Acting and Martial Arts Ring True for the Bell Family

By February 29, 2024

When the Riverside Tutorial boys were introduced to Kung Fu this month, journeyman Rowan Bell was on site alongside his master, Erica Yamamoto demonstrating the Northern Long Fist style of the Chinese martial art. Rowan and his brothers also showed off their skills during Riverside’s spring 2023 Variety Show when they put their own spin on the 1970s classic, Kung Fu Fighting.

This was not Rowan’s first or only experience with Riverside theater. He played the role of Bob Cratchett in A Christmas Carol, for example, and had a fairly large and smarmy role as an international thief in last summer’s I Am Jimmy Wremble. This is no surprise as acting is in the Bell family blood.

Mom Kailey Bell has been a professional actor since 2003, working at theaters such as the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Cleveland Playhouse, Indiana Repertory Theater, and Kansas City Repertory Theater. She also has done extensive voice over and television work, and started teaching adjunct at Wheaton College in 2008. She is now a part-time visiting professor teaching theater and directs in the theater program, which she says provides “an amazing blend of being able to disciple students and talk about Jesus, all while teaching artistic craft.”. 

With her experience on the stage, Kailey was an obvious choice to serve as moderator in January at the launch of Riverside Founder/Director Peter Searby’s new book, Casting Fire: A Guide to the Adventure and Imagination of Boys.  Check out what she and Rowan have to say about acting, homeschooling, Riverside, and, of course, Kung Fu.

Kailey Bell

Why did you choose to go into acting?

I was in my very first play in high school. Before that I was pretty shy and would much rather spend time with books and stories than be on a stage. But I soon learned that in a play I could BE IN a story, and that hooked me! So in college (I attended Wheaton College for my undergrad), I started to study acting craft more seriously and had some opportunities there (acting Shakespeare for the first time) that changed the course of my life. 

How did your family encourage you?

My family was always supportive and delighted in my acting work. They were encouraging and celebrated every opportunity. But they did pray heartily for me (especially when I was at a secular graduate school and starting to work professionally) that I would continue to walk with Jesus and hold onto my faith. I really appreciate having a family that would celebrate me and also pray for me. Additionally, my husband has always been extremely supportive of me working as an actor. He attends my shows multiple times–always saying he is delighted. If I work out of town, he comes to visit; and my sons are also supportive–picking up extra work around the house to help me out, looking after each other when I need to work, and coming to see my shows. I am extremely blessed. 

What led you to the decision to homeschool?

We decided to homeschool because my husband and I both have very unconventional work hours. My husband is a family therapist and works every afternoon and evening (when kids who attend school are actually home). And when I have a theater project happening, I too have strange hours and may also be living in a different city. We wanted to have the flexibility to be with our kids and perhaps even have them come with me when I would work out of town. Homeschooling has allowed us to have this.

What has Riverside brought to your boys and to your family?

Riverside has brought creativity, a beautiful community, celebration, and imagination into our homeschooling. I am a fairly dutiful homeschooling mom: I believe in really good education, structure, good curriculum, etc. But there are just things I cannot give my boys that Riverside can. Riverside gives adventure, a bit of wildness, breath, and an expansiveness that I can’t execute from my kitchen table. At Riverside we remember, we feast, we memorize, we hike, we commemorate; my sons, who have a brotherhood of their own, have expanded their brotherhood and it’s given them an even greater sense of belonging, a better sense for their own capacity, an ability to rise to a big challenge, and the mentorship of men. 

At the launch party for Casting Fire, you played the role of interviewer and led Peter through a wonderful discussion of life, writing, and Riverside. How did you enjoy this experience?

It was such a treat to interview Peter. I love his vision for teaching boys and how he has poured himself into that at Riverside. Riverside will have a beautiful impact on the lives of so many boys who will grow into a very certain kind of man because of this place that calls them to be both warriors and poets who walk with God. It was also super fun to ask him questions about getting in trouble as a kid, chores he hates, and his dream as a kid to be in the NBA.

What is your favorite part of the book, Casting Fire?

My favorite thing about the book was that while it was written to help readers catch a vision for what Riverside is trying to do, it prompted me in many ways to tweak the environment of our home to match:  to live the work, to catch my boys doing good and name it; to create an ethos (not just get through the checklist of work that needs to be done), etc. I was reminded that my own home needs to catch the same spark that Peter is casting at Riverside. I also love seeing a book about education being so focused on the value of story and imagination.

Rowan Bell

You are a fairly new Journeyman, having aged out last spring. What are you up to this year?

I am attending part-time at Wheaton Academy (Robotics and Programming). I also did a school play and was on the Robotics team during the fall. I am involved with my youth group and am being mentored by a man at church. I am homeschooled for all other subjects and am taking Kung Fu for several hours a week. I also am learning to play the guitar.

What did you like most about your time at Riverside and what do you miss?

I like acting the most–any sort of show. The relationships also were amazing and I liked how Christ-oriented it was. What I miss the most is the chance to use my imagination and think more creatively, not just academically. 

What advice would you give your brothers and others going through Tutorial?

Listen and respect the tutors and give your all to every project.

When and how did you get started with Kung Fu? What do you like about it?

I started in 2019 (age 11). My brothers started attending the class first, and the teacher invited me to try the class as well. After the first day, I instantly loved it. It felt like the perfect blend between the mind and the body. I’ve loved it ever since. I enjoy how dance-like it is, the use of weapons, and the community in the class. Everyone is very accepting of each other. The class is multi-age and everyone gets to move at their own pace. I like that the class happens twice a week and teaches me how to use my body.

Why should other kids try Kung Fu?

It’s such a great marriage between the mind and the body. It works for people who are good at paying attention to detail, and it’s good for people who think about the bigger idea of it. It increases physical capacity. It works on memorization. It builds confidence physically. 

Monta Hernon

Author Monta Hernon

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