Junior Hannah Ellowitz has spent weeks researching 19th-century diseases and learning how to sing, dance and act on rollerskates. Although these unusual activities seem unrelated, as a passionate actress who has performed in over 40 shows, Ellowitz embraces the challenges that come with each role she plays. Through embodying a myriad of characters, Ellowitz has learned invaluable lessons both about herself and the world.
“When I was really, really small – like 2 – I was like ‘a ham in the house,’ as my mom likes to say,” Ellowitz said. From the age of 3, Ellowitz enrolled in ballet and theater classes and acted in her first show when she was 6 years old. Because she is involved in musical theater, she must be able to sing, act and dance, but she considers herself an actress first.
“I think acting… there’s nothing like it. You have to be able to act when you dance and act when you sing.”
In eighth grade, Ellowitz immersed herself in an entirely new experience when she played Pearl in “Starlight Express.” For this show, every actor and actress performed on roller skates. Ellowitz did not know how to skate prior to the show.
“All throughout the summer before auditions… we’d go to the roller rink and we’d all go skating,” she said, noting that the cast fell “all the time” during rehearsals.
Ellowitz said “Starlight Express” occurs in a little boy’s imagination, and every character represents a train. In the end, Pearl ends up with the “underdog train” she never expected to be with.
“[The show] taught me that in theater, you have to be quick on your feet. You have to be open to jump into new things even if you’re uncomfortable.”
Ellowitz stepped foot on the Heritage theater as Natalie, the daughter of a woman struggling with bipolar disorder.
“That has to be one of the greatest shows I’ve ever done,” Ellowitz said, describing the six-person cast as “small, inclusive and intimate.”
In order to portray her character in an honest light, Ellowitz spent countless hours researching real-life stories about individuals affected by disorders like bipolar disorder.
“To be able to portray that honestly is really important. When it’s so personal and it hits so many people close to home, you can’t have it be unauthentic,” Ellowitz said. “That’s what theater is about. That’s what art is about. You have to give the honest portrayal of the reality of the situation.”
“Elemeno Pea,” a freshman-sophomore play held at Heritage last year, was Ellowitz’s first “straight play,” meaning that it only involved acting. Junior Fiona Baquerizo played her sister. Baquerizo’s character was a worker in a billionaire’s mansion in Cape Cod, while Ellowitz’s character was a worker at an Olive Garden in Buffalo, NY. When the sisters unite for a birthday weekend, “everything goes wrong.”
“That role was hard because the personality of the character that I played was so close to me. You don’t want to go to a show and say ‘There’s Hannah Ellowitz.’ You want to go to a show and say ‘There’s Devon.’ To separate myself from the character was hard.”
Ellowitz describes herself, like Devon, as “loud, obnoxious and honest,” the kind of person who says what’s on her mind.
When Ellowitz was a sophomore, she played Fantine in “Les Miserables” through the outside theater company Florida Children’s Theatre (FLCT). Because the show is set in the pre-French Revolution era, Ellowitz researched feminism and “what it was to be a woman in the time,” as well as tuberculosis and disease in 1815 in preparation for Fantine’s death scene.
“She [Fantine] is… a single woman who has a daughter… she has the most iconic role in all musical theater, which is ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ and it was awesome because I got to come on, be beautiful, cut my hair off, die, take a two-hour nap backstage and come back on for the finale.”
Ellowitz said her favorite role was Natalie in “Next to Normal.”
“It taught me how much work goes into the craft. Because the show was so heavy and so intense… it was draining. But it was important. Roller skating is fun. Singing classical musical theater duets is fun. But when it’s purposeful – when people came to me after the show in tears saying, ‘My mother has Alzheimer’s, and I was touched by this’ or ‘I’m currently taking care of my grandmother who has bipolar disorder’ – when you can touch someone through a performance knowing that you’ve made someone think or question or consider, it’s what makes it all worth it, makes the endless hours and sleepless nights worth it.”