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Steven Manchester: Dreams in Progress: NYC

My wife and I have four children—four wonderfully different children—and since the moment each of them learned to walk, they’ve been taught that dreams can (and do) come true. As part of that lesson plan, they’ve also been schooled on the following:

  • We don’t always get what we wish for, but we do get what we work for.

  • Luck is merely the place where opportunity meets preparation.

  • And opportunity often disguises itself as a mix of hard work and true perseverance.

Quite simply: We can make even the wildest dreams come true, but there are significant costs to be paid along the way.

As a professional writer, my children have witnessed my dreams come to fruition, along with the countless hours I’ve put in to make that happen. What many people see as impossible, they see as possible—even probable, if they choose to take the same path.

And then there’s our youngest, Isabella, the theatre lover. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. From the age of three, Bella has performed in the spotlight and has often said “the stage feels like home to me.” When hearing an innocent but genuine statement like that from a child, it’s nearly impossible not to get behind her and provide any and all the support she needs to visit “her home” as often as possible.

Each week, Bella spends the majority of her free time at a dance studio, studying a variety of disciplines from ballet to hip hop. She works with a vocal coach once a week and is normally participating in one local theatre production or another. As a parent, it’s an amazing thing to watch an eleven-year-old exercise her level of commitment, putting in the hours she does. Of course there are times when I really question this—the last thing I want is for Bella to sprint past her childhood—but all the dancing and singing is what she loves to do. And, as required, she maintains very good grades.

Several Christmas’ past, my wife and I gave Bella a gift certificate for one full week at the Broadway Workshop in New York City. Bella was beyond excited, packing her dance bag right away. In the days that followed, Bella auditioned for and landed the role of Annie in Footlights’ production of Annie Jr. Before her excitement over this subsided, we were heading toward the Big Apple where she was about to witness other dreams in progress.

After checking into our hotel just outside of Times Square, Bella’s adventure began. Over the next three days, she learned choreography from dancers who’d performed in the production, Newsies. She was taught interview and audition techniques from a Disney producer. She watched other children rehearse for their roles in Matilda. She worked on acting techniques—as well as several goofy selfies—with Richard Blake of Jersey Boys, as well as Annaleigh Ashford of You Can’t Take It With You. Bella was so taken with Annaleigh that we actually went to the show that night (as an added bonus, I was thrilled to discover the comedy also featured James Earl Jones). After the show, we waited by the stage door for Bella to get her autographs, as well as a hug and another selfie with her new friend, Annaleigh.

On the last day of the workshop, Bella met Aileen Quinn—the childhood actress who starred as Annie in the film (featuring Carol Burnett). As they took pictures, Bella whispered to her, “I’m playing Annie now.” The entire week was a dream come true.

On the long ride home from NYC, we spent the time going over everything Bella had learned. Besides the obvious lessons—the generous tips on dancing, singing and acting—there were a few nuggets of wisdom she was just starting to understand:

  • Broadway actors are human beings, no different from her.

  • They work hard—very hard—and often sacrifice what many people consider a normal life to get where they’re at.

  • And the dream of performing on a Broadway stage is not impossible—in fact, it happens all the time—but there are significant costs to be paid along the way.

Weeks after returning home from NYC, Bella took the stage as Annie and her heartfelt performance would have made even Aileen Quinn proud! As I sat through each performance, my eyes filled with shameless tears, my heart ran over to watch my daughter filled with so much joy to be “home.”

Not long after, my wife was taking a shower when Bella screamed from the living room. Hurrying to see what was wrong, she discovered that Bella was watching the Tony Awards and that her friend, Annaleigh Ashford, had just won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play (You Can’t Take It With You).

Dreams really can—and do—come true.


About the Author...

"Steven Manchester has a gift for expressing through his writing the complicated and transcendent beauty of the human experience with poignant clarity," says Yolanda King, eldest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King. "Steven Manchester writes about life as it really is and really could be," adds Crystal Book Reviews. Steven Manchester’s work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of Manchester’s short stories were selected “101 Best” for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Manchester writes deeply moving, intensely relatable novels that readers tend to remember and discuss for a long time.

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