Sprawled out on her living room floor in Kensington, Md., 9-year-old Erika Lynn Bogren was thumbing through the newspaper when a notice for Children's Radio Theatre auditions caught her eye.
Dropping everything and dashing to the telephone, Bogren announced to the receptionist: "I'm going to be on Broadway, I'm very cooperative and I love my family." The person on the other end replied, "That's very nice, please send us your re'sume'."
Not having the foggiest idea then what a re'sume' was, Bogren, now 16, is intent only on adding to hers.
"When I am rehearsing for a part, my family and friends become almost non-existing," says Bogren, a junior at Walter Johnson High, Bethesda, one of the increasing ranks of starry-eyed teens willing to make sometimes monumental sacrifices for their moment in the limelight. "To keep acting all my life is all I want to do. Whether it's big time or here in the D.C. area."
At age 14, Bogren played the role of a seductress maid that carried on an incestuous relationship with her older sister in a Studio Theatre production of "My Sister in This House." role bothered me because everybody made such a big deal out of it," says Bogren, flashing her braces, "when in reality it was nothing."
"In order to succeed in this business, the student must be absolutely focused on making it," says Bonnie Fogel, a director of the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts.
"Those who are destined to make it have to be prepared to work extremely hard. They have to perfect their craft and spend lots of time studying all aspects of it. If they want to act, they must study voice and diction. If they want to dance they must study ballet."
Administrators of Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown and other local voice, dance and music instructors have noticed a sharp increase in applicants and enrollments in their fine art classes. Some of this growth is attributed to the tremendous amount of time kids are bombarded with hi-tech rock videos and music on both radio and television, plus the enticing glitter that surrounds the life styles of entertainers. Fogel attributes her school's increased enrollment to kids' exposure to so many commercials using children actors.
The competition for stardom, everyone agrees, is fierce. Steve Stark, casting supervisor for TV's "Star Search," says that his organization receives more than 30,000 applications each year. Less than 300 applicants will appear on the show.
The kids who are determined to become stars often must give up other activities. "The ones who study long and hard are the ones who usually succeed," says Fogel.
"Many of the activities in high school I'm not so sure I want to attend anyway," says Julie Cox, an accomplished 16-year-old ballet dancer from Churchill High in Potomac. "I live across from the football field and I've never gone to any of the games. I don't have time. It's true I did miss out on a lot of things, but not everyone gets a chance to dance with Mikhail Baryshnikov."
Last December, Cox, who usually dances with the Maryland Youth Ballet, was invited by Baryshnikov to work as an apprentice. She performed in the "Nutcracker" in Los Angeles and last week with Baryshnikov's American Ballet Theatre (ABT) production at the Kennedy Center. For the past three weeks she has been rehearsing from 9 a.m. to almost midnight.
Although Cox has won thousands of dollars in scholarships and prizes in both national and international competitions, the bills can add up.
"In a one-week performance Julie can go through six pairs of toe shoes at $40 a shot," says Jennifer Cox, Julie's mother and a former New Zealand ballerina. "You see how much this means to them, so how can you say no?"
Because Cox will move to New York to dance with the ABT, she'll miss her senior year at Churchill. She plans to complete her senior year at the Professional Children's School or through correspondence, and defer her college education for at least two years.
But despite her obvious commitment to dance, Cox still encounters skeptics.
"Many people think I am a little ballerina who runs around in a little pink tutu. They ask what am I going to do with my life and I respond by telling them that I want to dance. Then they ask, 'What are you really going to do?' "
Fifteen-year-old jazz, classical and pop pianist Aaron Halpern -- in it "for the fame first and fortune if it comes" -- has written more than 40 scores of music, ranging from light relaxing sonatas to heavy earth-shattering rock.
"I have all this music in my head that I can hear," says Halpern, who dazzles small intimate audiences in Bethesda homes with his lightning-fast fingers and his innate ability to improvise. "I really enjoy writing, plus I am driven by the desire for fame."
Halpern practices for two hours daily on the keyboards and spends much of the remaining time in the evenings working with the six-member band, "The Crusade," which he heads.
Halpern says he is influenced by all forms of music and his writing and playing reflect that diversity. "I don't want to get locked into being labeled as one type of musician."
Fifteen-year-old Matthew Lyles, a dance and voice student at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts, plans to use the "back door" approach to getting on the big screen. He has a red belt (one step below black belt) in karate, acquired in 1 1/2 years, and believes if he can polish his skills further in the martial arts, he can follow in the footsteps of film star Bruce Lee.
"I love the martial arts and I'm hoping if I train hard enough, maybe I can get some recognition," says Lyles. "Rarely are blacks used in action films, and if I get the right connections . . . well anything is possible."
Besides taking classes at the academy, Lyles spends nearly three hours a day, four days a week practicing karate. "I'll do just about anything to make it big," he says, adding that his drive is not solely for the money, but he hopes that his hard work will inspire other kids in his community of "Scotland" (off Seven Locks Road in Montgomery County).
Lela Panagides, a 16-year-old junior from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, spends her after-school hours teaching dance classes at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts. The money she earns will help pay for acting, ballet and voice lessons.
My time is extremely valuable," she says. "Right now I can't even think about boyfriends because I'm not willing to compromise my time."
Because she suffered a knee injury skiing and has occasional mild asthma attacks, her chances of making it as a professional dancer are limited.
"If I can't make it in front of the camera, I would like to work behind it, possibly directing," says Panagides, who is switching her emphasis now to a career in acting. "My acting coach always tells me, 'There is no right or wrong way to act, but what works.' "
"Performing is very important to me, it's my life," says Audra Bonacki, 15, who since she was age 10 has performed solo song and dance routines at Wolf Trap, the D.C. Convention Center and more recently, the Old Post Office Pavilion. "Since I have this gift I intend to pursue it."
And what if that pursuit fails?
Should the youngster miss the mark, the results are not too devastating, Stark believes, if the child and the parent realize at a reasonably early age that he or she may not have what it takes for star material.
Says dancer Cox: "When I was little and was rejected many times for parts in dances I really wanted, I cried and hung to my mother's skirt. When you are used to rejection at an early age, when you get older, it won't be so bad."