Artist Profile: Rockwall Summer Musicals’ Youngest TalentPublished: July 28, 2012
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It's not often one meets a 4-year-old boy with a strong sense of who he is and what he wants to be when he grows up. If you were lucky enough to see Lani "Butler" Bivens as a pesky little boy in Rockwall Summer Musicals' "Annie Get Your Gun," keeping up with the adult performers in the dance numbers, it would be clear that performing is in his blood.
Lani Butler (that's not his real surname, but we'll get to that later) was the youngest member of the musical cast. According to RSM Director Barbara Doudt, he "did everything we asked of him, usually perfect on the first try." Despite his age, she said he is "an old soul".
Lani's mom, Christiana Bivens, told us he has loved dance since he was two. "Annie Get Your Gun" was his first appearance on stage. When he was spotted doing a tap dance routine during a recital at the studio he attends, Director Doudt told her, "I need him to audition for the musical. I think he would be perfect." Like the proverbial fish to water, he took to acting as if he was born to it. He practiced and practiced until he made his marks every time, and once even told his co-performer Cole Ragsdale when he missed a line in a scene they shared.
Bivens is Lani's given last name, but he renounced it in favor of Butler when he became enamored of the character Frank Butler while performing in "Annie Get Your Gun." At a recent visit to the dentist, he refused to answer when the name "Lani Bivens" was called. "My name is Lani Butler," he said. He also developed a bit of a crush on Amy Burgar, who starred as Annie Oakley. One evening, as her boyfriend was visiting during rehearsal, Lani told him, "You may be her boyfriend, but I'm going to marry her."
At home, Lani is very close to his little sister, Zoe, and spends a lot of time re-enacting scenes from the play with her. Lani taught her Annie's lines so he could practice being Frank Butler. The young actor likes to learn all the songs from the play and sing them around the house, figuring that once he gets acting, dancing and singing down, he'll be a "triple threat."
You'd think that with all this innate acting talent, stage or film would be his chosen career path. But, you'd be wrong. "Baby, this is just for fun," he told Director Barbara Doudt, "I have to pay for doctor's school. I'm gonna be a bone doctor." And just in case you think he just pulled that out of thin air, he can name nearly every bone in the body. If he bumps his knee, he says "my patella hurts." Favorite joke - "Do you know the only part of the skull that moves? It's the mandible, baby!"
Even in a family oriented production like "Annie Get Your Gun" there may be a phrase or two that Mom would not want Lani to get in the habit of using. When he repeated Frank Butler's line in the play, "Shut up, Dolly!", backstage one day, Russell Batchelor, who played Frank, asked him where he picked that up. Lani replied, "I'm an actor. I learned EVERYTHING!"
When not performing on stage, Lani enjoys watching "Thomas the Tank Engine" and taking care of his betta fish, Lightning. He takes dance classes and looks forward to performing in front of a live audience.
Lani (Butler) Bivens can be seen in the upcoming RSM production of "Gypsy," beginning August 9. You can see Lani as a rope twirling cowboy humming a song on a kazoo. Purchase your tickets now! You won't want to miss Lani and the cast of "Gypsy" in the final production of this season's Rockwall Summer Musicals.