Caroline Shea studied for months before performing in local productions of shows such as "Oliver," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Babes in Toyland," but her performance before her largest audience yet — more than 50 million — came with just three days of prep time.
It was just a few weeks ago that Caroline, of Towson, got the call from Stagedoor Manor, a company for young theater students, that she had been selected to be part of a troupe of 135 singers and dancers who would perform in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
The 14-year-old, a veteran of local community theater, has attended Stagedoor's summer camps in the Catskills of New York for several years, but didn't think she was a shoo-in for the troupe's Macy's show because she generally gravitated more toward "straight" plays — not song and dance.
"It was a surprise," said Caroline, a freshman at the Carver Center for the Arts and Technology. "I was really excited. I was selected based on what they've seen of me."
Caroline, who was president of the Student Government Association as a student at Ridgely Middle School, has performed in more than 20 theater productions since 2006, many with the Baltimore Actor's Theatre troupe, including roles in "Oklahoma!" "Carousel" and "King & I" at Oregon Ridge Dinner Theatre. She also had the lead female role in "The Secret Garden" in a Stagedoor production.
For the teen, the chance to perform before a national audience was a thrill, and had to be worked into her school schedule as well as her upcoming performance in "Babes," which is opening this week at Goucher College. She and her parents, Christopher and Susan Shea, went to New York on Sunday, Nov. 18, and she underwent three days of training — 10 hours a day — to get ready for the gig.
"We didn't really start anything before we got there," said Caroline, who called the sessions "intense, but a lot of fun."
Each year, more than 400 Stagedoor Manor students apply to participate in the parade. This year's cast represented 27 states and Canada, and even had an international flavor — with students from Saudi Arabia participating. Members of the troupe walked the parade route, then performed "Santa By the Book" at Herald Square, to formally introduce Santa Claus to the crowd.
"There was pressure in doing it live on television," said Caroline. She has had a other experiences with TV performances, but with those, "when you mess up, you can have a retake. This was live."
She said her nerves were eased a bit, though, by the 3-mile walk through downtown New York along the route.
"I think it was helpful," she said. "Your adrenaline was pumping, and as you're walking you see all the people so happy, so it makes you feel a little more at ease. When you're backstage (in a show), you just get more nervous."
After three days' work and excitement, the one-shot performance was done in just a few minutes, leaving Caroline and her family and fellow performers ecstatic and pumped up.
Caroline said her favorite part of the experience from a performance perspective was training with famed choreographer Larry Nye, but she also loved being reunited with some of her friends from previous Stagedoor productions, and also meeting new people from around the world.
"You get a whole different perspective of how different people view theater and the arts," she said, "and you get to make friendships that I know will last forever."
From a personal point of view, she also counted a day of sightseeing with her parents — to see the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and to the theater for a Broadway production of "Mary Poppins" — among her other unforgettable memories of the trip.
After her big moment, Caroline and her parents caught a train back to Baltimore and were home in Towson for Thanksgiving. She said she'll be happy to share her experiences with her classmates in Carver's theater section and with fellow performers in "Babes in Toyland," but she was equally looking forward to talking to her older siblings, Rob, 24, and Jen, 28, about the show.
"They're not really into theater," she said, "but I think it'll be cool that they can say their little sister was in the Macy's parade."
'Babes' at Goucher
The Baltimore Actors' Theatre production of "Babes in Toyland" will be on stage Saturday, Dec. 1, in shows at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday, Dec. 2, at 2 p.m., in Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road. Tickets are $20, general; $12 for ages 12 and younger. For groups of 20 or more, tickets are $15 for adults; $10, children. Call 1-855-2-FLAVOR; or for group sales, call 410-916-3621 or 410-337-8519.