By Mandy Jenkins
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Ana Starr Gilmore, like all 12-year-olds, knows exactly what she wants. She wants to be a star - like her name suggests. But unlike a lot of kids her age, Ana is already taking the first steps toward achieving her dreams.
Ana, of Fort Mitchell, won a role in the Disney stage show Bear in the Big Blue House and will spend the next 10 months touring the nation and the world. Not bad for someone still in middle school.
Bear in the Big Blue House is derived from a Disney afternoon program of the same name. This new cast of Muppets teaches its young audience about safety, shapes, colors and life. Ana will play Jenny Mann, a girl who encounters Bear and his furry friends when she and her family get lost on a trip.
"(But) I don't have to wear one of those huge, furry fluffball costumes," Ana says. "I get to be me out there, which is kind of cool."
A musical theater student in the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) Preparatory Division, Ana started taking ballet at age 3 and now helps teach younger students.
Dee Anne Bryll, chair of preparatory drama at CCM, says the girl's attitude rubs off on her classmates.
"Ana started here in 1997 or '98, and she's been working really hard ever since," Bryll says. "She brings this positive energy about life and her love of performance, and it infects the whole class. She's effervescent, with a smile for everyone."
Although she has been in a number of productions - including at CCM, the Cincinnati Ballet and Playhouse in the Park - nothing can compare to her upcoming tour.
"I'm going to tons of new places," Ana says. "Florida, California, Chicago, England, France - I'm really looking forward to going to Europe."
Not that there'll be time for too much sightseeing. There will be eight or nine shows each week of the tour, and Ana will appear in about two-thirds of them. (Her understudy does the others.)
Ana will have a tutor along to make sure she can keep up her "A" average when she returns to Beechwood School. And, because some of the show will be in Spanish, she'll head back with knowledge of a new language to boot.
Even though she'll be seeing a bunch of new faces, she swears she isn't nervous.
"I've never been nervous," she says. "I just love it so much, I don't really care about the audience."
But to consider that composure from such a young performer, one must consider that Ana takes many hours of dance classes every week, including six hours on Saturdays.
Of course, the seventh-grader also likes hanging out at Skyline and watching Will & Grace. She likes science and English class; she writes and draws. Although she's a fan of Avril Lavigne, Ana also loves oldies radio and, of course, Broadway tunes. But performing is her favorite thing and she hopes to do it the rest of her life.
"I want to be an actress," Ana says with determination. "Most of all," she says, "I want to be a triple threat: to sing as well as I can dance and as well as I can act."
No small feat. But these small feet are on their way.
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