Note: P.J. Walker will be appearing as Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical (BETM) in Claremont, California, presented by the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater , from November 5-27, 2021.
Debut: November 5, 2021 (Claremont, CA)
Total Performances as Billy to Date: 0 (As of 31-Oct-2021)
P.J. Walker was 13 years old when he debuted as Billy Elliot in the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater production of BETM. He is an 8th Grade student at El Roble Intermediate School in Claremont.
In second grade P.J. wanted to take classes in hip hop style dancing taught at Village Dance Arts in Claremont. His mother wanted to encourage her child’s interests, so was more than happy to accommodate, but with a slight caveat. She noticed that any boy who signed up for ballet lessons could take the other classes for free, so P.J. enrolled in both.
P.J. says ““So my mom just encouraged me to just try that so I could try hip hop and the other styles I wanted to for free, and as time progressed I just got more involved in [ballet] and we eventually moved to a different studio that mainly focuses on ballet.”
That studio is Inland Pacific Ballet in Montclair, CA. On a recent afternoon there, P.J. was the only boy in a room full of young women during a class. The class was part of a demanding daily workout schedule for P.J. as he prepares for his upcoming role of Billy Elliot.
P.J. had initially been cast as Billy Elliot in 2020, after the play’s producers inquired whether the Executive Director of Inland Pacific Ballet, Zaylin Cano, knew of a young boy who could dance. “Candlelight reached out to me to ask if I knew anyone, and I said ‘I have a young talented student who I think would be awesome in the role,’” Cano said adding, “I never heard him sing before so I don’t know if he can sing.”
As it turns out, P.J. could sing and at 11 was perfect for the role. But like so many other planned events, Candlelight’s 2020 BETM production was canceled by the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders. Since then, P.J has grown five inches and went through puberty, which presented a challenge because Billy is supposed to be really young.
So the show’s producers asked him to try out again, in part to ensure he could still hit the high notes in some of the songs. He was once again given the role, not only due to his abilities, but because it’s far easier to teach a dancer to sing and act than to teach an actor to dance.
“So acting, singing and musical theater is all new to me. I have never done anything like that before, I had only been training for dance. So this is a musical theater debut for me. In some ways it’s harder and some it’s easier because in a ballet you can’t talk, so it’s a bit harder to express yourself and act. Of course in musical theater you can talk, there are a lot more props and you can sing and speak your mind,” P.J. said.
Before Billy, other dance training has included a trip this past summer to the East Coast for Boston Ballet’s Summer Dance Program a month-long dance intensive course for accomplished young performers and he has also attended the summer intensive at the School of American Ballet.
P.J. has performed several dancing roles in the past, most notably as both “Fritz” and a mouse in Inland Pacific’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”
As the opening night of Billy nears, P.J.’s work on the show intensifies. He often has a demanding daily dance workout schedule at Inland Pacific Ballet like the class mentioned earlier. Following those classes, he often has a one-on-one with Cano, who also is the choreographer of Candlelight’s production of BETM. He has rehearsals most nights, after classes all day at El Roble. He manages to make it all work, but has little time for extracurricular activities or his friends.
“It usually just means staying up later than I want to, so far it hasn’t been too much. There have been days when I have been overwhelmed and super stressed with the late rehearsals and then coming home to have to do homework and do it again the next morning. But I have been balancing it pretty well so far”, P.J. said.
Despite all of his achievements, he is uncertain about a career in dance, and not sure what his ultimate job will be quite yet.
“You can only be a professional dancer for so long and I don’t see myself quitting any time soon. As I progress and get older, that will probably lead to joining a company and getting paid but that is not my dream job. It’s not like I would love to be a professional dancer,” he said.
In the meantime, he enjoys working hard and seeing himself progress and get better, mastering steps that were once a challenge. Plus, he still loves the music that started it all a few years ago.
“I enjoy hip hop because I enjoy that style of music. Dancing to it is fun, and it’s just fun to do,” he said.
Editor’s Note: We wish to acknowledge the recent article in the Claremont Courier about P.J. Walker that has provided the source for much of the information in this profile.
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