I've always been drawn to young heroines with spunk. It all began in the fourth grade with what could be considered the "rite of passage" for every young aspiring female music theatre performer: Annie.
What young girl in theatre doesn't love Annie, or dream of standing center stage with a dog and singing, "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow?" Even today, as a consultant and educator, I've witnessed dozens of middle school girls, from the Upper East Side to East New York, become ecstatic at the thought of scrubbing floors in rag-tag orphan costumes while singing and dancing.
Fourth grade was a rough year for me. My mom was sick at the time and in and out of the hospital. I had also made the fatal error of getting the very popular, "Dorothy Hamill" hair cut. To go from really long, pretty hair, to a short bowl cut is pretty tragic, even if it was the style. Annie rehearsals and performances were my refuge from hospital visits, eating canned SpaghettiO's (my dad doesn't cook, but he does microwave), and bad hair days. While I was just a nameless orphan, and Annette the maid ("Silk? No the Satin sheets, I think!), Annie's optimistic message that "the sun will come out tomorrow" deeply resonated with me and kept my spirits up during this difficult time.
The next year we progressed to Really Rosie, Carol Kane and Maurice Sendak's musical about a little girl with a very big personality and imagination. Though I sang, "I'm Really Rosie" around the house ad nauseum, in actuality, Amy Kunen was really Rosie, and I was Rosie's mom (the curse of being a tall child). But, holding my imaginary black boa and belting that song out around the house, helped me when we found out my Grampy had cancer and as a child I experienced the first loss of a loved one.
In high school, the beloved Anne of Green Gables books, were brought life exquisitely by Wonderworks in a made for television film that aired on PBS. My reverence for this perfectly crafted and acted adaptation of a classic children's story was with me every step along the way as I adapted Helen. As if she had stepped out of my imagination and into my television set, Megan Follows perfectly personified this orphan girl who with pluck, persistence and quirkiness, won the hearts of Matthew and Marilla. Along with Megan Follows, the rich and nuanced performances of Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth, elevated an already moving story with so much heart to a completely new level. It will forever remain in my subconscious as a reminder of just how good "family" programming can be, and what we should all aspire to. There hasn't been anything like it since, and as a media educator, I know, because I've seen it all.
I've taken you on this journey down "spunky young heroine" lane, because I believe that Vita Calista, the protagonist of Helen on 86th St. will someday deserve a place in that canon. I would be proud to put her forth as a contemporary role model for young girls, and here's why:
- She's smart and not afraid to show it; she speaks her mind.
- She emotionally supports her mom and cares about her well being--a very mature thing for a twelve-year-old to do.
- Though she may occasionally roll her eyes, she's not a typical "tweenie;" this girl is substantial, deep and has a good head on her shoulders.
- She overcomes adversity and comes to accept some very hard "truths" that many adults I know wouldn't have the strength to accept.
- She's comfortable in her own and skin and is not afraid to be different.
- She uses her sense of humor to cope with life.
- And most important, she doesn't give up--she follows through with unwavering persistence, even when things look hopeless.
Hmmm....this young heroine looks like she wouldn't make a bad role model for all of us.
The other thing about Anne of Green Gables that I love so much, is that just hearing the opening music to the film transports me to Prince Edward Island. I can feel the cool breeze, smell the salt in the air, hear the sea gulls and a calm settles over me. I just love it when art can do that to you. If you need a little calm today, here's a YouTube video of some great Anne moments: