I was anxiously looking over my bills when the phone rang. Someone was calling me via their cell phone and it was a very bad connection. “David, it’s Ogger,” a friendly, but very scratchy voice said. “Hi!” I replied, not knowing who I was talking to. “Gotta a client who needs some coaching. She’s right here. Part of a competition. Have her call you?” Clearly, whoever “Ogger” was, he was a busy man who only spoke in sentence fragments. “Sure!” I replied as I stared at my unpaid Am-Ex bill. “Have her call me!” Then “Ogger” finished by saying, “She’s the most adorable 11 year-old you’ll ever meet.”
Had “Ogger’s” cell phone connection not broken, I probably would have told him that I don’t coach children. It’s not that I don’t like children. I do. Very much, in fact. But children in show business are a different breed. More specifically, their parents are. In my experience, there is nothing scarier, or more disturbing than a parent who thinks their child has talent.
A day or two passed before a lovely, polite woman with a West Indies accent named Bernice called. She was the mother of Ariel, who was in need of some dramatic coaching on a couple of monologues she had prepared for an international children’s talent competition about to be held here in Burbank, California. Bernice, Ariel and her little sister, Tihara had travelled all the way from their home just outside London to participate in the competition. Was I free to work with Ariel tomorrow?
I decided the best way to get out of this was to price myself out of the running, so I took my usual hourly coaching rate (the one I charge for adults) and doubled it. Bernice thought that was fine, asked to book two hours of my time and inquired as to what time they should arrive.
The following day, Bernice, Ariel and baby Tihara (a stocky three-year old) showed up at my door. They were very apologetic about being only a few minutes late and explained that they were traveling around Los Angeles via taxi. Apparently, Bernice didn’t drive. I instantly felt bad for them since commuting via taxi in L.A. meant they were spending a small fortune. Once we were settled in, Bernice explained that Ariel was representing Great Britain in every category of this competition (Singing, Dancing, Acting and Spokesmodel). My job was to spruce up her monologues, of which she had four (comedic, dramatic, character & contestant’s choice). Curious about the competition, I asked a few questions. Bernice began to explain the rules and regulations of this prestigious event.
Apparently, there was an initial fee to apply, followed by an processing fee, followed by an acceptance fee which then put you in the same breathing space as many powerful agents, casting directors and talent executives – all of whom were desperately looking for the next big child star. However, if you wanted them to actually watch your child perform, there were more fees to be paid. In fact, every category had a fee. Plus, if you wanted your child to have more than 60 seconds in front of the judges, you had to pay for that time as well. It was a total racket. My heart went out to Bernice who was beaming with pride that her daughter was about to be seen by so many big time Hollywood star-makers.
I glanced over at Ariel. She was a radiant little girl, virtually bursting with enthusiasm. I asked her if she was ready to start. She was. Ariel tore into first monologue with fierce energy and lots of hand gestures. Between the speed she was going and her British accent, I only understood about a third of it. Since this was not a cheerleading competition, I tried to gradually reduce the number of hand gestures someone had clearly taught her and suggested that she might start thinking of each of her monologues as more of a story that she was telling to the audience. Ariel, in addition to being adorably cute, was extremely smart, and I could see her excitement rise each time she grasped one of the ideas I offered her. Every time Ariel make an improvement, Bernice who was seated beside me, would quickly scribble down a few notes about what I had said. While watching her daughter, Bernice would sometimes unconsciously roll her lips in and bite them to contain her joy. Tihara, meanwhile, had gotten a little bored and was busy destroying a few of my magazines.
Despite my offering, Ariel never wanted to take a break. She loved performing. Finally she launched into her fourth monologue which sounded vaguely familiar. I then realized that Ariel was playing legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee from the musical “Gypsy.” After she finished, I felt compelled to ask if mother or daughter was familiar with the Ms. Lee or the musical. They were not and had found the monologue on the internet and thought it was a good match for Ariel. “Can you tell me please…What is this ‘Burlesque?’” asked Bernice in her lovely Jamaican accent. I cleared my throat. “Well, Bernice…” I began, “It was a form of live entertainment where comedians told jokes to the audience and then women came out… and sort of danced to the music while removing their clothes.” Bernice’s face went blank. So did mine when I saw over her shoulder that Tihara was about to pull one my plants down on her head – which she did.
Once Tihara stopped crying and the mess was cleaned up, I assured Bernice that “Gypsy,” the character her daughter would be playing, had revolutionized the Burlesque industry by not taking her clothes off, but instead performing behind large feathered fans, etc. Bernice looked relieved. I told her that the material was not considered racy here in the States and would be fine for the competition. Secretly, I wondered how many ambitious little girls would be playing strippers, junkies or prostitutes in the competition tomorrow.
Over all, Ariel was a pro. Not only was she talented, but she was very charming to watch. When I asked her to perform all four of her monologues back-to-back at the end of the session, she didn’t forget a single note I had given her. The child was an entertainment machine. It was time for Bernice to pay me. As she counted out the bills into my hand, I felt horribly guilty. These sweet people were clearly being taken for a ride by the event promoters and part of me wanted to hand the money back to Bernice. Bernice, however was delighted with what I’d been able to achieve with Ariel in such a short time. “You are so much better than her teacher in New York?” “New York?” I inquired. I then learned that for the last two years, Bernice and Ariel had been flying from London to New York once a month so Ariel could have a short lesson with an acclaimed children’s acting teacher there. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad. I folded the bills and tucked them into my pocket. “I’m sure Ariel is going to dazzle them tomorrow,” I said. I shook Ariel’s hand and reminded her that the most important thing she could do tomorrow was to not worry about the judges or any of the other contestants and to have a great time! “You’re very good, Ariel,” I said, “And no matter what happens tomorrow, you’ll always be very good.” She beamed and thanked me for my help.
Two days later, I got a call from Bernice. Ariel had gotten second place in the singing competition and “honorable mention” in the acting division. Plus she had been approached by two agents and a manager. Bernice nervously asked if I knew anything about them. I didn’t. I could hear the anxiety in her voice. I told her that all she had to do was go to these meetings and see what they had to say. I told her to ask lots of questions and not be shy. I also urged her to particularly ask about any and all financial arrangements. “Oh…okay,” she said quietly. I heard a little scratching noise as she added that piece of advice to her ever-expanding notes. I suddenly felt bad for Bernice. Reality was beginning to set in. I suspected that the dream of Ariel making it big in Hollywood was starting to look awfully expensive and complicated. I also knew it was her unwavering love for her daughter that had taken them this far. “All she wants to do is perform in front of people, Bernice,” I offered. “She can do that anywhere. She has her whole life in front of her.” “I guess you’re right,” answered Bernice tentatively and sighed. “We’ll go. We’ll see what they say. Right?” “Right,” I answered. Then there was a small crash in the background and Bernice had to go. Her younger daughter, Tihara (who I suspect might have a big career ahead of her in women’s wrestling) had just knocked over a lamp in their hotel room.
Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/
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