Art imitates life, so the saying goes. In this case, the art of acting and stage performance makes up a very important part of Houston Vandergriff’s life. At 18 years of age, Houston has racked up an impressive 12 years of acting and theatrical performance experience, and he shows no signs of letting up.
It seems that nothing stops Houston from living a happy, fun-filled, meaningful life. Whether he is acting on the stage in full makeup and costume, traveling the world, serving up yummy treats at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt Shop, or sporting his tuxedo at Prom of the Stars. Whatever he is doing, this very special teen is probably bringing a smile to someone’s face. He certainly brought one to mine.
I hope you enjoy reading all about Houston Vandergriff. He is one, amazing, exceptional teen!
Q: How and at what age did you first become interested in acting and stage performance?
A: I first signed with my acting agency, Talent Trek, when I was six years old. I wanted to sign up because my two older sisters had signed up and I didn’t want to be left out. As it turned out, because of my unique qualities and situation, I ended up having more work to do than either one of my sisters.
My acting projects have included several short films, some feature films, lots of plays, a photo and video shoot for Bayliner Boats, and even an international commercial for the United States Department of Defense. Being involved in acting has been so much fun for me.
Q: Tell us about the plays you have been in and the other appearances you have made.
A: I have performed in seven seasons of the “Passion Play of the Smokies” in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. At first, I started out as a child follower of Christ in the play, and eventually ended up playing the role of a disciple during the Lord’s Supper. It means a lot to me to be a part of these special performances.
In addition to doing the passion play all those years, I have also been involved in Celebrity Youth Theater for about two years.
I have found theater to be a great opportunity to build lifelong friendships.
Q: Can you share some of your favorite experiences you’ve had with your dramatic involvements?
A: One of my most enjoyable acting jobs was doing the video shoot for Bayliner Boats which I mentioned above. I loved riding with my “fake family” in a boat all around the lake. We had a lot of photographers and videographers following us. It was so much fun!
I also enjoyed my role in an independent feature film called “Light, Streets of Redemption.” I played the role of a boy who could see an angel.
The film was also made into a comic book, and I was presented the set of comic book panels by the artist and the film director.
A: I am an avid fan of watching YouTube videos. I really enjoy watching the videos of the plays that I am doing. I like to watch different versions of the stories to learn more about each one of the characters and what they all contribute to the story overall. It is a good way for me to get the whole thing in my mind, so I can do the best job I can with my own part in the play. It also helps me to learn my part and memorize my lines.
Q: Houston, you are one busy guy! Give us some tips on how you successfully balance school work and your numerous activities and involvements.
A: My mom homeschools me, and because of that, we have a lot of flexibility with our schedule. For example, during tech weeks and other really busy times, our bookwork can take a back seat for a little while.
Home school families know that not all learning comes from books. Another important part of a person’s education is getting out and getting involved in activities that benefit not only ourselves, but also those around us. My family helps me to stay balanced in my everyday activities and commitments.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt Shop?
A: I’ve been working at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt Shop for about a year and a half. This particular franchise was given to the non-profit organization, Open Doors, which provides programs and jobs for people with disabilities.
I was one of the first workers hired at Menchie’s because of my participation in many of the previous Open Doors programs, such as Zoo Camp and Canoe Fest. I was also one of the hosts for Miss Shining Star. I began working the evening shift, and now I have learned how to open and close. I have gotten very good at it, and at doing all of the work that comes in between.
My favorite part about working at Menchie’s is meeting the vast array of customers who visit the shop, and spending time with my friends from work. Also, I enjoy the special perk of getting to have all the frozen yogurt I can eat – which is a lot!
Q: What is your most important accomplishment during the past year?
A: It has been a particularly big year for me in theater. I’ve been in four major theatrical productions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Some of the plays I acted in include The Chronicles of Narnia, in which I played the role of Fenrus Ulf, Peter Pan, in which I was the Indian Chief, and Alice in Wonderland, where I got to play the King of Hearts.
Also, I got to take skiing lessons with my family in North Carolina, and I went to Arizona to participate in a marathon with my running sponsor, Cassie Gonzales.
In addition to that, I participated in the Goodwill Vintage Fashion Show in Knoxville, and attended Prom of the Stars and the Truth Trekkers formal. I also did some charitable work with the News Sentinel Empty Stocking Fund at Christmas time. It is a charity which feeds 10,000 needy people in East Tennessee each year.
Most recently, I went on a trip to Italy with my family. It was so exciting to see all the beautiful sites, and we got to eat real Italian gelato, visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and ride in a water taxi in Venice.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing teens today?
A: Teens face all types of challenges, but for me and many of my friends, one of the biggest challenges is acceptance. Sometimes being accepted by others is difficult.
Many people have a distorted view of people with disabilities and are fearful of people who are different. But people with disabilities are more like you than you realize. They are just like any other typical teenager, only with a few differences. We all just want to be accepted and liked for who we are as people.
People with disabilities are more like you than you realize…We all just want to be accepted and liked for who we are as people.
Q: What do you plan to do after graduating from high school? Do your plans include theater performance or film acting?
A: After high school I hope very much to attend college like my sisters. I also want to be an entrepreneur and someday open my own frozen yogurt store. I do plan to continue to pursue acting opportunities on the side.
What an awesome young man! I was truly inspired by all of Houston’s accomplishments. He and his family certainly believe in squeezing every possible bit of joy out of life. We can all learn from their example.
I particularly like Houston’s answer about the challenges teens face with being accepted by others. His answer reflects true wisdom, especially for an 18 year old. Being accepted may not be so hard for some, but for others it is a daily struggle. Hopefully, we can all learn a lesson from Houston to be kind, compassionate, and welcoming to other people when they need it most.
Do you have an exceptional teen?
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Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me a little bit about your situation. Give a quick sentence or two about why your teen is exceptional. I will be in touch with you with an emailed list of interview questions your teen can answer and send back to me. The world needs to know there are wonderful kids out there doing outstanding, praiseworthy activities. I would love to feature your exceptional teen.
Check out our other exceptional teen features. Read all about these awesome kids!