Talent abundant for Hersey's Schmidt -- on the stage and the court
There are plenty of players on the Hersey boys basketball team who can sell a foul.
Like with a dramatic flop, or an over-the-top flail. Maybe some loud sound effects for good measure.
But if any of the Huskies are going to win an Academy Award for their theatrics, it's likely going to be senior forward Jason Schmidt.
He seems to be on that track, after all. The red carpet track.
Meet the Northwest suburbs' very own Troy Bolton.
In fact, Schmidt has even played the role of Bolton, the lead in the popular Disney movie franchise "High School Musical," played on the big screen by Hollywood star Zac Efron.
"That was a really good role for me," Schmidt, 18, said with a laugh.
In "real life," Schmidt mirrors the fictional Bolton in that he's involved in two forms of performing -- on the hardwood and on stage. The 6-foot Schmidt plays not only the role of a basketball player at Hersey, he plays the role of many other roles, too, as one of the top actors in the theater program at the school.
In Hersey's last two musicals, Schmidt has played the lead. He was Shrek in "Shrek" and Bobby Strong in the satire "Urinetown."
And in District 214's last two musicals, Schmidt was the lead as well, playing Frank Abagnale Jr. in "Catch Me If You Can" and Robbie Hart in "The Wedding Singer."
"For me, the biggest adrenaline rush I get is when I'm on stage," Schmidt said. "But there is also something to be said for being on the basketball court and trying to be better than your opponent and making a big play in front of a big crowd.
"Both are pretty great."
But Schmidt, who started acting at age 9 because he saw how much fun his older sister Amanda was having in a local youth production of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown," almost quit the theater to concentrate on basketball, which he has played since he was 7 years old.
"I had gone to all of the productions of 'You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown,' and my sister would let me backstage and I saw how much fun she had," Schmidt said. "That's why I wanted to do it too, so I joined Christian Youth Theater Chicago with her, and we would do shows at Prairie Lakes Community Center in Des Plaines. I was Troy Bolton in High School Musical for CYT.
"But going into my freshman year, I really wanted to start taking basketball more seriously, so I thought I should quit theater. I didn't think I would have time to do both."
But that year, CYT announced that it would be doing a production of "Les Miserables," and Schmidt's mother Marcy convinced him that that was a special enough production to temporarily delay his "retirement" from the stage.
"My mom really wanted me to audition, so I did and I got in and got the part of Marius," said Schmidt, who got one of the lead roles out of a pool of about 50 male candidates. " 'Les Mis' ended up being a turning point experience for me. It's when everything shifted for me. It was so fun to be a part of such an incredible show that really seemed to touch people. I mean, we had people leaving the theater crying. It was amazing. It really made me realize how much I loved theater and how I couldn't quit."
So that's when Schmidt decided to channel his inner Troy Bolton and do both: basketball and theater.
His basketball teammates have been supportive and have come to some of his recent productions, including Shrek and Urinetown.
"I think one of the reasons I was thinking about quitting theater freshman year was because part of me was worried about what the other basketball players would think of me doing this. I was a little embarrassed," Schmidt said. "But they have been great. I think when people see that you're doing something that you really like and you're working really hard at it, they will support you."
Hersey basketball coach Austin Scott has also supported Schmidt, whom he uses as his sixth man this year after starting him last year. Scott has been to a couple of productions, including "Catch Me If You Can" and "Urinetown."
"Jason was out there singing and dancing, it was great," Scott said. "He is literally one of the most individually talented people I have ever been around. He's going to be famous on Broadway or in Hollywood someday."
Schmidt would prefer Broadway, but he's not going to be picky. He'd love any forum in which he can do what he loves and showcase his talents.
Singing is his strongest strong-suit, and has been since he was a kid. "God-given ability," he says. Acting has come along well over his nine-year career on stage that has included leads or major roles in 16 productions. And he's working on his dancing. "I'm not a great dancer," Schmidt said with a laugh.
But he will get plenty of practice at everything in college.
Schmidt, who once dreamed of playing basketball in college, will be in a theater program in college. He's applying to about 10 schools that have strong theater programs, most of which even offer scholarships.
Elon in North Carolina, Belmont in Tennessee, Ithaca in New York, Carnegie Mellon in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Cincinnati, Baldwin Wallace in Ohio, Ball State, Roosevelt in Chicago and Western Michigan are all on the list.
"You basically go in and you sing two songs that you have prepared, you do a dance and then you go through a prepared monologue. That's how most auditions at these colleges go," Schmidt said. "Sometimes, the auditions run all day. If they like you, you're in, you make it into the program, and if they really like you, you might get some scholarship money. Some kids in these programs get full rides.
"You're definitely nervous doing these auditions. But mostly it's exciting. I really think that I can make it."
Making it on Broadway in New York eventually is Schmidt's big goal because he loves the feeling he gets when he is on a live stage. He loves the atmosphere.
"I really love connecting with the audience," Schmidt said. "There's nothing like it. I love it. If I can make a career and make a living doing what I love, I will be happy."
In the meantime, Schmidt would be happy winning a few more Academy Awards on the hardwood. It would be the perfect final act before he calls curtains on his basketball career.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw