It started some six, seven years ago, when one of my agents put out a call I’d never had before:
“If you have a son or daughter who’d like to audition for a commercial, please get in touch as soon as possible.”
Now, I’m not one of those dads who’d like his offspring to follow in his footsteps, but my daughter Skyler had shown some potential.
As a baby, we took her to New York where she modeled for a Fisher Price catalogue, and everybody commented on how easy-going and cute she was. I had to agree, and not just because I was her father. I looked around the dressing room. Compared to all those whining model-babies with their whining model-mothers, Skyler was an angel.
Like me, she was an early speaker and reader, she was musical and outgoing, and she did well in the company of adults. And like me, she had a mind of her own.
When she was two years old, she began reading the letters and numbers on license plates in our neighborhood. A year later I took her shopping at Target, and a green plant had fallen off the shelf, making a mess in the middle of an aisle.
When she spotted it, Skyler exclaimed: “Look Daddy… aRUgula!”
A sweet old lady came up to us and asked: “How old is your daughter?”
Before I could respond, Skyler said: “I am THREE years old,” holding up three fingers.
The lady said: “I’ve never seen such a thing. A three year old who knows what arugula is…”
“It’s my favorite vegetable,” answered Skyler with a smile.
As a toddler, Sky loved to sing and dance and didn’t care who was watching. At Musicfest in Bethlehem, folk singer Dave Fry performed, and asked if any kids would like to join him. Guess who was the first one to run to the stage?
When a magician was doing a show at our library he needed an assistant for one of his tricks. I don’t have to tell you who volunteered. Until her shy teenage years, my daughter was up for anything.
So when my agent was looking for a kid to audition for a commercial, I asked ten-year old Skyler if she was game. She looked at the script and said she’d give it a try. Prior to that moment, she had never recorded anything other than a few improvised songs about an imaginary creature called “Meep.”
When Skyler began to cold-read the script, it became immediately clear that she had no idea what she was doing. That wasn’t her fault, because I hadn’t prepped her. She read the conversational script in a monotone murmur, as if she was reading in class.
Gone was the spontaneous, playful child I was hoping to hear. She had no idea she was expected to speak the lines as a kid telling peope about Food Angels in no more than thirty seconds. What made it even worse was the fact that she couldn’t stand still in front of the microphone, and I could hear every breath and bit of mouth noise a child is able make.
When she was done, she looked at me with a very proud smile, and it seemed like she was ready to walk out of the studio after a job well done. “Not so fast, Sky,” I said. “We need to work on a few things before I can send this to my agent.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. “I read every word on the page. What’s wrong?” “Well, that’s the problem,” I said. “You READ the text but this is meant to be SPOKEN, as if you’re making it up on the spot.”
“But I would never say it that way,” said Skyler. “These words are weird.”
I looked at her and said, “I completely understand, but the trick is that you have to make them your own, even if you would never talk like the girl in the commercial. Let’s practice a bit, shall we?”
Her next take was a lot more animated but completely overacted with unnatural highs and lows. She looked at my expression and said: “I did what you wanted me to do, but I guess it’s still not good?”
“It’s more lively, and yet it doesn’t sound like the Skyler I know.”
“So dad, you want me to pretend I’m someone else, and you want me to be myself? That doesn’t make any sense.”
I bit my lip.
“Sweetie, I’d love it if you could bring a bit more Skyler into that character, if you know what I mean. And please, stay in front of the microphone. Don’t touch it. It’s very expensive.”
“Okay, I’m going to try it one more time, and then I’m done, alright?”
“We’ll see about that,” I answered, hoping she’d be right.
Eventually we went over the script line by line, and every time she tried it, she lost more of her confidence and energy. What was supposed to be a quick and fun father-daughter thing, turned into an hour filled with frustration.
I could see Skyler was ready to give up and start crying.
“You know what we’re going to do, Sky? Let’s take a fifteen-minute break and do one more take. That’s going to be the last one, I promise.”
When we came back to the studio she stopped me. “Dad, I’d like to do this myself. Can you please wait outside?”
“Of course,” I said. “You know what to do to start the recording, right?” She nodded.
Thirty minutes later she walked out. Exhausted, but satisfied.
“Papa, I’m going to go up now. Have a listen. If you think it’s any good you can send it over. If it’s not, just delete everything. I’m done.”
No matter how it would sound, I was proud of her.
I said to my wife: “I think she’s learned a life lesson today. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you give up, and Skyler is no quitter.”
Weeks later there would be another lesson.
“Hey dad,” asked Skyler, “Did you ever hear back from that audition I did?”
“No honey. I didn’t, and that usually means they picked someone else.”
“Why?” Skyler wanted to know.
“Most of the time they won’t tell you, sweetie. You’ll only hear from them when you book the job.”
“So I’ll never know what I did wrong?”
“Here’s what’s important, Skyler. Even if you did your very best (which I know you did), they still may pick someone else. That doesn’t mean you weren’t any good. It could mean they decided they wanted a boy instead of a girl, someone younger or older, or someone with a different voice. Sometimes the director’s kid gets the job.”
“That’s not fair,” said Skyler.
“I know, Sky. But as long as you know you did the best you could do, you can hold your head up high and you just go on to the next audition, and the next one, and the next…”
I could almost hear her think. Then she said:
“Is that what you do all day, Daddy?”
“Pretty much, Skyler.”
“Well, I never want to do that!” she said emphatically.
Over the years my agents kept coming back with auditions for my daughter, but because she didn’t show any interest, I didn’t bother her with it. I had reconciled myself with the fact that she’d never talk into a microphone again.
Skyler’s seventeen now, and in a year she’ll go off to college. She loves Panic at the Disco, Coldplay, and Dan and Phil. She writes for and edits the school paper, and loves social media and hanging out with her friends.
You may remember that I’m one of the announcers at the Easton Farmers’ Market, the nation’s oldest continuously running outdoor market. I was scheduled to be there during Father’s Day weekend, and I asked if Skyler wanted to join me. She immediately said yes, and offered to make a playlist of songs we could play around the square.
When we put all our equipment together, the sun came out, and the crowds began to arrive. On a good day, thousands of people visit our market between 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM. When the first song was playing, I turned to Skyler and said:
“Are you up for some announcing?”
“Absolutely!” she said. “What do you want me to do?”
“Anything you like, sweetie. You pick.”
For the next four hours we alternated making announcements as a Father-Daughter team, and Sky turned out to be a natural! She slowed her tempo down so it would sound clear through the many speakers around the square. Her young, melodic voice brought a welcome spark to the market as did her fresh choice of music. “They’re playing all the songs I like!” said one of the shopping teenagers.
“Can you come again?” asked the market manager at the end of the day.
“I’d love to!’ said Skyler.
This Saturday, the Easton Farmers’ Market celebrates its 267th birthday with special activities and cake for everyone.
And right in the middle, promoting all the vendors, and introducing the music will be my beautiful daughter.
The girl whom I thought would never talk into a microphone again.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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