Johnny Rabe has a busy May.
On May 12, The Chicago Academy for the Arts senior will celebrate at the school’s prom. The next day, the Naperville resident will fly to New York City for a three-day recording session for the album that will publicize the musical The Ways We Travel.
Rabe, who turned 18 on April 7, also has to make a college decision by May 1. A professional actor since age 10, Rabe has been accepted to Northwestern, Stanford, USC, and Virginia.
“Being an actor as a profession is such a diverse job,” Rabe said. “It’s not just one thing. I’m interested in acting, directing, writing, producing. I just find it’s intoxicating. It’s the most fulfilling thing I could ever do – being able to tell other people’s stories and share a connection with the audience, who most of the time are complete strangers.
“There’s such an empathy and human connection that is so rare, especially in this age of social media, and especially in a safe place.”
Rabe has performed on Broadway, at four shows at the Lincolnshire Marriott Theatre – including his professional debut as a 10-year-old – and at several other area venues. Rabe’s mother, Lilah, said her son has always loved musical theater, and his favorite activity from the time he could walk was to dress up as a cowboy, pirate, knight, ninja, or Luke Skywalker.
“My husband and I have STEM backgrounds, but we wanted our two sons to have exposure to the arts as well, so I started taking Johnny and his older brother to theater performances when Johnny was about 2 years old,” Lilah Rabe said. “By the time he was 4, he was discussing after each performance which role he would like to play, and by 6, how he would have directed the show differently.”
Rabe has been at The Academy since the start of his sophomore year. He transferred in part because of bullying issues he faced at his previous high school.
“My freshman year, I was very, very small and my voice hadn’t changed yet,” Rabe said. “I was a smaller teenager who just loved theater. The people who were nice to me with a small minority. I was pushed in the hallways, called names. It was very frustrating.”
Rabe said that immediately changed as soon as he began at The Academy. He commutes an hour each way from Naperville – taking the 706 train Downtown and then an Academy school bus to the school – but said the long-distance journey has been well worth it.
“There has not been a single unpleasant thing since I’ve been here,” Rabe said. “There has been no name calling, and it’s such a positive place to learn and grow and get better at what you want to do.”
Andy Robinson, Musical Theatre Department Chair at The Academy, said Rabe has thrived at the school because he “loves the art form passionately.”
“And he uses that love for it to muster the discipline and work ethic to master the more complex performance skills,” Robinson said. “He also is a real intellectual, whose knowledge about other academic disciplines enhances his about theatre.”
Rabe is thrilled to see where his career will take him after graduating from The Academy. He said the school has prepared him immensely as he’s transitioned from a child actor into a budding adult star.
“I feel prepared for anything that could come my way,” he said. “I’m ready for what the world has to throw at me.”