Ten-year-old Danielle Schulkin never gets stage fright. Just call her Brave Danielle, like the character she plays in the musical "Brave Irene" at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo.
The play tells the story of Irene, a dressmaker's daughter who crosses a mountain in a raging snowstorm to deliver a ball gown to a demanding duchess. On her way, she fights against the cold and snow and wind (all played by actors). The story was written by William Steig, author of "Shrek."
In a way, Danielle is like Irene: She is doing something that adults weren't sure a child could do. Joan Cushing, who created the musical version of the story, says she never thought a kid would be able to play such an important part.
"She's fearless, she really is," director Lynn Sharp Spears says about Danielle.
Danielle plays a girl who is not just brave, but loving and persistent. "It's very good for other girls to learn that you should never give up when you're trying to do something," Danielle says.
And while playing Irene hasn't been as hard as battling a blizzard, it has been a lot of work. Danielle, a fifth-grader at Wood Acres Elementary in Bethesda, had been to theater camp. But this is the first time she has been in a play during the school year. There were lots of practices: after school and during winter break and then four shows every weekend.
To learn all her lines for the hour-long play, Danielle read them over and over to herself. She also had her mother read the parts of the other characters in the play. When Danielle had a really difficult time remembering a line, she'd imagine herself playing the part of Irene.
Danielle also worked on projecting her singing voice so that everyone in the theater could hear her.
Being onstage can be fun -- one of Danielle's favorite parts is when she gets to fall into a fake snow bank. But it can be tough sitting onstage while other actors sing, especially when you've heard the songs so many times before. "Sometimes I try to make my face [look like] I'm thinking about this, but I'm really scanning the crowd for friends," she says.
Danielle thinks she will continue acting, but she also wants to be a lawyer like her mother. (Her father is a brain scientist.)
"Lynn, my director, says a lot of lawyers like to act, so I was thinking of maybe doing both," she says. "And after that I want to be a judge."
-- Elizabeth Chang
"Brave Irene" is playing Saturday and Sunday at Adventure Theatre. Show times are 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.