Although 15-year-old Jessica McKay is only a sophomore at West Seneca East High School, she already has accomplished what many aspiring actors and actresses can't even dream of, landing a lead role in a professional performance.
Portraying the characters of Tinkerbell and Jane Darling, Jessica joins the New Phoenix Theatre for its production of "Peter Pan" by J.M. Barrie, adapted by John Caird and Trevor Nunn and directed by Kelli Bocock-Natale.
One might think Jessica has been acting her entire life, born into stardom or otherwise pushed toward acting at a young age, however those people would be incorrect. The only other show she has been a part of is her school's musical, "Anything Goes," last year, in which she was an extra. Jessica's dad works with Bocock-Natale and she asked Jessica if she'd like to audition for "Peter Pan." "So I did," she said. "Everything went well and here we are."
Jessica says doing this show has been entirely different and new but fun at the same time.
"It's 110 percent different from my first musical. I'm a really big part of the show which means I need to be at rehearsal every day and I need to practice a lot more than an extra would need to," she said.
The spotlight may hit her a bit more as she sprinkles her fairy dust, but she has thoroughly enjoyed her opportunity to work with a much older cast.
"It was like a lesson within itself," Jessica says. "It was nice to see their take on life now that they are all grown up. They all gave great advice, not just pertaining to the show, but to everyday life as well."
Even though she experienced nervousness when she first walked into rehearsals, the other cast members welcomed Jessica with open arms.
"While memorizing my lines came somewhat easy, knowing when to come in and how to react to the other actors' lines made things difficult," she said. "But with so many tips from everyone around me, I got the hang of things."
Facing new people and a completely different environment weren't the only challenges Jessica faced. Having rehearsal every day for two months, with the exception of Fridays, was quite a task for a young actress to undertake.
"This play has hindered my school work time and time with friends, but it was totally worth it," Jessica said. "Yes, I stayed up late some nights finishing projects, and yes I had to cut down time with friends to only Friday and Saturday nights, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I'd give up anything to be a part of it. I even gave up my tickets to see 'Breaking Dawn' for rehearsal. Now that's commitment!"
Adding more magic to the already magical play, Jessica has been overwhelmed with her newfound taste of fame.
"It's so exciting to be part of such a well-known theater! I never imagined that at 15 I'd be in The Buffalo News," she said.
All of the attention has Jessica craving opening night (8 p.m. Saturday) more and more.
"You'd think I'd be nervous for opening night, seeing as it's my first 'real deal' kind of show, but in all honesty, I'm actually really excited for it," Jessica said.
She added that she can't wait to get on stage and interact with the people in the audience. "We fly right over their heads and I throw a lot of fairy dust on anyone in the front row."
As for Jessica's future, keeping up her grades and participating in her school musicals are high on her priority list. She's planning on attending college, maybe taking a few acting courses and acting in another production.
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"Peter Pan" will be on stage from Saturday through Dec. 23 at the New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park. Ticket information can be found at newphoenixtheatre.org or by calling 853-1334.
Hannah Gordon is a junior at Immaculata Academy.