Grow with iStage | “The seeds that were planted since she was 9 months ···

October 8th, 2022

Nola is the daughter of Karina, the academic director of iStage Academy. Nola has been studying in iStage since she came to China at the age of 2. From Music Intelligence and ballet, to the Musical Theatre YP class and the YP Elite class, she has now entered the Pre-Academy Level. Although she is very young, Nola has been learning performing arts at iStage for over 5 years. 
For Nola, musical and mother are closely linked. Since she was young, she was influenced by her mother. Whether at home or at school, theater, musical and performance are keywords in her life.
Nola is a shy girl. Like most other girls, she likes singing and dancing. She also likes skateboarding, Harry Potter and Disney. She is sometimes reluctant to talk in front of strangers. With five years of stage experience, she is changing. From being unable to speak her lines, she is now performing a solo-part in the Pre-Conservatory performance.
When taking about Nola, Karina is full of pride. She often says that the Performing Arts has changed Nola a lot. As for the future, Karina said that she will always support Nola to do whatever she wants to do. Although many parents say they hope their children will achieve much in the future and become financiers and businessmen, Karina said that if Nola wants to become a bus driver or firefighter in the future, she would support her unconditionally, just like how her mother supported her before. 

Q: We heard that you started to learn musical at the age of 16-17 with the encouragement of your friends. You decided to take musical as a lifelong career, and worked very hard to achieve this dream. As your daughter Nola has been growing up in a world full of musical theatre, has she shown any special talents or feelings for musicals?
A: I wouldn’t say that she has a special talent for Musical Theatre, but she has developed strong technical skills in all those years of training that lay a great foundation for her future. What she developed most of all, is a real love for Musical Theatre. Being around at iStage for the weekends has exposed her to many different shows and materials, and if it was up to her she would follow every class in iStage during the weekend! I notice that in her free time, she is often listening to and practicing Musical Theatre songs on YouTube. That eagerness is something she developed since she was accepted into the YP Elite group last year.

Q: What is the significance of learning musical from such a young age for Nola? Do you remember the first time she went to the theatre?
A: Nola has been growing up with musical theatre. She has been coming with me to classes since she was 12 weeks old! She always enjoyed watching the class, so at the age of 9 months she started with her first classes - music and dance. When we moved to Shanghai, she continued with Music Intelligence and Ballet, and rolling into Musical Theatre at the age of 4. She is doing the classes because she really likes them, not because I want her to or expect her to. But Musical Theatre has really shaped her life - the creativity, the confidence, the skills, but also the discipline. She has always been quite the perfectionist, but Musical Theatre really helps her to express herself and learned her that there is “no wrong” when you are exploring and being creative in the theatre.
I don’t know exactly what her first show was, but I remember taking her to Lion King for her first birthday. People thought I was a little crazy, but she sat there in the theatre, mesmerised for 2,5 hours. In the first two years of her life, Nola watched more performances than most of us have seen in our entire life and we continue to take her to as many performances as possible. 

Q: As a professional director, do you think Nola has the qualities you want to see as a future musical actress?
A: Yes, although I think she will be more suitable for film acting. What makes someone really suitable for Musical Theatre, is always hard to explain. People always think that those kids who always play main characters, are the loudest in class, are the most outspoken, are the most suitable to become musical theatre performers, but often it is actually quite the opposite. I have been judging over tens of thousands of auditions, and it is the actors that have something intriguing about them, that you will ask back - on top of a lot of talent of course. What I see with Nola is that she can almost lose herself in the character - she always takes her parts very serious. This year for example, she played Milky White in Into the Woods, and although it was a non-spoken part, she stayed in character for the whole show. 

Q: How do you accompany Nola to practice at home, or she always practice by herself?
A: When she was younger, we always did the homework together, and made it into a fun family moment: let her be the teacher and teach the song to mommy and daddy; let her go to the playground and sing the song on all different play equipment; let her jump on the bed while singing; using the lyrics of the song and let her make a completely new melody. She therefore doesn’t associate homework with something she is forced to do, but with something fun. She now always practices by herself. We never have to remind her to do homework. She is lucky that she has to spend almost no time on memorizing the materials, but she finds it important to keep practicing.

Q: Did Nola encounter any challenges or difficulties in the process of learning musical, especially when she joined Elite Group? When she encountered difficulties, how would you encourage her?
A: Nola has been a shy girl - and the first couple of times she had to go on stage, she was so nervous and literally shaking when she had to perform. Then the shaking was replaced by plucking her clothes, balancing her love and passion for musical theatre with the ongoing nerves during the performances. 
I think the most important thing to do as a parent in these situations, is to really focus on the achievements, instead of focusing on the flaws. It is not realistic to expect a perfect performance from your child! Don’t forget that kids are very harsh on themselves, being their own biggest critics. Seeing that being confirmed by their parents can damage them for the rest of their life. 
Last year we decided, together with Nola, to hold her back for a year. Although she had the age to go to the Pre-Academy group, we decided to let audition for the YP Elite group instead - since her technical skills are very well developed. There she grew out to being one of the leaders of the group knowing that she was the oldest and most experienced student, and that helped her tremendously in her confidence. With every Elite performance, she started to enjoy being on the stage more and more, and she started to enjoy solo moments. This summer was her highlight - she played in almost every iStage show to replace students that were not able to make the performances - and did that with full dedication and confidence, even though she hadn’t rehearsed with the groups before.

Q: If one day Nola said: Mom, I decided to work hard to become a professional musical actress, will you be very happy about that? Would you like her to continue your career?
A: The most important thing is that she chooses what makes her happy. If that is Musical Theatre, then I will fully support her in that choice and if it is something else, I will support her as much. At the moment she wants to be an Imagineer. 
I think she has a very realistic idea what Musical Theatre as a career encounters. She knows it is not only glitter and glam, but extremely hard work with irregular schedules, at times lots of stress, and a 24/7 dedication. Without the help of my husband and Nola as well as my parents that always supported me unconditionally, I wouldn’t be able to do what I love most. I hope I can support Nola in the same way.  

Q: Nola has studied and grown up under the Chinese education system since childhood. She can now speak fluent Chinese and recite many ancient poems. What do you and her father expect about her studies?
A: I think that developing a love for learning and being able to be a (creative) problem solver, is more important than plainly absorbing knowledge and reciting facts. I think the most influential people in the world throughout history, are not the ones with the most knowledge, but the ones that can distinguish themselves by thinking out of the box and making creative connections between knowledge concepts. We decided to let Nola study in the Chinese education system, because I think it is important to let the child experience local education, and taking part into daily local life. Her being able to fluently to communicate in Chinese, helps her a lot to feel connected to the country she has spent most of her life in. 

Q: Seeing that Nola as ensemble in many musicals, do you think that ensemble is as important for children as the leading roles? Does Nola understand that?
A: Absolutely. I think Nola has a good understanding that every role in the process is important, because you are all needed to tell the story. She also told me that the ensemble usually sings and dances more than the main character and has a lot of stage time, that is why she often chooses to be a part of the ensemble. I think the greatest actors and performers can make any part their own and stand out, no matter the size of the part or how many solo moments the character has. 
What I also always emphasize in my classes, is that sometimes the “best” student is not necessarily the best fit with the main character of that performance. If we take Charlie and the Chocolate factory as an example, I would make a terrible Charlie. The character doesn’t suit my voice, doesn’t suit my strengths as an actress, and doesn’t give me the right challenges, but there are many smaller parts that would highlight my talents more!

Q: Do you think it is necessary to develop children’s social skill through learning performing arts?
A: I think Performing Arts is a full-on team effort, where you have to be able to communicate and trust your fellow actors on the stage. Communication is one of the key skills in Performing Arts: being able to clearly communicate your ideas and being able to develop a sense for the need of your fellow actors. You don’t have to be best friends with your classmates, but you need to be able to trust them. Nola sometimes criticises someone in the class, because someone can not keep up. I always tell her: you can criticise that person, OR you can help the person so next time he/she will be able to do it. If you are afraid that the person in front of you will forget the line, then make sure that you take the initiative to help the other person practice, so you both feel better!
With our Lab performances at iStage, we usually dig deep into the characters. I notice especially with these Pre-Conservatory students that Performing Arts really helps them to be able to express feelings that would otherwise be buried inside. That however asks for a level of maturity that is not suitable for every student: learning more about yourself and your vulnerabilities can be very confronting. 

Q: Nola has studied in iStage for 5 years. Do you think the knowledge she learned during this period can help her in her growth and future development?
A: I am very sure of that! People underestimate how easily the skills learned in musical theatre class can transfer to every area of their lives. Last week Nola had a modelling gig, and she says what makes her a good model, is that she is very aware of how to express emotions with her body and face and how to communicate a story in the modelling poses. Also when she has to do a presentation in school, she knows that she has to connect with the audience, knows that she has to speak up and knows that she has to make sure to keep the story lively. I think she also starts to appreciate every little achievement more and more. Where she used to wait until she fully mastered a skill, before showing it the world, she is now more resilient to failure and eager to improve. 

Q: Tell us about the changes that Nola has made as a result of her musical learning.
A: Musical Theatre has always been a big part of Nola’s life. Since this year, I notice that the seeds that were planted since she was 9 months old, slowly start to blossom and she has become more confident and determined as a performer and person!

Questions for Nola:

Q: You have played many musicals,which musical role do you like the best? Why?
A: I have a couple of favourites:
Little girl in Eastwick, because I really liked to sing two solo’s in the show and because I could be a part of the pre-conservatory group for a bit.
Rizzo in Grease, because it was the first time that I had to sing a big solo!
Jojo in Seussical, because I really like the story and I like to play a character that is very curious (because I am very curious too!)

Q: What kind of person do you think your mother is? Is she amazing?
A: Definitely yes! “My mom is an amazing person, because we can be a bit crazy together”. My mom is very happy, but sometimes grumpy. She always works very hard, but also tries to spend a lot with me. She is the best mom in the world!

Q: You have been to so many theaters with your mother? Do you like to go to the theatre?
A: Yes! I like to see a lot of shows, so I can learn about a lot of different musicals. Sometimes I like a show so much, that me and my daddy will recreate the show at home with the help of my stuffed animals. I will usually play the director. (Karina:When Nola sees professional actors at work, she always makes a list for herself of skills she needs to improve to become as good as them. )

Q: Do you want to be a musical actress when you grow up?
A: Maybe. I really like to perform in musicals, but I also like a lot of other things. Now I think I want to become an actress, a model or an Imagineer. 

Q: Musical theatre performers work very hard. They practice every day and spend a lot of time  on it, just like your mother. Would you like to do that ?
A: Yes. Because I love musical theatre and if you love something and want to become better at it, you have to work hard! But if you do something that you love, then it is easy to spend a lot of time on it. 

Q: In addition to musicals, you have also learned dancing, modelling, etc. What do you like best and why?
A: At the moment I really like modelling, because I am very good at it. I really like things where I can express myself.