Rare Skin Disease Doesn’t Silence Voice of 5th Grade Actress in Production of “The Wiz”

November 8, 2016

Singing isn’t just a pastime for 10-year-old Payton Jones.

It’s lifted her spirit and helped her get through tough times, like getting narrowband UV therapy inside a light booth at a hospital a few times a week.

The fifth-grader at Myford Elementary School in Irvine has a rare skin disorder called pityriasis lichenoides et varioliformis acuta, which scars her skin and could lead to skin cancer. Payton has to stay indoors most of the day after light-booth treatment, which makes her skin darker, or else she suffers from fatigue and nausea.

But her condition hasn’t kept her from chasing her dream of one day becoming a professional singer and traveling around the world.

This weekend, she will take a big step forward and showcase her voice on a stage she has yet to experience: starring in a musical.

Payton, who recently moved to Tustin from Irvine, will play the role of the Wizard in the Arts & Learning Conservatory’s production of “The Wiz” this weekend, despite having no prior acting experience.

“That girl has a pretty incredible voice for being only 10 years old,” said Debora Wondercheck, founder and CEO of the Arts & Learning Conservatory. “We took a chance on her.”

The nonprofit conservatory provides after-school programs in theater, orchestra, band and dance classes for children from across Orange County, with the goal of making arts available to everyone. Thirty-two students ages 8 to 17 will perform in “The Wiz,” an urbanized retelling of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

When Payton visited a local church and sang a piece from the musical to promote the show, audience members got on their feet in excitement, Wondercheck said. She may sound like a typical 10-year-old with a cute voice when she speaks, Wondercheck said, but not when she sings.

“It sounds like some 45-year-old woman with this deep alto voice with vibrato,” Wondercheck said. “We were blown away by her.”

Payton discovered her love for singing at 5 years old when she sang a solo in a children’s choir.

“The feeling I had just being up there, the crowd cheering, was just amazing,” Payton recalled.

Ever since, she’s been singing and humming pretty much 24/7, even during her classes at Myford Elementary and her light-booth therapy.

She has been invited to sing at Irvine city meetings and performs at the Long Beach Unity Festival. She’s a lead soloist in the children’s choir at Irvine’s Christ Our Redeemer Church.

While Payton has come to accept the skin disorder as part of her life, the fear of what it could do to her persists.

“When I get scared about that stuff, I just close my eyes and sing,” she said.


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