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Little Ella in the Big City

Little Ella in the Big City

It was the fall of 2016 when I first met Lee Nessel, our editor. I remember her and I sharing pictures, me of my grandkids and her of Ella. While working with Lee for over a year now, I have come to know Ella very well. For those of you who follow, you know we have a soft spot for this little lady and the arts. It is evident that this little girl is meant for great things, and I am honored to be a small part of Ella’s journey. Below, Lee and Ella share their Connect NYC trip.

- Tracy Stroderd

When Monica Toro Lisciandro, owner of The Viera Studio for the Performing Arts, asked me in 2017 if I was considering having my daughter, Ella, audition for the next Connect NYC trip, I said no. She was 4 at the time.

The next bi-annual trip to New York City was coming in June 2018. “She’ll only be 5, that’s too young,” I told Monica. The studio selects students — kids and adults — from an audition to perform in front of NYC agents, managers and casting directors.

As soon as I said no, Monica pulled out her cell phone and showed me video of a 5-year-old actress performing in the role of Lulu with the cast of the Broadway show Waitress. “There are parts for kids,” she said. “I can see Ella being Lulu!”

“OK, we can have her audition,” I decided after family discussion and lots of thinking. Going on such a trip meant we’d be open to the idea of relocating to NYC, even for extended visits.

Little did we know that Ella would fulfill Monica’s prophecy and make her professional stage debut as Lulu soon after turning 5 and that we’d be on that trip to NYC. Or that we’d be running around to a humbling number of callbacks — eight, in fact.

Our second home

The Studio recently celebrated its sixth anniversary and has a rich tradition of training kids in acting, singing, dancing, and musical theatre. Fate seems to have called Ella to connect with the studio’s stellar staff.

Many have called Ella a born performer. At 22 months old, she told me to stop helping her sing a song. At 2, we were having full conversations and she was an incredulous tiny toddler entertainer with a love for dancing, singing and making people laugh.

Most activities require kids be 3 to start, and we were turned away from dance and gymnastics. But Monica and instructor Jennifer Garcia met Ella and recognized she was ready to share her self expression. They welcomed her while still 2.

To years later, Ella nailed her audition for Connect NYC and was one of 10 Brevard County performers, ranging in age from 5 to 19, who embarked on five months of preparation. One of the main factors in my agreeing to the trip was knowing Ella would receive private instruction in dance, voice and acting. We were moving in that direction anyway.

Journey to the stage

If you asked Ella before the trip what she was looking forward to most, she said, “Being on stage.” Mind blowing to me, who has zero such craving.

And once we got home, I asked her what she liked best about her time in NYC. “I would like to go on the stage some more, because stages are so exciting. A whole bunch of days I’ve been waiting for it.”

Ella is blessed that by her 5th birthday, she had made seven commercials (including for Gerber Life and Disney), two independent films, modeled for Disney, toy catalogues and product packaging and was cast in a Broadway on Tour show. Crazy, right?

The agents we met were complementary to the nth degree, and as of publication, we were still deciding which to choose to represent Ella.

Show time

The Viera Studio students arrived in NYC on their own schedules and met up on Monday, show day. They had rehearsal at the Scandinavia House theatre on Park Avenue. Then a break and a dress rehearsal and another break. The show started at 7 p.m. and Ella was the last performer from The Viera Studio and the overall final performer of the night. — taking the stage at 9:30 p.m. Kids and adults also were there from South Carolina and Georgia.

Connect NYC is about connecting talent from the South with NYC professionals. Any of us can seek appointments and submit to talent agencies on our own, in any market. But I liked how Ella would get training to do her five-part performance (slate, commercial, monologue, song and dance) and get to do it in front of 20+ agents, managers and casting directors at once. A truly captive audience.

I felt such pride as I watched the other nine performers from The Viera Studio do their thing. I could hear the parents sitting on either side of me exhale when their child was done. Then my turn to hold my breath!

I’d love for you to watch the video of Ella performing to understand what I’m going to say next. I always had a front-row seat to Ella’s rehearsals and training. This night, I sat in the back of the theatre. And it was incredible. Watching Ella perform with an entire audience “behind” her provided incredible perspective.

When I asked her about the applause, “That made me feel so happy and excited. It also makes me a little bit proud of myself and proud of my parents for letting me go to New York.”


That night, we found out we had seven callbacks. An eighth came in the following day. I had to leave the group celebration at Ellen’s Stardust Diner to get Ella back to the hotel bed. Our four appointments Tuesday were 10 and 11 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. We hopped in and out of taxis as we made our way around Manhattan. Wednesday, three more appointments and one Thursday — in between a dance class and the spectacular Broadway musical Frozen.

“There are so many people. I can’t believe how many people are there, there’s more than there is in Florida!” Ella said about our home for the week. Yes, 8 million people carry a certain vibe and energy. We walked miles among them.

“I want to live there,” Ella said multiple times during and after the trip. “Living there is going to be the funnest thing ever.”

And THAT is why I do whatever I can to help Ella go after those dreams, because they are HER dreams. Even the tiniest child can know what they love. Especially this Ella gem, that made me tear up, “I’m very proud of my parents, they let me have a fun time in NY, I feel true love in my heart.”

Ella, it’s so much hard work for us both, but I have a feeling the fun is only beginning!


Follow Ella’s journey and view her NYC performance:

Instagram @adventuresofellagrace



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