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Sophie in Performance!

Sophie Jonak, 7th grade
Davidson Middle School
Mentor Artist Miko Lee, Theatre
Program: Youth in Arts Presents

Youth in Arts cast Sophie in our original Chinese New Year’s production Tales of the Nian, premiering in our Youth in Arts Presents series in 2009 and returning for a repeat performance in 2010. The project was a collaboration with the Marin Chinese Cultural Association Lion Dance team, and we chose to cast the production entirely from the dancers on the team. Sophie had never acted before, but our Executive Director Miko Lee—who wrote and directed the performance—felt Sophie had the spark and energy to portray one of two sisters learning about New Year’s traditions through the drama of Lion Dance and traditional storytelling.

MCCA Lion Dance

Sophie’s mother, Amy Jonak, was excited for Sophie to have this unique opportunity. “Since she was tiny,” says Amy, “Sophie has been captivated by the noise and spectacle of Lion Dance. Tales of the Nian gave her a chance to share that enthusiasm with a large audience, and engender the same wonder and excitement in others…It was a big role for a kid with no experience, but she was extremely well supported and prepared.” Sophie worked hard, studying her lines in the car and at home and working with Miko on a regular basis to prepare the show.

Sophie in rehearsal with Jalena Keane Lee

The Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, where the performance took place, features a vast, sixty-foot wide stage in a large-scale auditorium. Other groups that regularly perform here include the Marin Symphony and professional touring companies ranging from the Russian Ballet to the Peking Acrobats. In all, over 2,000 people came to see Sophie perform, mostly Marin County schoolchildren and their teachers and chaperones. The opening performance audience was the largest —the first time little Sophie acted for a live audience, there were over 1,000 people in the house!

Performing on the big VMA stage

“When I ran through the audience for my first entrance,” says Sophie, “I felt like the stage was a million miles away! I had to sort of block out the audience to keep from getting nervous. Even though I had been to see shows before, there were so many people there.”
But hard work and preparation trumped any nerves Sophie felt. The performance was a success and we received many, many compliments in the lobby from teachers and students after the show. Teachers surveyed about the performance later all rated it as Excellent and sent comments like “Loved it!” “Incredible!” and “Well done, well produced—I’m impressed!” A student from Marin Montessori School in Corte Madera even wrote in to tell us: “That was the best performance I have ever seen in a long, long time…I can’t wait ‘til next year!”

Letter from a student fan

For Sophie, the show was a success as well:

I think it came out well, so I was very happy. Hearing the audience laugh and applaud made me feel like we were getting our story across, and that they were learning something they didn’t know before.  When I looked out into the audience, I loved seeing friendly faces in the crowd. I felt really proud. Now that I know I can do it, I’d love to do more theater. It’s really satisfying to work hard on something, as part of a team, and then share that with an audience.

Tales of the Nian cast

Her mother concludes, “Sophie learned an enormous amount about acting and stagecraft, about Chinese culture, and about herself…What a gift this opportunity was: to succeed at such a big undertaking has given her enormous confidence. Now she approaches new challenges knowing what it feels like to take on something big and nail it.”
Read about other young people who’ve accomplished great things through Youth in Arts programs

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