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Theater geek from Upper St. Clair writes adventure tale for middle-schoolers

Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review - Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle (formerly of Upper St. Clair) cracks up Pittsburgh CLO Academy student Allison Joyce, 12, of Ohio Township, after signing his book 'Better Nate Than Ever' for her Wednesday, February 6, 2013. Federle was visiting a master class at the school to teach some fun dance moves, offer encouraging words, teach some life lessons, and sign his new book.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>   Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review</em></div>Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle (formerly of Upper St. Clair) cracks up Pittsburgh CLO Academy student Allison Joyce, 12, of Ohio Township, after signing his book 'Better Nate Than Ever' for her Wednesday, February 6, 2013.  Federle was visiting  a master class at the school to teach some fun dance moves, offer encouraging words, teach some life lessons, and sign his new book.
- Tim Federle
Tim Federle
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review - Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle (formerly of Upper St. Clair) reads an excerpt from his book 'Better Nate Than Ever' to a master class at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013. Federle was there as a guest to teach the students some fun dance moves, tell some life lessons, offer encouraging words, and sign his book.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>   Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review</em></div>Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle (formerly of Upper St. Clair) reads an excerpt from his book 'Better Nate Than Ever' to a master class at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013.  Federle was there as a guest to teach the students some fun dance moves, tell some life lessons, offer encouraging words, and sign his book.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review - Mathew (*YES, WITH ONE L) Fedorek, 11, of Finleyville, and Sofia Swensen, 11, of McCandless, listen to guest actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle, formerly of Upper St. Clair, talk to them about some life lessons at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>   Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review</em></div>Mathew (*YES, WITH ONE L) Fedorek, 11, of Finleyville, and Sofia Swensen, 11, of McCandless, listen to guest actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle, formerly of Upper St. Clair, talk to them about some life lessons at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review - Logan Rowland, 14, of Wexford, concentrates on some dance moves during a master class at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013. Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle, formerly of Upper St. Clair, was a guest to the school teaching some dance moves, offering life lessons, and signing his new book.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>   Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review</em></div>Logan Rowland, 14, of Wexford, concentrates on some dance moves during a master class at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013.  Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle, formerly of Upper St. Clair, was a guest to the school teaching some dance moves, offering life lessons, and signing his new book.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review - Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle, right (Ghostbusters shirt), formerly of Upper St. Clair, warms up a master class at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>   Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review</em></div>Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle, right (Ghostbusters shirt), formerly of Upper St. Clair, warms up a master class at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review - Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle, formerly of Upper St. Clair, leads a master class at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>   Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review</em></div>Actor, dancer, writer Tim Federle, formerly of Upper St. Clair, leads a master class at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy Wednesday, February 6, 2013.

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Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 8:18 p.m.
 

During his student years in Upper St. Clair, Tim Federle was the kid who cut class to read Stephen Sondheim's autobiography in the library stacks.

He recognized he was never going to be an athlete or a mathlete like his big brother.

An aspiring dancer and musical-theater geek, Federle found his niche at places like CLO Academy, the Center for Theater Arts in Mt. Lebanon and Pittsburgh Musical Theatre.

“I knew at 5 o'clock I would put on my jazz shoes and join the club,” Federle says.

Even before he knew exactly what and where Broadway was, Federle knew it was where he belonged.

Which is why, years later Federle has written “Better Nate Than Ever,” a funny and touching adventure tale about a 13-year-old boy who sneaks off to New York City to audition for a role in “E.T. The Musical.”

He returned home to Pittsburgh this week for a series of book-signing events and appearances at area schools.

In his book, Federle's hero, Nate, lives in Jankburg, Pa., a town whose motto Nate suggests should be “48.5 miles from Pittsburgh and a 1,000 miles from fun.”

He arms himself with an ATM card borrowed from his mother's purse, his older brother's student ID and a cell phone with his best friend and advisor Libby on speed dial. He's a man on a mission with a time limit. He has less than 24 hours to get to Manhattan by bus, navigate his way to the audition room and return home before his parents return from their overnight anniversary getaway.

Peppered with references to Pittsburgh landmarks, “Better Nate Than Ever” is aimed at middle-school readers between the ages of 9 and 13.

“It has themes about somebody who is an outcast in one community who finds himself in another community,” Federle says. “It's an aspirational story. ... It's incredible when you can star in your own life story and not be the secondary character in someone else's.”

Unlike the fictional Nate, Federle's parents had always been supportive of their son's career choice.

By the time he graduated from Upper St. Clair High School, he had already performed for Civic Light Opera in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Oliver!”; for Pittsburgh Musical Theatre in “Godspell,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita”; for City Theatre in “Beast on the Moon.”

Wanting to head to Broadway, Federle struck a deal with his parents — he could go to New York City for one audition. If it went well, he could delay college.

As soon as he could, he traveled to New York and quickly landed an ensemble role in a non-Equity tour of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

He eventually made it to Broadway with roles in “Gypsy,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Billy Elliot: The Musical.”

At age 30, he became associate choreographer for “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” a job that included auditioning replacement performers for the children who quickly outgrew their roles.

“I was so inspired by them and their fearlessness,” he says, explaining that it motivated him to try writing the book he had been thinking about.

He decided: “If these boys were fearless enough to face audiences, I can face a blank page.”

The decision obviously paid off.

Simon & Schuster signed Federle to a two-book deal and Federele is already working on the sequel to “Better Nate Than Ever.”

He hopes Nate's experiences will let kids know that middle-school misfit isn't the only role they will play in life.

“The things that make you different when you are a kid are the things that when you are an adult will get you noticed in great ways,” he says. “The things that get you picked on in one town will get you paid in another.”

Federle has written columns for Huffington Post and Apartment Therapy. His book for adult readers is “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist,” (Running Press, $15, hardcover), a book of cocktail recipes and bar snacks for book hounds. It will be released in the spring.

He will be back in town on March 9 to perform in “Reach for a Star,” a fund-raising gala for The Center for Theater Arts. Details: 412-563-5080

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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