What do you do when your 11 year old daughter tells you she wants to be an actress when she grows up and asks to take lessons? Well in my case, I went through my mommy checklist.
Do you have good grades? Check!
Do you have a good attitude about school and chores? Check!
Do you have the maturity to follow through, because being in a play is a big commitment? Check!
Once I was willing to give her a shot, I had to find a program that catered to her age group. And wouldn’t you know it, fortune smiled on us. Located right around the corner from our home in Livermore, California is SmARTSunlimited, a program that teaches children performing arts. Founded by Deborah McQueen and her husband Jim Hutchins, SmARTSunlimited is a terrific starting point for parents looking to develop artistic talent and skills in their children. And as luck would have it, we found the program in time for my daughter to participate in its 2010 summer theatre camp — the musical Alice in Wonderland (check out the video below to see the finished product).
After four weeks of longs days at camp, and a few extra late night rehearsals, I can’t begin to express to you how nervous I was to see my daughter on stage: a real stage mind you, with full on production set, props, lights, and crew. And, she was going to play two different characters, rotating between the Caterpillar and Tweedle Dee, across seven shows, over two full days. Did I mention that this would be in a real theatre, where people pay $15 to attend?
Sitting in the first row, hands sweaty, squeezing the hands next to me, I watched as my daughter sang, danced, and acted like a real pro. Her solo parts were amazing, her engagement, enthusiasm, and confidence all shining through. And I couldn’t have been a prouder mom. Of course, I wasn’t alone; other moms were beaming right along side of me. We couldn’t believe what SmARTSunlimited had accomplished in such a short amount of time, which a group of kids made up of all ages and experience levels.
While most of the credit must go to the kids, none of it would have been possible without the vision and commitment of Deborah McQueen and her team.
In 1995 Deborah had a dream to teach opera to preschoolers and launched her first program, OperaSmarts. Yes, preschoolers and opera. From there she expanded her program to include lessons in all types of musical instruments, voice, art, film, and of course acting. Today, SmARTSunlimited inspires hundreds of children ranging in age from 2 to 18. Her pupils have gone on to pursue careers in all facets of the arts. Her own daughter, Erin, has been studying music since the age of 2½ and has even composed her own music, which won “Peoples Most Popular Choice” in the 2009 Iron Man Film Maker contest for the play Love is Blind.
I can’t tell you how Deborah and SmARTSunlimited does all of this. That you would have to see for yourself. What I can tell you is that parents all over the Tri-Valley have come to truly appreciate her passion, knowledge, and willingness to teach children to be the best at whatever it is they want to be. She is a true entrepreneur who has made her dream a reality while inspiring children to pursue dreams of their own.
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