Meet New Hampshire's Young Showbiz Stars
Meet three talented youngsters who are breaking into showbiz in a big way
Photo by P.T. Sullivan
They are overflowing with good looks, talent, charisma and personality. But what skyrockets these promising kids past the pack of wannabe performers is their passion. These young actors, dancers, singers, songwriters and musicians are driven not by fame for its own sake, but rather are fueled by the fire for their art. They are hard-wired to do the hard work required.
Even though gifted with what can be described as pizzazz, or that intangible quality that makes them shine, they attend classes, practice, rehearse, stretch, grow, aspire and take risks. As their reward they are on the trajectory to stardom. Take a look at these young New Hampshire locals who are already seeing their names up in lights.
Actor, age 9
It's all very hush-hush, but by next summer Jackson Nicoll will be featured as the star of a big-budget major motion picture produced by Paramount Studios. Traversing the country to shoot his scenes is just another day at the office for this 9-year-old, who already has a portfolio stocked with credits for movies, television and 30 national advertising campaigns.
"We're not allowed to reveal any details yet, but he's really very excited about this movie," says his mother April Nicoll. "There hasn't been one day on the job where my son doesn't want to go to work."
When Nicoll dragged a 5-and-a-half-year-old Jackson along to an audition for his older sister, Jayden, they had no idea it would be life-changing. A director took one look at him and suggested he show up at a different casting call for a movie being shot in Lowell, Mass., and he beat out several hundred other boys for the choice role. The film turned out to be the multiple Academy Award-winning "The Fighter," where he played the young Dickie Eklund to perfection and worked with Hollywood luminaries Christian Bale, MarkWahlberg, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo.
"Everything took off after that," says April, who added that Jackson memorizes his lines rapidly and can get into character only minutes after reading a script. "We were contacted by a manager in New York, Marilyn Zitner. My husband and I thought he was just a cute kid, but she saw so much more in him. She knew that he connected with audiences and that people would fall in love with him. She saw that my son has a gift. He signed with her when he was 6."
Now Jackson, who still takes weekend intensive acting classes in New York, has his manager in the Big Apple plus an agent in Hollywood and his parents are asked constantly when the family will move to Los Angeles. "I see him doing a TV series that's catered to him, doing more movies and being a role model for kids," says his proud mom.
Meanwhile he is enrolled in the third grade at Seabrook Elementary School but does have a private studio tutor when he's away on location. To avoid burnout and remain a normal kid, the celebrity goes to church every Sunday with his family, takes out the trash, gets an allowance and plays sports and video games.
"I really love my job," says Jackson, whose favorite down-time activity is fishing when he's not playing Madden NFL on his Xbox." Sometimes I get tired of all the travel but I like the food [catered on set], making new friends and the money."
There were times when Jackson's mother drove him to and from New York as often as four times a week for an audition, the call back, costume fittings and the job. She says she was concerned that after riding in the car for up to five hours one way he wouldn't be sharp and focused, but Jackson always performed like the pro he is. These days they travel by private car service and are flown first class to all of his gigs.
"His future is unlimited," April says. "This definitely won't be his last starring role in a movie."
Songbird, age 13
She's the little girl with the big belt of a voice and her renditions of the national anthem performed for President Barack Obama at the Boston Garden before games of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics, in Fenway Park prior to the Red Sox first pitch and at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in front of 100,000 fans and televised nationally have garnered standing ovations. Her accolades include "awesome," "breathtaking," "fabulous" and "phenomenal."
"Emma is special, very special. You either have that certain something or you don't and you can't teach it. She's got it," says Rochelle Shulman of RKS Management, the New York City talent agency that represents the 13-year-old. "What sets her apart is her drive. She has something inside her where she is bound and determined to succeed. And she will."
The Windham Middle School eighth grader got her start singing at Little League games in her hometown and on Feb. 27 will perform the classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at Madison Square Garden before a New York Knicks home NBA game. It's a song she's already mastered, having portrayed Dorothy in a Palace Theatre production of "Wizard of Oz," which is one of the 11 stage roles on her growing list of credits.
Emma, whose voice is pitch-perfect, gives a shout-out to the husband-and-wife team of Bill Carey and Michele Henderson of Carey & Henderson Vocal Studios in Nashua for getting her on her way and she still takes singing lessons from them. She also studies a variety of dance disciplines while honing her acting skills in regional community theatre productions.
"I am absolutely passionate about musical theatre, where you have to do it all well, and about performing," she says. "It's worth all of the hard work and the stress involved so that I can have the experiences I'm having now and then the ones I dream about."
Emma reminds Shulman, who represents a hand-picked roster of only 20 child performers from around the nation, of megawatt star Kristen Chenoweth. The young songstress dreams of following the Tony and Emmy Award winner to the Great White Way and she has already auditioned for several shows on Broadway. It's only a matter of time before she lands a dream role.
"Emma's future is very bright," says her agent. "For her I definitely see Broadway. And beyond."
Rocker, age 17
I want to be a rock star," declares MB Padfield, who finished high school when she was 14 and now is studying songwriting and performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Unlike most other 17-year-olds fantasizing about the same career, she's got what it takes.
She holds her own onstage and is already being compared to No. 1-selling pop rock and pop punk artist Avril Lavigne and rocker Grace Potter of the Nocturnals for her singing talent, as well as to multiple Grammy Award-winner John Mayer for her remarkable songwriting skills. Her compositions have been termed visionary, evolved and sophisticated beyond her years.
"I get those comparisons a lot. It's because of my young, renegade, Converse-boots-with-a-nice-dress look and my vocal style," says MB, who is also a professional model for Surface Salon hair products.
Self-taught in guitar, ukulele, guitalele, piano and violin, the Manchester native started singing in a choir at age 4 and was performing in nursing homes by the time she was 7. Only a decade later she released a CD titled "Hey You" on which all of the songs were written exclusively by her and the title track features Greg Hawkes of The Cars on the ukulele. The recording's release party was held at Tupelo Music Hall in June and she's also performed at several gigs promoted by top-rated area radio stations that are playing her music. She was on the bill at the Best of NH Show 2012 at the Verizon Wireless Arena and the TD Bank Summer Concert Series in downtown Manchester during what has been her breakout year.
"Music is the thing that enables me to keep learning while doing the same thing because music always changes," says MB, who is versatile enough to perform an acoustic cover of an Eminem rap song. "As it evolves, it feeds my creativity."
Although MB has gone on tour in Georgia and North Carolina with acoustic rock artist Cal Olivier and recorded a duet with him on his band's recent release, she won't be moving to Nashville, New York or Los Angeles. "I'm a big believer in making things happen my own way. I'm taking the non-traditional path to discovery and skipping those cities because I'm planning on breaking in right in Boston," she says.
In the meantime MB, who trained seeing-eye dogs for more than three years for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and trained herself for competitive boxing at Bare Knuckles Murphy's Gym in Manchester for two years, is pushing herself through a heavy performance schedule at venues across southern New Hampshire while her music is sold on iTunes and her performances get thousands of views on YouTube.
"Now when I'm out on the street I do get recognized occasionally. I've got almost one thousand 'likes' on my Facebook page. I'm starting to really get a following and I'm pretty excited about that," she says.
SHOW BUSINESS TIP SHEET
So you think your talented and adorable kids can be the next Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osmet? Better follow this advice from the experts because there are practical pointers to giving them a leg up and plenty of pitfalls to drag down a rising star. Here are some Dos and Don’ts when it comes to beating the odds and breaking into the tough world of show business:
Push your child because it’s what you want. Each child has to desire it and want it for herself, and then be willing to make the necessary sacrifices. “If your child doesn’t have the love for it and be willing to work hard for it, they’re never going to make it. They will not succeed in this very bad, cutthroat business,” says New York talent agent Rochelle Shulman of RKS Management. “There are a thousand other kids just waiting to take their place.”
Live vicariously through your child. Think of the character Mama Rose in the Broadway play and movie “Gypsy” — there’s good reason why the pushy, obnoxious and overbearing stage mother is a stereotype. Never coach or scold your child in front of casting directors or interfere with them.
Fear rejection. “Don’t let anyone stop you. Keep going no matter what,” advises rising star Emma Joanis. “When you’re at an audition, you never know what the casting directors are thinking. The reason you didn’t get the part might be that you’re not the right age for it, don’t have the look they want, don’t have the right chemistry with someone already cast for another role or any other reason. You can’t automatically assume you’re not talented enough.”
Bring your child to an audition when he’s not at his best. If he’s wired, overtired, under the weather, distracted or just not with it, it won’t go well.
Ask at the audition how your child fared. The way it works for youth clients is that the casting directors give the feedback to the agents, who then tell you.
Get involved in any of the many financial scams. “If it seems too good to be true, it is,” says April Nicoll, the mother of child movie star Jackson Nicoll. “There are websites like Boston Casting where it’s free to get audition notices.” Adds Chris Courage, the artistic director of The Acting Loft in Manchester, “If anyone says you have to pay an exorbitant amount of money to get into an audition where you’ll be seen by casting directors and talent scouts, it is a falsehood. If you’re really talented, you’re going to get noticed.”
Stay out of the child actor gossip grapevine. “I tell my clients’ mothers and fathers not to even talk to the other parents at auditions,” says Shulman. Some parents exaggerate their child’s number of callbacks, inflate their resumes or invent opportunities and bookings. Negative conversation and comparison are counterproductive.
Thoroughly research any talent agency that wants to represent your child and be certain who will be working and interacting with her before you sign a contract. Then sign with the best agency possible.
Have your child’s name registered as a website domain as soon as possible to prevent someone from stealing it.
Do your homework on expensive classes or workshops before you commit to them. Make sure they are of value and will be of benefit.
Have professional headshots taken and bring only them to auditions.
Arrive early to the audition. Teach your child to make eye contact with the directors and other professionals, introduce himself or herself, be polite to everyone and say please and thank you.
Be aware of creepy strangers and overly zealous fans. Screen all fan mail, especially the letters that have a return address of a prison or mental institution. Make sure your phone number and home address are unlisted. Don’t post on online forums about your child to prevent your computer information from being hacked.
Keep the faith. Be positive. Be supportive. Be reassuring.
Always remember that protecting your child’s welfare is your job. It’s more important than getting the part.
With TV shows like “Glee,” “Smash” and “The Voice” all the rage and the “High School Musical” movie trilogy dominating the popular culture, kids and teens today consider the performance arts as pretty cool. Parents should know that besides being fun and a big booster in self-confidence, an arts education contributes to better academic achievement and higher scores on standardized tests. If your child would like to step into the spotlight or work behind the scenes, there are plenty of places in New Hampshire to get top-notch training.
THE ACTING LOFT
670 North Commercial Street
Offering a full year-round curriculum in total theatre arts education and entertainment for all ages, especially 5 and up. Training in stage management, technical design, set design, lighting and costumes can be had.
ANDY’S SUMMER PLAYHOUSE
582 Isaac Frye Highway
An innovative summer youth theatre staging original works performed by local artists. For ages 8 to 18.
CONCORD COMMUNITY MUSIC SCHOOL
23 Wall Street
Called “a home for musical friendships,” they offer individual instruction, ensembles, choruses, summer programs, early childhood programs, music therapy and more.
CONCORD COMMUNITY PLAYERS CHILDREN'S THEATRE PROJECT
432 Josiah Bartlett Road
Award-winning children's theatre and vacation camps overseen by one of the state's oldest and most respected community theatre groups.
INTER-LAKES SUMMER THEATRE
1 Laker Drive
The junior intern program teaches the process of summer stock first-hand and the kids are featured in the Children’s Series productions while also working under the spotlight or backstage for the main stage performances.
MANCHESTER COMMUNITY MUSIC SCHOOL
2291 Elm Street
Dedicated to changing lives through the power of learning, sharing and making music with classes and private lessons.
80 Hanover Street
The Palace Teen Company is an elite, audition-only group of 25 students ages 13-18 under the direction of the Palace Professional Department. There is also a pre-teen company. Week-long school vacation and summer theatre camps are held for kids in grades 2 through 8.
14 Court Street
This highly renowned company offers theatre, music and dance classes and workshops for children of every age and talent level year-round.
RIVERBEND YOUTH PERFORMING ARTS GROUP
56 Mount Vernon Street
Milford, (603) 672-1002
Affiliated with the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan, the all-youth theatrical group produces three main stage productions per year and offers after-school drama programs and a summer camp program.
THE WINNI PLAYHOUSE
50 Reservoir Road
Meredith (603) 366-7377
Camps, workshops and auditions for mainstage productions are hosted year-round by this community/professional theatre company that is known as one of the state's cultural gems.
For costs, fees, scholarship availability, faculty, schedules and more detailed information, contact each organization.