At 21, Max Schneider has already acted on stage and television and in film, put out a catchy pop single, and posed with Madonna for Dolce & Gabbana. The young heartthrob is preparing to release his first album and already has a following he calls his “Schneidermonkeys.”
Though he’s loaded with raw talent, success didn’t come overnight for Schneider. The rising star owes much to YoungArts, an organization that cultivates promising artists ages 15 to 18 with mentors, scholarships, recognition and opportunities to provide a foundation for their careers. YoungArts is led by Paul T. Lehr who is currently overseeing the expansion of YoungArts' regional programs in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and the Emmy-nominated HBO series YoungArts MasterClass and its accompanying study guide, which is being used in school districts across the country.
The energetic quadruple-threat wants to shout his thanks and love for YoungArts from the rooftops.
“YoungArts is my favorite place in the world. It’s the best program out there,” he says. “It’s one of those programs that sounds too good to be true, but it is true.”
Schneider knew early on what he wanted to do with his life. “I saw my first show when I was 4. I saw ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and got home and I did this whole one-man show for my parents on my living room table,” he says. “But I got to be a kid, which I’m really grateful for.”
It was while he was attending high school in upstate New York, that Schneider made the decision to attend performing-arts school in New York City to pursue his dream big time. In 2010, he was selected for the competitive YoungArts program on the musical theater track in Miami. That same year, he was honored with a YoungArts theater award.
“It’s the best place,” says Schneider. “If you’re interested in the arts, there’s not a more nurturing and incredible environment to be part of.”
To share his love for YoungArts, Schneider performs at alumni events and puts on flash concerts, tweeting out messages to his fans about where and when to show up. At the impromptu performances, he talks about YoungArts and encourages aspiring artists to look into the program. For his efforts and enthusiasm, Schneider was recently invited to join the YoungArts board.
Award-winning artistic director, dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones is a master teacher and mentor with YoungArts. Going from rural life to receiving a MacArthur Genius Award in 1994, Jones credits good mentorship as part of his success. “It made a world of difference,” he said. “It really did.”
Jones extolls the talents of the young people he has collaborated with through the program. But he also admits that being an artist is difficult, especially with arts programs experiencing budget cuts.
“Go in with your eyes wide open,” he advises. “Follow your passion, that’s for sure.”
At the same time, he says, the collective is the way of the future. “Those of us in the trenches have got to work together, got to build coalitions,” he says. Young artists who battle the odds, “who are willing to take a chance and are just looking for guidance and inspiration,” give him hope, Jones adds.
“Hard work is the biggest part of it, of course,” says Schneider. “There’s so much rejection. You just have to believe in it.”
Like his own sunny lyrics and pop-song covers embracing love and optimism, the young performer’s advice to aspiring artists is to give one another a chance.
“All those auditions you didn’t get, that’s someone else’s moment and those are their parts,” he says. “My biggest advice is, ‘Be yourself, work hard, and go out and see and appreciate what everybody else is doing.’
“Give everybody a chance,” Schneider concludes. “YoungArts gives people a chance.”