boy joined the children’s company and also started taking classes at the 620 Dance Centre in Lakeway. The classes went well, but there was trouble at school.
“When you're anywhere, but I'm going to say in Texas, where football reigns supreme,” said KidsActing director Dede Clark, “there are people who think negatively of you if, if you want to follow an art like that.”
That is putting it mildly, indeed.
“It was so hard,” said 620 Dance Centre director Dana Nunn, “because every time he went to school, he had to face the unknown and it would come from out of nowhere. And he never knew if it was going to be something vandalized in his locker or it was just words that were being said or rumors that were being spread that weren't true.”
Perhaps the worst incident occurred in the summer before Titus’ senior year in high school. He was attending an out-of-town theatre camp when the bully crowd attacked his home.
“They spray-painted his house,” Clark said. “They spray-painted horrible things on his house.”
Titus's parents waited until he came back to Austin to tell him what had happened. The young man was not surprised.
“It was never proven who did it,” he said, “but, you know, I know it was, I know who it was. It was a group of kids at school that always bullied me.
“It was rough; it was really rough. But when I found a group of people who accepted and loved and supported me for who I was and, it was much better.”
Sunday’s performance will feature Titus and fellow actor/dancer David Bologna, another KidsActing veteran. Bologna grew up in New Orleans and encountered similar issues there.
“I think when people don't really see your full potential,” he said, “they think you are more vulnerable and they make fun of you. So yeah, I did get made fun of when I was in elementary school.”
But Bologna, too, persevered with the help of Clark and wound up being nominated for a Tony Award for his work in the Broadway production of “ Billy Elliot,” which, ironically is about a little boy who is belittled for his love of dance.
“I mean, fortunately for me,” Bologna said, “as I got older and I got to the success that I did, now people don't even don't even think about making fun of me, you know, because they take you seriously.”
Both boys outlasted their tormenters, not only because of their teachers, but also because of their strong families.
“The kids who make it,” said Clark, “the kids who are successful, the kids who face the obstacles when they are young: the jeers and taunts from kids that go, 'Oooh, why do you want to dance or why do you want to do that?' They are kids who have the supportive families that are solid like rocks, that believe in their child's passion and, and are there for them no matter what.”
On the other hand, without Clark and Nunn, Titus would have been just another dance-loving kid with cool parents. It took the teachers to inspire, instruct and invigorate him.
“We had lots and lots of long talks in the office with mom, dad, and Jared. And every single time it would come out how much he love dance and he didn't want to leave, but how was he going to be able to balance both.”
“The good teachers in the world, they're all over the place,” Clark added. “It matters to all of them to allow (their students) to fully realize who they are and to be comfortable and safe in their own skin.”
“We're not just teachers,” Nunn said. “These kids become part of our lives. And, yeah, they belong to their parents, but the time that they spend with us is the most precious times in our lives and that's why we do what we do. It's our responsibility to watch out for their needs, to watch out for their well-being.”
In the process, no one benefits more than Nunn and Clark.
“I can't imagine what life would be like if Jared had stopped dancing,” Nunn said, or stopped acting, because he's been such an important part of our lives and watching him grow.
“He's back in Austin this week not only for Dede, but he's also teaching master classes in my studio and doing choreography for the Encore Dance Company that he's a former member of.
“So, you know, to see that come full circle is so important. And to think that somebody could have taken that away from him is so unfair.”
For his part, Titus knows how close he came to that fate.
“There were many times I know that I could have quit and life would have been a lot easier, but I didn't and I'm very, very happy that I didn't.”
So what’s next? Well, Titus plans to keep doing some performing. However, perhaps it’s not surprising to learn that his top priority is to become a teacher.
Meanwhile, he and Bologna are rehearsing with the KidsActing cast of the "Velveteen Rabbit." The run of the production concludes this weekend and the two actors will lead a Master Class for Broadway aspirants at 2:00 PM Sunday. After that, they will join the Velveteen cast in a 6:00 PM performance for Center Stage Texas," a non-profit outreach project that aims to bring children with diverse backgrounds into the local arts environment.