Edge of stardom
The way things are moving, Henry Crater won’t be a Sanibel secret for much longer.
The Sanibel seventh-grader has auditioned in New York City for a number of television and stage roles, has performed regionally for almost a decade. He was finalist in network television production last year, has retained an agent and regularly auditions in New York City. And he has appeared at the Broadway Palm in Fort Myers, Florida Repertory Theatre, the Canterbury School where he is enrolled, and other southwest Florida venues. He just appeared in a short film profiling Sanibel bike/pedestrian trails. The director was intrigued by Crater’s ease on camera.
Crater at 13 can dance and sing, perform well beyond his years, said Michelle Hamstra, founder of the Creative Theater Workshop in Fort Myers, a nonprofit that will relocate to Sanibel’s BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater this summer.
“Henry,” she said, “is hard-working and humble. But he’s an extremely talented and incredible performer and singer. He’s got the ‘it’ factor. He really sparkles on stage.”
Henry Crater is buoyed in his dreams by a close family, his parents, both doctors, a younger brother and sister. The interplay of Dana Crater and Henry is amazing, the mother and son bouncing ideas and performance and audition memories off one another. It is obvious the family is bolted together.
Although Dana Crater professes to not be a stage mom, she did steer her son to rehearsals at age 5. She saw in him a natural, a child almost from infancy who performed in front of the television to Disney musicals.
“He was pitch perfect,” Dana Crater said of her oldest son. “Henry would sing along to anything, really.”
Henry Crater’s first stage performance was in the “Jungle Book” play at age 7. Performing felt natural, he said. It was fun. Suddenly a light switched on, Henry Crater said, and his career zoomed off. In six years he has appeared in dozens of performances, in serious auditions including the lead role for the Peter Pan LIVE! musical on network television in December. He was a finalist for the part. Mother and son have trekked between Sanibel and New York City a handful of times for auditions, Henry often alone in a room before casting professionals asking him to improvise scenarios, gauging his stage intelligence, and then collapsing on the jet ride home. He had performed in “Shrek the Musical” at the Broadway Palm in Fort Myers, other leading roles in southwest Florida.
“It wasn’t immediate,” Henry Crater said of his early transformation to serious performance, “and then I thought, I want to do this.”
On the surface, the Craters in their east-end Sanibel home seem to race. On a recent visit, for instance, a piano instructor who arrived on a scooter waited a few minutes past an appointment, talking about his prodigy, in this case Henry’s younger brother Luke. A middle sibling, Annabel, also enjoys performing. And then a sleek electric sedan slid into the driveway, a boy with blond curls who turned out to be Henry eye-balling the visitors. The occupants fairly burst from the vehicle, happy sounds and grabbing groceries, like a wind storm up the steep stairway to the kitchen. The car’s trunk left open, Dana Crater apologizing for running late. The children have scattered as Dana unpacked what looks like picnic food from the grocery bags.
With the tinkling of a piano in the background, Henry wandered back to the kitchen. He’s tall with a mop of curly hair, engaging easily in talk. He ticked off a performance resume that seemed to cover decades, riffing with his mother about his many roles.
Henry and Dana settled into a downstairs room that is used for Henry’s voice and dance lessons. That he’s tall for 13 has harmed some of his auditions, Dana Crater said. The boy that got the Peter Pan LIVE! role was smaller and pudgy, for instance.
“I’m happy for the other kids,” Dana Crater said. “Those moms are in the same shoes I’ve been in. Noyou’re always happy for the moms.”
The Crater rehearsal room looks lived in, a panel on the floor for Henry’s dance lessons, a little chaotic, a sense of busy doctor/parents raising exceptional children, ferrying them to schools in Sanibel and Fort Myers, and trying to balance adult careers. Millions of others have done the exact thing. But what’s different is Henry.
He doesn’t fit in a pigeonhole of the hyper-confident, opinionated performance prodigy. Instead, he talks about his “job” on stage, in engaging the other performers, blocking out stage lights, the first couple of rows of audience, the excitement, and focusing on his fellow actors as if they are friends or family. The joy he conveys in his craft is hard to ignore.
“You want to be the character,” Henry Crater said of his philosophy, “actually act. You don’t want (the audience) to think of it as someone on stage reciting lines.”