Alexander “Sasha” Zitofsky is not your average twelve year old. Sasha is an exuberant, witty, playfully sarcastic young man who has figured out what many adults are still struggling to find. Sasha loves to perform and wants to do it for the rest of his life.
“If I was locked in a room for a day, I would dance around and work on my splits,” Sasha said.
A home video shows Sasha performing an intricate, energizing dance routine to Lady Gaga’s smash hit “Telephone.” As he lights up the notoriously dusty and dim Park Middle School Auditorium the crowd cheers with delight. That small glimpse of Sasha’s talent shines as a perfect example of his dynamic presence. Sasha has the kind of magnetic energy that helps audiences, friends, and strangers smile and come alive.
Ever since he first took the stage at family wedding at the age of two, Sasha, a 7th grader at Park Middle School has dazzled audiences in multiple theatrical performances, including a tour of The Radio City Christmas Carol at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee last winter. Sasha now stars in the Random Farms production of “New Kid” which travels to schools throughout the Tristate area educating audiences on bullying.
So how can this be? How can someone so young and so local, removed from the glare of Hollywood have a kick start career while still attending a public school and getting together with friends for a birthday party or to go see the Muppet Movie? Sasha and his mom Susan sat down with Patch at Fabio’s in Fanwood for closer look at Sasha’s world.
After expressing an early interest in dance, Sasha began taking dance classes at Fusion Dance Centre in Kenilworth at the age of four. When Sasha was eight, his mom Susan contacted Sasha’s favorite Broadway themed radio station on Sirius XM to find out how to get her son more involved in theater. Sasha is now represented by Generation TV and has appeared in two short films as well as multiple theatrical productions such as The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey’s recent production of To Kill a Mocking Bird.
Juggling extracurricular activities with school work can be a nightmare for any family, but Susan explains that despite Sasha’s hectic schedule which has them traveling in and out of New York City several time a week for dance classes and auditions, she has always instilled the value that education comes first, no matter what. In turn, Sasha, who was away for three months last year touring with Radio City, expressed his gratitude for the teachers who helped him stay on top of his school work.
“If I do need help, the teachers are always there to help me with the work that I miss. My friends help me too. My mom helps me by telling me that if we have free time at home, I always have to get my homework done first, and if I have an audition that night, homework still comes first.”
“He’s a very good student, thank god, and he is a veracious reader. He reads all the time,” Susan responded.
Susan, a single mom and part time pharmaceutical rep expressed that while Sasha’s artistic endeavors are a huge time commitment, she is “wise about it” stating that a huge part of maintaining a grounded and healthy lifestyle (not only for Sasha, but for herself as well) is “knowing where they max out.”
“I always thought that this stage mom thing had such a negative connotation but I think that there are positive and negative stage moms and I kind of like to see myself as a positive one,” Susan stated. “I had a kidney transplant five years ago so I can’t work full time but I figure that he is young once and that this is what he wants to do. Some kids like to play soccer; this is his outlet. I will support that as long as I can, within reason.”
The two elaborated explaining that while some of Sasha’s friends have uprooted and moved to New York or Los Angeles in order to more rapidly expand; Fanwood is right where they want to be.
“There are certain parents that will pay for everything to get their kids into every kind of lesson so that they are at the very top. I can only handle so much as a single mom. I don’t go crazy putting him in lessons five days a week because I don’t want him to have too much responsibility and I want us to stay healthy.”
Sasha spoke openly about his latest gig as the star of the educational production “New Kid” which is performed entirely by kids; an effective strategy to help captivate youth audiences.
“Zack is the new kid at PS 32. He feels left out until he is recruited to join the 'gangsta squad.' The members of the gangsta squad are bullies who beat everybody up and give Zack three challenges that he has to do before he can join their squad. He has to copy homework for someone, kiss a girl he doesn’t like, and beat up a friend,” Sasha stated.
By joining Zack on his journey through the daily challenges of combating bullying, hazing, cliques and stereotypes, audiences are able to understand that surviving middle school is not about conforming to one group or the other, it is about acceptance.
“The main message of the story is to just be yourself. At the end of the show, Zack forms a squad called the Everyone Squad, telling everyone who joins to always be true to themselves. Even the bullies join the Everyone Squad,” Sasha explained.
While Sasha may be part of an effort to educate others, he expressed that he has learned more about bullying as well.
“Before this show, I never knew that using someone was bullying. When Zack copies down homework from Eleanor, he is using her… I hope what people take away from the show is the [knowledge] that if you bully it is wrong. It’s not something to joke about, it is serious and it IS a crime,” he stated.
Random Farms also provides materials for teachers to use in class after students have seen the show. “New Kid” recently came to Park Middle School. Sasha explained what it was like to perform for his friends and neighbors.
“They loved it. They thought it was funny in a good way. They thought I had an excellent voice and they all congratulated me. It was a good feeling,” Sasha said.
Sasha explained that used his own experiences of being bullied at Park Middle to prepare for the role of Zack.
“The namecalling was the worst. This one time during fifth grade, I was being bullied and I told the kid “please stop.” It was really hurtful and I started crying. So I told the teacher but she was on his side and not mine,” he recounted.
The new Anti-Bullying Legislation incites much stricter rules and regulations regarding how bullying is defined, reported, and investigated. Patch asked Sasha how bullying at Park Middle School has changed since the law was enacted this Fall.
“I guess the way that physical bullying is handled has changed, but people still mentally and emotionally bully others. Last week, there was a fight in our school and it scared us all. We were surprised because the kid didn’t get suspended. It was astonishing to see that even after these laws have been passed and even after seeing our show, people are still bullying,” Sasha said.
Although Sasha loves writing poetry and performing in theatrical productions, his true passion is for dance. As he continues to grow, Susan notes that film and television roles may also be on the horizon. Enjoying the last few bites of plain slice of pizza, Sasha shared one his greatest sources of inspiration.
“I really like the show Glee. The character Kurt is really inspiring because he doesn’t really care what people think of him and he has a really good voice. He always gets through his challenges and thinks positive.”