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Cameo Kids
By Jen Kirkman

At age 11, I feared how age 13 loomed. I knew it would be all downhill from there. How the hell was I supposed to be a big Hollywood success when I was stuck going to middle school and living with my parents in Needham, Massachusetts?

And from God's hands to mine, that's when I found an ad in the Boston Herald -- "Cameo Kids! The Workshop for Television and Modeling. A six-week course. Learn how to act on camera and work in television!"

I just knew this was my ticket out of the suburbs. I'd finally be free of public school to begin my life of being tutored on the set. I showed the ad to my mom. She was cautious. "Jennifer, don't you think that you should wait until you get your braces off and your perm grows out before you go in front of any cameras?" I fumed. Why was my mother so irrational?! You don't just wait around for a lightning bolt like Cameo Kids to strike twice. I begged her to pay the five hundred dollar enrollment fee. The way I looked at it, I was doing her a favor by allowing her this opportunity to invest in me. The whole family would be paid back in spades when I got famous.

The following Saturday, my mom and I rode the train from Needham to Boston on our way to Cameo Kids at 6000 Boylston Street. I wonder if my mother's reluctance in paying for this course was not because of the money, but the fact that an acting school was named "Cameo" Kids. Cameo being a million-dollar word for "bit part". It does seem to imply, "Look, we have low expectations for your son or daughter. Maybe they want to try our sister school, 'Extras'."

6000 Boylston Street turned out to be Brigham's Coffee Shop. Cameo Kids was located on the second floor. The windows above Brigham's were boarded up with pieces of wood crossed like X's. The elevator was the size of a single bed standing up and had no door, only a gate. It stopped on the second floor in front of a white door that had a piece of notebook paper taped to it. "Cameo Kids! Come in!" I knew in my heart that Cameo Kids wasn't under construction but simply, this was the best that they could do. I felt my first pang of guilt at the money my mom had just spent.

I could see that my mom's faith was temporarily restored when we spotted, hanging on the waiting room wall, a framed headshot of Michelle Pfeiffer autographed: "Thanks, Cameo Kids!" The owner, who introduced herself as Estelle, did not get up from behind her desk. "Hi! Have a seat, girls." Estelle smelled like cigarettes. She spoke in a raspy voice and wore a white beehive hairdo. When she blinked her false eyelashes threatened to jump off of her eyelids. Because her nails were so long, Estelle had to carefully maneuver her cigarette to avoid gashing her own face. I hadn't experienced much in my short life so I had no idea that Estelle was a cliché. To me she seemed like a very powerful older woman who never had the need for a husband or kids, and was immune to lung cancer. I bet she lived in a penthouse at the Four Seasons and watched the world go by with a carton of cigarettes and her little dog. She had many folders, each empty with students' names on them. "These are empty now but they'll be filled over the course of the six weeks with your evaluations," Estelle explained.

By week two my mom had believed that Cameo Kids was a legitimate way to break into show business. When we greeted Estelle on our way in, this time my mom poked me and whispered, "Smile! Smile at Estelle!" I chose not to smile but to appear brooding. I had just read that James Dean used to scowl his way through Hollywood meetings and I'd seen him mumble his way through the movies. He was mysterious. I was not going to compromise my air of mystery by acting like some audience member from Let's Make A Deal.

I spent the better part of class looking at my Cameo Kids comrades. Is that what it looks like to be a dreamer? The boys and girls were some of the roughest most awkward looking kids I'd ever seen, except for Jeff Friedman. Jeff had piercing blue eyes, jet black hair and wore a Polo sweater with black patent leather shoes. This kid was all class. Jeff and I were going to be King and Queen of the acting class. Hopefully Jeff and I would be paired up together and we could do a scene from Love Story or maybe Shampoo. Unfortunately, I was paired up with the teacher to do a Vanessa and Mom scene from The Cosby Show. I had read in my sister's Cosmopolitan magazine that women can silently communicate with men using body language. As I read in front of the class, I made sure to cross my leg in the direction of Jeff Friedman and dangle my left hand off the side of the chair so that he could see that I was not wearing an engagement ring.

Getting ready to go to Cameo Kids every Saturday morning was taking on dramatic proportions. I wanted to impress Jeff. He was so different than the sweaty, pimply boys at my middle school. Jeff was tidy and pristine. And I wanted my make-up to be perfect so that he could see, I was a woman.

During The Business of Headshots week, a professional photographer lectured. Our parents were taken into a separate room to discuss the art of paying for headshots. I wasn't listening. I figured that when I got famous my manager could worry about these details. I was too busy sitting next to Jeff and sending him telepathic messages, "I'm your Leading Lady!" Jeff however was a consummate professional. He took notes, not in a notebook, but on a legal pad. I leaned over to say, "Cool paper!" Jeff looked back at me, putting his finger to his lips in a "Shhh" motion, and then pointed to the teacher silently directing me to pay attention.

On the train ride home my mom leaned in and whispered to me, "Jeff Friedman's out of your league. His mother told me that she wants Jeff to meet a nice Jewish girl." How did that come up in a twenty minute discussion about headshots? Did Mrs. Friedman lean in to my mom and threaten, "Hey. I see your daughter looking at my son. Tell her to keep her Shiksa eyes to herself!"

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