Ironwood, Mich., is an iron-mining ski town with a population around 7,000, and it’s home to Ava Podewitz’s grandfather, Kelly Helgren. Ava visited him this summer on vacation.
One beautiful afternoon, she was roaming the bluffs with her cousin, Kayla, while the rest of the family was playing a game of wiffle ball on the flatlands nearby. Ava’s mother, Julie, recounts the story her father told her: He described hearing “the sound of angels” floating from the bluffs to where he was watching the wiffle-ball game — Ava’s singing was filling the bluffs.
As soon as Julie Podewitz finishes telling the story, a grinning Ava breaks into a line from “Heidi” about goat herders and “mysterious angels climbing up the rocks.” She then bursts into giggles about the sentiment. It not only suggests how the 9-year-old doesn’t take herself too seriously, but it also presents an interesting juxtaposition.
A visit to her grandpa who lives on ample acreage outside of town was the perfect training for her upcoming lead role as Heidi in “Heidi” at Venice Theatre. One difference, though, is her grandpa isn’t a persnickety hermit who needs to be won over by a little girl. But Ava and the title character do have a lot in common.
“Heidi and I like observing things, touching everything. We like to see everything, (and we both) want to do everything,” Ava says. “We’re both go-getters.”
But Ava says Heidi is braver than she is.
“I might be scared to have my aunt drop me off at my grandfather’s house who I don’t know or haven’t met,” she says.
It’s hard to believe that the wise-beyond-her-years Ava is scared to do anything. Ava doesn’t have an ounce of stage fright in her, and she performs in ballets for Revelle Academy, in addition to acting.
She leapt into theater after watching an inspiring performance of “The Princess and the Pea” at Venice Theatre. With a push from her kindergarten music teacher, Ava auditioned for “The Sound of Music” at age 5. Although other little girls were armed with résumés and past experience, it was Ava who landed the part of the youngest Von Trapp, Gretel.
The show times were after her bedtime, and she’d get home at midnight and go to school the next day. But her parents are supportive of what their daughter loves to do.
“Certainly, if she liked baseball, we’d be on the baseball field,” Julie Podewitz says. But, for the little girl who creates movies for school projects and directs plays on play dates with her peers, performing is what makes her tick.
Her parents are never pushy. In fact, they don’t even help her run lines — they don’t need to.
“I got it,” Ava tells them. In fact, she can rattle off not only her lines in “Heidi,” but everyone else’s.
Ava is catching up to her parents in terms of theater experience. Her mom has performed in and choreographed nine productions on Venice Theatre’s stage, and her dad, Jim, has been involved at Venice Theatre for three years. So far, Ava has been in “The Sound of Music,” “Annie,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “The King and I.” But Heidi is her first lead role.
When Ava was deemed too young for the role of Sally Brown in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” which she auditioned for in fall 2011, she took the initiative and asked if she could help out backstage, instead.
“If you don’t get something you really want, it makes you want to try harder on the next audition,” she says.
Not getting cast didn’t faze Ava. She enjoyed her work turning pages of music and setting the props.
It was Ava who got her father involved at Venice Theatre. He had no prior theater experience. During Ava’s stint in “Annie Get Your Gun,” director Brad Wages suggested he needed a lot of men for a production of “Ragtime.” Jokingly, Jim Podewitz said to give him a call. Next thing he knew, he was on stage singing and dancing. One of his favorite moments was sharing the stage with Ava in “The King and I.”
Toward the end of the play, she had a monologue, and her father was stationed behind her on a platform.
“I remember how, every night, I was so proud of her for doing a monologue by herself,” he says, “but I had to stand there all serious.”
She and her father have each logged more than 300 hours in rehearsals and shows and working backstage.
“I’m just amazed at how courageous she is,” her dad says. “Me at her age, I probably would have died of fright, and she does it every night over and over — she’s brave and fearless.”
Although Ava may think Heidi is braver than she, when asked if she’s nervous about the upcoming performance, she confidently says, “nope!”
She’s got it in the bag.
IF YOU GO
When: Opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13. Runs through Sept. 30.
Where: Venice Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice
Cost: $10 to $17
More info: Call 488-1115, or visit venicestage.com
Currently 1 Response
- What a wonderful story. Congratulations Ava, and good luck from Ohio (Uncle Paul, Aunt Tammy, Michael and Andrew).
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