June 12, 2011, - 4:53 pm
ABSURD: “Annie” Tryouts Feature Psychiatrists, “Self Esteem Counselors” – Far Cry From My ’70s Audition
Today in New York City, auditions are being held for the Broadway revival of the musical, “Annie.” And several self esteem counselors and psychiatrists are on hand, along with politically correct self-help pamphlets for six-year-olds. A sad sign of what America’s become and a stark contrast to my own experience in the late ’70s, when I, myself, tried out for “Annie.”
Little Orphan Annie Gets Self-Esteem Counselors
When I was a young kid, I was a huge fan of “Annie.” My parents took me to see it at Detroit’s Fisher Theater a bunch of times, and I had an extensive collection of Annie memorabilia. But, it was a wholesome show with a cute dog and great, uplifting entertainment for a young kid to be interested in. I listened to the Annie soundtrack over and over, had the stuffed Annie doll, and slept on Annie bedsheets. For costume parties, I wore the curly, redheaded Annie wig and perfect red and white satin Annie dress that my skilled seamstress Holocaust survivor grandmother, Adele, made for me from scratch after looking at a photo.
So, when the Broadway touring company in Detroit held auditions for a new Annie and fellow orphans, I was extremely excited. I fit the age category and took tap and jazz dancing classes at Miss Barbara’s Dance Center (“Showgirls’” Elizabeth Berkley was in our class), knew all the songs, and I was ready. I incessantly begged my reluctant parents to let me try out. They repeatedly warned me that, even if I beat incredible odds and made it, I probably wouldn’t be able to do it because of the Jewish Sabbath, and that it’s hard to remain a religious Jew or a stable young person of any religious or ethnic background, traveling around and acting on stage. I think I was eight or nine at the time, maybe ten and ever the bright-eyed, strong-willed optimist in response. Eventually, they gave in . . . I think because they knew I wouldn’t make it, and it would be quick and painless instead of weeks of hearing me say, “woulda shoulda, coulda.”
My best friend, Abby Guyer, and her mother joined me and my mother, waiting all day long inside the Fisher Theater with hundreds of other girls for a quick chance to go backstage and sing “Happy Birthday” before some brusque New Yorkers. If you didn’t hit the one note right–and I didn’t–you were out. Our teacher, Rabbi Skorski, specifically forbade any students from skipping class and going to try out for Annie, but Abby and I went anyway. I am not the world’s greatest singer, and I was cut immediately. Abby was far more talented and I thought for sure that she’d get picked, but she eventually got cut, too. They picked less than a handful of kids out of hundreds, and it was one of my first experiences at being rejected. Not a big deal. I quickly got over it and ultimately lost my interest in “Annie,” as many people apparently have, since the comic strip recently ended, and the show has long been gone from Broadway.
Now, though, the Broadway forces that be are reviving the musical and holding a nationwide search for the new Annie and fellow orphans. But the things that are going on for these auditions are a sign of how times have changed . . . for the worst. Not only are there “Annie” workshops and boot camps teaching kids how to get a leg up on the auditions, but there will be psychiatrists and “self esteem counselors” on hand to help counsel kids who don’t get chosen. It’s absurd.
Maybe that was why I didn’t get picked for Annie–I didn’t have enough “self esteem” . . . or “self esteem counselors.” I wonder how many self esteem counselors and “Annie” boot camps they have in China and South Korea. So, what, if they’re beating us in math, science, manufacturing, and everything else? We are beating the world in the all-important category of six year old girls belting out “Tomorrow” with help from self-esteem counselors and psychiatrists. I think that’s how Daddy Warbucks and the other American titans of industry got rich, and we got out of the Depression.
Young girls who are seven and eight years old should be enjoying summer at a real camp, not attending SAT-prep-style Annie “job-training” workshops and boot camps. When I was a kid auditioning for Annie, “boot camp” was strictly the description of induction into the U.S. military. Now, it’s the name for every intense exercise workout and other such things that have as much similarity to boot camp as the French Riviera has to Detroit. But, today, kids don’t have a childhood anymore, unlike the innocent one I lived. One of the young girls auditioning even has a Lady Gaga-style hairdo (see the video, above).
Like I said, when I quickly got cut at the “Annie” auditions, I got over it. No biggie. My parents–and I’m pretty sure, Dr. and Mrs. Guyer, too–would have laughed, if they made self esteem counselors and psychiatrists available to us because we got cut. Boo hoo. But we weren’t the uber-sensitive softies that kids are today, in which every paper cut is a major tragedy that needs to be counseled, “healed,” “closured,” and “dialogued” to death. I don’t think our parents would have shelled out for Annie boot camp, either. Thank G-d.
It’s kind of ironic, really, when you consider that “Annie” is about tough orphan survivors with a lot of moxie in a decrepit–by Depression era standards, let alone today’s–orphanage, run by Miss Hannigan, an evil, sleazy woman who abuses them and works them to the bone. If they were around today, real-life Depression-era orphans would laugh at the “counselors” made available to spoiled 2011 kids auditioning to play them on the stage. Shows what wimps we’ve become, even in an age where Hollywood tries to show us she-men and other forms of masculine women. The girls back then were far more feminine and, yet, also far stronger and tougher.
The reason we have stringent child labor laws today is in large part because of the hard labor many children of the Depression and earlier times were forced to perform. So, it’s also ironic that these kids auditioning to play the Depression-era oprhans are now attending job training “boot camps”–though these are just pampered excursions in comparison–when they should be enjoying childhood and playing. Many of the girls auditioning are just six years old.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on the workshops and the counselors. Most of the workshops are taught by former Annies and orphans–girls I worshiped back then and went backstage to meet and get autographs from (except Sarah Jessica Parker, er . . . Sarah Jess-Equine Parker–one of the original Annies; never liked her and she isn’t reduced to teaching these job training courses to the self-esteemed, boot-camped six-year-olds). What I found interesting is that some of the former “Annie” stars don’t want their kids facing auditions and rejections. They also found it hard dealing with real life after the glamor of Broadway was over, and they don’t want that for their children. It’s the same kind of thing many kid stars face. I wasn’t aware of it, but there is even a documentary about what a “Hard Knock Life” it became for these former Annie stars. It sounds like they learned from it, though, and care far more about their kids than these stage moms and Broadway producers, today.
The only thing I didn’t see in the article about the contemporary Annie auditions is anything about transvestite boys–like the “My Princess Boy” kid–auditioning to play Annie and the orphans or any civil rights lawyers crying sexism over the fact that the orphans and Annie, herself, are girls and suing. I thought these things would be givens, in this age of job training boot camps and self esteem counselors for six-year-old girls. Thank Heaven for small favors. I think I have a new ripe lawsuit for Gloria Allred to handle. Maybe Miss Hannigan can be played by Chaz Bono, you know, just to “update” it.
Brynne Norquist isn’t taking any chances with her audition for a new Broadway revival of “Annie.” The eight-year-old with a moon face and blond pigtails got rid of her friendship bracelet so she won’t fiddle with it during her tryout. She worked on her performance style with a private coach. She attended a workshop to perfect her song, “Born to Entertain,” under the steady gaze of other wannabe orphans.
“She wants to be a Broadway icon,” said her mother, Lauren Norquist of Irvington, N.Y.
Hundreds of children with similar ambitions are expected to line up Sunday outside an audition space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It’s an open call, so anyone can come: no agent necessary, no experience, either. The girls, 6 to 12 years old, will hand over a photo, sing without instrumental accompaniment and hope for a call-back for the late 2012 production.
The opportunity has prompted parents to seek out Annie boot camps around New York to get their daughters ready. Workshops—many led by former Annie cast and creative-team members—are helping little girls figure out what to sing (no age-inappropriate love songs), what to wear (no prissy dresses) and how to enter the audition room (fearlessly).
It took 12 minutes for Broadway Workshop, a New York musical theater school, to sell out its audition prep with Aileen Quinn, who played Annie in the 1982 movie based on the Broadway show.
At another youth acting studio, A Class Act NY, 24 kids recently took the $150, three-and-a-half hour workshop with Caroline Daly Antonelli, an orphan in Annie on Broadway in 1980 and ’81.
A waiting list quickly formed for the six, $65-per-child Annie workshops at Random Farms Kids’ Theater in Elmsford, N.Y., with guest coach Keith Levenson, musical director of the only revival of Annie that has been done on Broadway, which ran for seven months in 1997. . . .
Ms. Quinn . . . who also appeared as an orphan in the original Broadway show . . . shared Annie lore with the girls, telling them how the movie crew once spread Alpo on her face to get Sandy, the dog, to lick her.
Broadway Workshop’s director, Marc Tumminelli, saw potential in some of the younger girls, like six-year-old Tori Feinstein, because the older kids could be too tall by opening night late next year. . . .
Ms. Madover, the Annie producer, plans to attend this weekend’s auditions, where a team of 20 will see potential orphans. Later, staff will run private auditions, visit summer camps and hold open calls in Los Angeles and in Florida. Kids can also submit videos online.
For the open call, Ms. Madover has sought the help of a child psychiatrist to create a “self-esteem program” that includes six volunteers to help girls who may struggle at the audition.
“You forgot the words? Everyone freezes up from time to time,” reads a pamphlet that staff will give each child. The leaflets also offer advice to parents: “Try not to say, ‘You were better than everyone else’ or ‘You deserved it.’”
This is laughable. Thank goodness they didn’t pass out these ridiculous brochures when I tried out for Annie. A girl who was in my dance class got called back a few times at the audition, but ultimately didn’t get chosen. She was a great singer, great dancer, and had spunk. She was better than everyone else (even if she didn’t make the final selection). That’s real life. Some people are more talented than others in certain fields. Telling parents to tell their kids that everyone is equally talented, even if they didn’t get picked is kinda like priming them for disaster later in life. And there’s also nothing wrong with a parent giving an honest assessment to their talented kid and encouraging the kid because she IS better than everyone else and DID deserve it. If you need a pamphlet from Broadway producers to teach you how to raise your kids, you probably should give them up for adoption or send them to Miss Hannigan’s orphanage.
Some parents are wary. Tara Kennedy-Fishman, who played an orphan on Broadway from 1980 to 1982, is reluctant to take her two oldest girls to the tryout, though they are eager to go. “If you’re a working child actress, your life is great, you’re in limos and you’re going to Sardi’s for lunch and you’re working,” said the mother of five from Irvington, N.Y. “But when your life changes and you get older and you get braces and the parts diminish and it becomes a different time for you, it’s done, it’s over, and it’s very hard to deal with.” A 2006 documentary, “Life After Tomorrow,” examined the often-difficult lives of young women who have appeared in various productions of the show.
Kids with the best chances this year may be the ones who look younger than they actually are, said [Andrea] McArdle, the original [DS: and, in my opinion, best] Annie. “If they’re 10 and they look 7, it’s like ‘Wow, those kids are fantastic.’ It’s smoke and mirrors,” said Ms. McArdle, who was a short 13-year-old when she played the part. Ms. McArdle, now 47, gives private lessons to little girls going out for parts like Annie.
Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I Love Ya, Tomorrow. You’re Only a Self-Esteem Counselor Away. . . .
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