Issaquah actor is all business on PBS’s teen money show
July 5, 2011
By Emily Baer
With a quick flip of the wrist, Austin Siedentopf slammed his wallet shut to extinguish the flames shooting out from his billfold.
“Sorry, it’s a bit singed,” the teen actor on the PBS television show “Biz Kid$” — and magician in his spare time — said as he offered up his business card.
A 19-year-old Issaquah native, Siedentopf has been a lead actor on the educational PBS program since he was a ninth-grader at the Pacific Cascade Freshmen Campus. This year, Siedentopf will act in the show’s fifth and final season.
“Biz Kid$” is a fast-paced, quippy, “Bill Nye, the Science Guy”-esque show that aims to teach entrepreneurship and financial literacy to youth.
Each show features a kid entrepreneur and the story behind the success of his or her business. It’s not surprising that the program follows the same basic format as the renowned science show starring Nye. Erren Gotlieb and James Mckenna are the executive producers of both shows.
‘Sort of a fall guy’
Biz Kid$ has aired in 98 percent of the country and has been broadcast to more than 108 million households. It won a Daytime Emmy Award for Main Title and Graphic Design in 2009 and has recently been nominated for two more, in the Directing, Single Camera Photography and Sound Editing categories. The show also won an award in 2009 from the Environmental Media Association for an episode that created an earth-friendly business model.
Siedentopf is one of 10 young adult cast members who act out various scripts and characters in order to engage pre-teen viewers in business education.
“I play myself — or a character of myself — in that I’m often sort of a fall guy,” Siedentopf said of his role on the show. “I often have a big idea that’s stupid and it comes back to bite me.”
Siedentopf’s portfolio of character roles on Biz Kid$ includes a construction worker, a pilot, a rock star, a cowboy, the tooth fairy, a time traveling paramedic and his mother’s personal favorite, “The Twilight Zone’s” Rod Serling.
“He’s a good character actor,” Jean Buckner, Austin’s mother, said. “Most of the time when somebody’s being made fun of on the show, it’s Austin. He’s always the one with the pie in the face.”
While Siedentopf’s charred business card says “actor, filmmaker,” it fails to mention that he is also an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, a Junior Achievement representative, the assistant director of The Daily’s Double Shot news program at the UW and a magician.
Acting for Biz Kid$, in addition to managing a full course load and extracurricular interests, has not been easy.
“It’s pretty rigorous — I’m probably going to be working 40-hour workweeks,” he said. “But it’s totally worth it.”
When asked how she and her husband support their son as an actor and college student, Buckner replied that Austin doesn’t require a lot of help.
“Pretty much we get out of his way,” Buckner said. “He’s an independent fella. We’re always there to do what we need to do.”
‘A consummate actor’
Executive producer of the show Jamie Hammond spoke highly of Siedentopf’s ability to portray many different characters, the “genuine energy” he brings to the set and his growth as an actor.
“He’s just really developed into a consummate actor,” Hammond said. “His sense of timing for comedy has gotten really honed. I’m sure he’ll continue to grow.”
While Siedentopf enjoys acting and calls Biz Kid$ a “gift from the heavens,” he said he has become increasingly interested in directing, broadcast journalism and attending graduate film school.
Buckner said that she’s glad her son is using his experience to look into careers in front of and behind the camera.
“He’s looking at this from a creative perspective, a business perspective and an academic perspective,” she said.
Siedentopf found his passion for the stage at Issaquah Middle School, where he acted in school plays. He took some acting classes at Village Theatre and was involved with the drama club at Issaquah High School.
“All of the greatest actors are very smart and they’re sharp,” he said. “You have to keep that tool fresh, and Issaquah High School provided a very rigorous academic environment for me.”
He is debating between majoring in psychology or communications at the University of Washington.
As for his enthusiasm for magic, Siedentopf said he will continue to put on magic shows in his spare time.
“I think that I’m going to stick to magic as a hobby,” he said. “Perhaps a hobby that could potentially make some money for groceries in grad school if I perform at bars or get gigs in restaurants.”
Emily Baer: 392-6434 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.