I want to be careful that I don’t sound jaded because I’m really not. However, I’ve spent my entire life in the world of show business; growing up in an “industry” family, acting professionally for over thirty years, and teaching and coaching for the last ten of those. So I think it’s fair to say, it is a rare and sublime experience to have my breath taken away by a performer whom I know personally.
Especially when that performer is my thirteen year-old student.
It’s not that I don’t know a lot of monstrously talented people. I know plenty - and my respect for their talent and expertise is beyond measure. But… there is that thing that (sometimes) happens with familiarity…when you know the person really, really well: their habits, tricks and idiosyncrasies, it’s very hard to be genuinely surprised by their work, let alone transported.
I have worked with Camille Umoff as her acting coach for the last four years. When she first attended my class, she was eleven years old and although she was extremely focused, she was, at the time, very intimidated by the other, slightly older students whom she judged (mistakenly) as better than she. Camille was, as we say, too much “in her own head” and almost paralyzed with worry over not being great. Most of us can relate to that, I know I can.
Around this same time, I also started to work with her privately in person or via Skype and had the pleasure of helping her prepare for the roles she played in her community/school plays and musicals. You know how it goes with youth theatre programs and Junior High and High School theatre - students play roles of all ages and this was no different. At eleven, she played Nancy in "Oliver", she was Mama Rose in "Gypsy" at twelve and, as a thirteen-year-old high school freshman, she played Velma Kelly in "Chicago". I saw her performances in all of the above productions.
How is it possible for a kid so young to pull off roles of stature and sophistication with such ease and know-how? I honestly am not sure, but you have to trust me that this girl did.
And she took my breath away.
Here is a clip from the 2014 Santa Barbara High School production of “Chicago” with a then thirteen-year-old freshman Camille Umoff as Velma Kelly, performing “I Can’t Do It Alone”.
(Camille is fifteen now and just performed as the leading player in SBHS production of "Pippin", and will be starring in "Spring Awakening" for the Santa Barbara Theatre Initiative for Young Adults in early January 2016.)
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