On a regular school day, 16-year-old Baylee Hughes stays up until 2 a.m. to complete her schoolwork and then she wakes up at 6:45 a.m. for choir. Then it’s time to attend class, rehearse for shows, do schoolwork and more.
“It’s just what you put in,” said Hughes, a junior at Western Albemarle High School. “It’s very hard. I think it comes down to I like being busy.”
Hughes noted she thrives on having a packed schedule, constantly going from one thing to the next thing. Oftentimes, it’s the schoolwork that takes the hit because she prioritizes her extracurricular activities. But, she added, she manages to maintain her grades.
“I make the time. I stay up,” Hughes said, smiling.
Hughes is a triple-threat performer who entered the show business world at age 4 as a gymnast and dancer. Next week, she’s taking the stage at her school’s play, “The Addams Family,” playing the role of Wednesday Addams.
“’The Addams Family’ is going to be my favorite show just because I’m getting to do the choreography,” she said.
Hughes said she practices in her room, so she doesn’t initially know how the choreography is going to look ― but then seeing the students bringing it to life “makes me really happy.”
But none of this would be possible without a support system.
Drama teacher and play director Catlin Pitts said Hughes will be taking her advanced drama class next year.
“I’m giving her the chance to teach the whole unit in the class on dancing choreography,” Pitts said. “That’s something I let my seniors do. If I have a senior who has a passion like that, then I’ll let them teach the class, which is great. When you teach, you learn it even more.”
Pitts said she also supports Hughes by helping her with auditions. She gives Hughes feedback on her strengths and weaknesses.
“She’s really successful,” Pitts said.
Hughes’ other extracurricular activities include being one of the leaders of Artists in Action at her school, co-leader of the Drama Club and one of the leaders of the school’s a cappella singing group, Wahcappella.
Pitts said she has had students do choreography, but they normally do one or two songs and then she’d hire a professional. Hughes asked to do the whole show, teaching 40 students all the dance moves.
“She’s a great teacher, really patient and really clear,” Pitts said. “She does all that work on her own on top of all that other stuff. What other student does that?”
Hughes boasted her voice is the definition of musical theater, adding she pronounces the words strongly. Her role Wednesday is different from her personality, but that’s something she said she enjoys doing.
“In the past, every role I played has been a lot like me,” she said. “This role has been very fun because the character is very different, but we also share a lot of similarities.”
Hughes said she’s an optimistic and animated person. However, the role that she plays in “The Addams Family” doesn’t share those character traits.
“She has a pretty blunt face, and kind of like angry at the world all the time,” she said.
Hughes doesn’t only share her gifts on the school theater stage. She performs at retirement homes, including the Summit Square Retirement Community in Waynesboro for her grandfather and others. There, she sings about 16 songs, all classical Broadway from the 1930s to 1980s.
Her audience at the retirement homes said they’re not a huge fan of the modern Broadway, so they appreciate Hughes singing classical music.
Hughes, who hopes to attend New York University musical theater program, said she gives back to her community because she enjoys having a talent that makes people feel something.
“It’s just really cool to be able to do something that you love and have people enjoy it that much,” she said. “… It’s just really cool to see how that impacts them and makes them smile. My grandpa calls me all the time and say, ‘When’s the next time you’re coming back? They cannot wait to see you.'”
And of course, being in the theater world, she said she enjoys the applause, the smiles and whispers at the end of every show. But as she advances in her career, her ultimate goal is not to be super famous. She’d like to become a Broadway performer.
“When you’re Broadway famous, you’re famous to all the little girls who look up to you,” she explained. “But as soon as you get out of your make-up at the theater, you can walk out to the world and without paparazzi stalking you.”
It’s a competitive world, and she’s aware of that. She said she’s scared of the competition because there are thousands of aspiring actors who want to make it. The competition is fierce even at her school. Normally, there are 65 actors auditioning for less than 10 roles.
But she landed her first role freshman year, appearing at Western’s production of “Legally Blonde.” In the Crozet area, she said, people like her are not offered a lot of opportunities in the theater world.
“It’s not just talent that helps you make it in this business. It’s just who you are as a person,” Hughes said. “I’m a very easy person to work with, and just very positive. I just love this art so much, and I just don’t want to live not doing it.”
Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.