February 8 11

If you asked Emily at age 2 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would tell you…”FAMOUS.”

If you asked Emily at age 4 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would tell you…”I want to be famous. And be in movies.”

If you asked Emily at age 6 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would tell you…”I want to be famous. And be in movies. And have my own TV show.”

If you asked Emily at age 8 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would tell you…”I want to be famous. And be in movies. And have my own TV show. And sing on Broadway.”

If you ask her now, at almost 10, she will tell you….”I WILL be on that stage. Just you wait…”

So, it has been clear to me, from very early on, that this child has dreams. BIG ONES.

Sometimes I wish I could call Justin Bieber’s mom for a little advice, because, well, obviously she is doing something right. I, however, am not. When Emily was in first grade, I put her in her school’s after-hours drama program. Basically, how this works is simple. I shell out $250+ for Emily to be in a play (To date: Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Mamma Mia, Willy Wonka and now Grease.) She stays after school each Tuesday for an hour-and-a-half. She learns some simple dances and some songs. A few weeks in they have auditions and then they get a part. I get that it’s not a professional production. They do perform the plays on a local theater stage and they do over-charge for tickets and at the end of the day they put on a good, entertaining, and fun show:

(From The Sound of Music. Emily (in second grade) is the nun in the middle)

(From Willy Wonka. Emily (in fourth grade) is, well, the girl.)

Emily has always had decent-ish roles. She has never had a BIG part, per se. But, you guys, when she found out they were doing Grease, she was all DUDE, I HAVE GOT THIS IN THE BAG. She knew the movie inside and out and backwards and forwards. She nailed her audition, she said. And even the play’s director seemed to be pleased and when I said, “It’s time for a leading role, Alex,” he answered with, “she has proven that she is ready.”

So we thought it was her time to be Rizzo. Or even Marty.

AND THEN.

JAN.

Jan has exactly 28 lines and exactly one song solo…you know what it is, right? Her solo? It’s that brusha brusha brusha song. I know. To say the least, Emily was both devastated and heartbroken. She was so convinced that this was her time. She has accepted and owned her small roles until now…knowing that the big roles were coming.

BUT THEN.

When I picked her up from practice, she barely made it home before the tears began. Before she turned to me and said, for the very first time, MAYBE I AM NOT AS GOOD AS I THINK I AM. MAYBE I WON’T BE FAMOUS.

And then I was both devastated and heartbroken.

Because this little girl has more talent in her little body that I could ever hope for. She can sing, she can dance, she can act. She really can. Sure, she could use some voice training and some guidance to be better. She IS only 9. But, you guys, if you knew her, you would know. If you’ve seen her take every playdate she has ever had and turned into a full-fledged musical production, you would know. If you’ve seen her command that stage and get standing ovations, you would know. If you’ve ever watched her dance hip hop at Vibe, you would know.

You know. I know. She knows. SHE KNOWS, which was why I was so surprised that she was doubting herself, even for just that short moment. She came around fairly quickly and decided that she is going to be the best Jan to ever be and even though she doesn’t have ANY song solos, she has 28 lines that she is going to master and she is going to rock the bobby socks off of a director who clearly doesn’t see her talent and her potential, of a director who doesn’t even HELP her to be better, of a director that has a reputation for playing favorites, of a director who will get to direct my daughter in her very last play. Because we are done with him.

I don’t want her to EVER doubt herself again. It was in that moment that I made a promise to her that I never really thought I’d make.

“Emily, if this is your dream, I am going to help you make it a reality.”

I just wish I knew how to do that.

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  1. I think this could be a good learning experience – that everyone can’t be the leading role in every play. Without the Jans of the world, we couldn’t have a full production of anything. I know it has to be hard to see her doubt herself, but it is good to see that she came around to deciding to be a great Jan. As for the director, I obviously don’t know anything about him except you said he may play favorites…but I’d just like to interject that it is inherent in the business that everyone can’t be the star in every play and I imagine that it must be a VERY DIFFICULT role to have to chose those roles. With so many parents who believe so much in their talented kids, there is no way around people being disappointed no matter what he does.

    Just my two cents….

    [Reply]

    Comment by Laura on February 8, 2011
  2. Take her to a talent scout – they will tell you what you need to do – what training she’ll need. Good luck.

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    Comment by Rae Ann on February 8, 2011
  3. Laura. OF COURSE.

    But, would you change your mind if I told you that the girls playing some of the MAIN PARTS cannot sing their way out of a paper bag?

    Would you change your mind if you knew that I got TWELVE emails from parents – some that I don’t even know – telling me that Emily “GOT ROBBED”?

    It’s a GREAT lesson for her…to tell her that she cannot always be the star. Because I know this. A little disappointment is not a bad thing. 100%. It’s a good life lesson for her. EXCEPT, how can I teach her a life lesson when the lesson is that it’s completely unfair that people who aren’t as good as you are get better parts because the director likes their parents more?

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    Comment by ali on February 8, 2011
  4. Because that’s another life lesson. That people suck and the world is full of them. A terrible lesson to teach a 9 year old – but it’s the truth.

    Is there another program near by? I know we have tons in measly Cleveland.

    I hope her spirit is dampened by mean people. Emily is so awesome.

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    Comment by OHmommy on February 8, 2011
  5. OH…I know. It’s a shitty, shitty lesson to have to teach your child.

    I am now looking into other programs…I just have to find one that I like and that seems to be a good fit for Miss Emily.

    She has come around. and she knows that she’ll be great. but she’s ready to move on.

    [Reply]

    Comment by ali on February 8, 2011
  6. Geez, this made me tear up. I was totally Emily 20 years ago. I wanted to sing. I wanted it so bad. (OK, maybe I still kinda do.) But nobody supported me. Everybody was all “You can do anything you set your mind to” then they’d promptly follow it up with “but you know it’s not very likely” and “you’ll have to have a real job in order to put food on the table.” The fact that you’re supporting her, encouraging her, and becoming as passionate about it as she is brings a smile and a tear to my face. Thanks for being that mom, Ali. You rock.

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    Comment by Liz on February 8, 2011
  7. I know. It just bothers you when things are not fair. It is so hard to explain it when the kids obviously can read the whole dynamic of the situation. I seriously remembering being 5 years old in skating and the cute little blond girl received TONS of help, whilest I, the brown-haired boy-cut girl (mom swears this is why my hair is thick)was left to my own “talent”. I promptly refused to go to skating afterwards. My Mom never knew why. Maybe I could have been the next Dorothy Hamil!?

    Just don’t let her dreams get crushed. When you take away the dreams- it almost feels like you take away the wonder of childhood.

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    Comment by NaomiJesson on February 8, 2011
  8. Look around for community theater programs that have open auditions. Most plays have some role for kids– The King and I, Music Man, Oliver, Annie, etc.

    Get her an agent, look into voice over work, take her to a talent scout

    If she has that kind of drive, that’s the number one thing you need (maybe even more than talent). Did you talk to the director about his casting decisions? Although, it probably wouldn’t make you feel better, no matter what he said.

    Hang in there!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sheryl on February 8, 2011
  9. I was watching Grease on Friday and I was so mad she didn’t get to play Rizzo. She’s a PERFECT Rizzo!

    Is the most lines she’s had in a role? Maybe that’s the silver lining? This time around she can focus on the acting and not as much on the singing? (Trying to be positive because this is a horrible lesson to learn at 9.)

    Regardless, she WILL be a star. I just know it. And she would be even if you didn’t encourage her, because she’s that good and that determined! So with your help, it will be a reality!

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    Comment by Kristabella on February 8, 2011
  10. That can’t be a fun situation for ya, Ali. I’m excited for what her future holds, though. Sounds like she’s gonna make it big. :)

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    Comment by Nanette on February 8, 2011
  11. I have been in the theater world for quite a while here, and I think it’s really important to move around to different directors. That way if there is a RockStar, Tony-Awardee-in-Training kid (Emily) with a biased director (who very well may have squashed flies for brains) it’s not the end of her dream. Find a different director. Find a new program that will help encourage her, teach her, shape her. She will go SO far with that attitude alone, she just needs a venue to shine!

    Good luck Emily, see you on Broadway!

    [Reply]

    Comment by heidikins on February 8, 2011
  12. This is going to be a long one, but I was once that little girl, and I hope my years of experience can help you both.

    First of all, tell Emily not to be upset about Jan. I’ve been in a lot of shows, and I can tell you that the leading lady is rarely the part you want because frankly, the lead usually sucks. Who wants to be a wilting damsel in distress when you can be her quirky, snarky, take-no-prisoners handmaid? Leading ladies tend to be boring, one dimensional characters with boring songs. I’ve been in Grease, and I can tell you, the part of Sandy sucks. So she’s not the lead. There’s more work out there for character actors, anyway.

    2) That being said, there may come a day when she has to let go of that dream. My day came in college, when after studying dance for almost 20 years and driving towards a singular dream I realized that not only was I probably not good enough to ever make it professionally, but I didn’t want it bad enough to suffer through the masochistic lifestyle that comes with it. And it hurt. But at the same time, my experience in theatre growing up lead me to my current career both literally and figuratively. That day may come someday, and it’s going to suck. The only thing you can do is be there to encourage her to reach for whatever her new dreams look like.

    Merde to both of you!

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    Comment by MonsteRawr on February 8, 2011
  13. I hate that. When they play favorites. That he, even for a moment made her doubt herself.

    Are there any drama/theater schools in your area?

    [Reply]

    Comment by Issa on February 8, 2011
  14. Thanks, Issa!
    I’m looking into programs now. There’s not much near us, since I live in the suburbs…but I live in Toronto. THere’s tons of stuff here. I just have to find the right one.

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    Comment by ali on February 8, 2011
  15. I met her, and I KNOW.

    She is beyond these small time productions.

    That girl is a star, you know it 5 seconds in from meeting her.

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    Comment by Brittany on February 8, 2011
  16. If she’s half as fabulous as you she will be a total rockstar. And I want front row tickets when she’s on Broadway. K?

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    Comment by Shauna on February 8, 2011
  17. I didn’t realize she’s only 9. She’s an amazing singer! I don’t know how to help you but at least you’re in a major city – hopefully that will help!

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    Comment by Karen Sugarpants on February 8, 2011
  18. She’ll be better than Jan.

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    Comment by Angie [A Whole Lot o on February 8, 2011
  19. I can only agree with what others have posted…it’s a learning experience for years down the road when she is famous and is relaying stories of her ups and downs of the business. She kills it in the two clips you posted…holy crap what a voice!
    I really think you need to look more into the professional pieces and less the after school productions so that she can continue to develop her voice and her skills…she’s just THAT great. :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by Amanda on February 8, 2011
  20. You’re a super mom, Ali, for offering her nothing but your total support. She’ll go far not only because she’s got amazing talent but because she’s got a mom with a good head on her shoulders and an undying love for her daughter.

    Jan this time around…Lead Actress in a Motion Picture next time. :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by CynthiaK on February 8, 2011
  21. Hi Ali – I stumbled on your blog from Barefootfoodie awhile back, and I always enjoy reading your funny stories about your kids.

    I wanted to comment on this one because I am a professional opera singer and voice teacher in Chicago and I know quite a bit about “the biz”. I started out in musical theater but evolved to opera over the years. It sounds like you’re doing all the right things for your daughter – and like many of the other commenters have said, sometimes it’s good to learn the hard lessons early on (unfortunately, even now, I’m still often wondering why the heck certain people get jobs over me – the politics never end, even for pros).

    Sounds like it is time to move on to a different program – I agree about finding something in your community. Where I grew up there was a wonderful Youth Theater – I’m sure you can find something like that near Toronto. I would encourage you not to start voice lessons until she’s a bit older (13 or 14) – and if you really must, be very judicious when choosing a teacher. (There’s a lot of hacks out there who don’t know what they’re talking about and just want to make a buck!) I find that the younger students begin, the more bad habits they pick up early on, and frankly, it’s just a waste of money at such a young age – even the female voice needs to go through puberty and do its changing. A better option for strengthening the singing voice would be getting involved with a good children’s choir. Piano lessons would be great too – it’s an important skill for singers to be able to learn music independently, and piano helps with that.

    Your daughter should definitely pursue her dreams – and if she gets to be high school age and still wants to be a performer, you should try to have her talk with someone currently working in the “biz” – that’s something I always wished I had been able to do, because the dream versus the reality of it all (making a living, having a family, etc) can be pretty harsh at 22 when you’re just out of college with a voice performance degree and hadn’t really considered – what’s next?

    At the age of 9, be as supportive as possible (which you’re absolutely doing!). At the age of 18, be supportive yet realistic. Good luck!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Emily on February 9, 2011
  22. I have no advice to pass on. I was not talented or driven as a child. I was shy and quiet. But as a mom I can say you do what ever it is you want/need to do. You are already doing an amazing job. Beiber wasn’t always a super star and I am sure his mom worried and questioned and supported. Just like you are! You go girl!

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    Comment by Chantal on February 9, 2011
  23. I haven’t met her but from what I’ve seen and read of her over the years, she WILL do it. With your help.

    Sorry she had to learn the lesson that people can be douchebags, but I’m so glad she has parents like you and Gav who will do all they can to make her dreams a reality.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Angella on February 10, 2011
  24. [...] have written through her performances in The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Mamma Mia, Grease, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Hairspray, The Wizard of Oz (again), [...]

    Pingback by » Stage Mom. Indeed. Cheaper Than Therapy on March 20, 2012
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