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John Lamb, Published August 24 2010

Fargo girl follows her passion to perform

When Fargo Public Schools start up on Wednesday, students will be asked what they did this summer.

When it’s her turn to share, Cameron MacKenzie will have to take a deep breath.

In the three months since school ended, the actress/singer/dancer has juggled her schedule between auditions, rehearsals, performances and just being a 12-year-old.

Busy summer

“I was desperate to find creative outlets for her,” says Sydney Linton, Cameron’s mom, describing how her daughter got involved in performing.

So six years ago, Linton took her daughter to Fargo talent agent Natalie Sparrow. Cameron’s schedule hasn’t slowed down since.

“It was non-stop, but I did have some time to myself,” Cameron said of her busy summer schedule.

How busy was it? Well, she had time to meet late afternoon last week between registering for classes at Ben Franklin Middle School and a 7 p.m. rehearsal for the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which would run until about 10 p.m. And it was the day after she returned from a weeklong trip to Ohio to celebrate her great-grandmother’s 99th birthday. The trip was Cameron’s only summer vacation.

Moving toward movies

While she also likes to sing and dance, acting took up a big chunk of Cameron’s calendar.

She started off the summer filming an audition tape for the Disney motion picture “Spy Kids 4” and later in June would send another one off for a re-make of 1980s “Little Darlings” produced by J.J. Abrams’ (“Lost”) company.

Cameron shot these clips with Fargo acting coach Martin Jonason, whom she’s worked with for four years. He calls her “a sharp young girl with a successful future” and “a good triple threat.”

(Earlier this year, Jonason shot Cameron’s tryout for the Coen Brothers’ take on “True Grit,” but the role of young Mattie Ross went to Hailee Steinfeld.)

Cameron’s acting isn’t just for the screen. While working on the film auditions, she was already in rehearsals for the Straw Hat Players’ “All Shook up” at Minnesota State University Moorhead, which opened mid-June.

She was back on the MSUM stage again in late July for a run as Amaryllis in “The Music Man.”

“She’s very professional for a little kid,” says director Jennifer Tuttle, who praised her for being well-prepared and taking direction well.

Full schedule

Late June and early July saw a variety of talent shows on Cameron’s agenda.

While rehearsing for “The Music Man,” the 12-year-old created her own arrangement for Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” just days before a competition at the Fargo Public Library. She later entered a tape of herself playing the song for KidzBop Star.

Cameron won first-place honors in pre-teen divisions for her singing at the Norman County and Clay County fairs and also performed at the Polk County Fair.

Performing closer to home at the Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo, she showcased more than just her voice. With a 30-minute set to fill, Cameron incorporated her own choreographed dance piece after singing and playing guitar with a set list including Simon & Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

For eight years, Cameron has studied dance with Marnee Brant at Fargo’s Brant School of Dance Arts.

“She’s a born performer,” Brant says of her young student, adding that Cameron’s “dedicated work ethic” sets a foundation for a “very bright future.”

Cameron capped off the last week before school singing the American and Canadian national anthems before the F-M RedHawks and Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball game last Thursday. Cameron estimates it was at least her 20th time singing the “Star Spangled Banner” before games, conventions or other gatherings.

Just like a normal kid

When Cameron’s not at rehearsals, her mother lets her sleep in. When she gets up, though, it’s right to work.

The first thing she does in the morning is repeatedly count out loud from 60 to 80 to eliminate her lisp.

Not unlike other pre-teens, she reads (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) and watches TV (reruns of “Buffy” and her favorite, “Reba”). “I’m busy, but I still find time for friends,” Cameron says, adding that she likes to hang out at the pool. Though she passed the life guard test, Cameron has to wait until she’s old enough to sit in the big chair.

Brandy A. Randall, an assistant professor at the Human Development and Family Science Department at North Dakota State University, said new research counters the myth of the over-scheduled child.

“It’s not a bad thing for kids to be involved in productive, skill-building things that make them feel good about themselves and get them to socialize with same-age people or older mentors,” Randall says. Though there is value in downtime, she adds.

Randall says structure is important in summer as kids without schedules may just hang out and be drawn to risk-taking behavior.

A singing Mother Teresa

“Brighton Beach” opens at the FMCT Sept. 17, but Cameron’s already got her sites set on the play after that – Ben Franklin Middle School’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr.” And before either of those, she’ll compete at the Minnesota State Fair next week, her third appearance at “the great Minnesota get-together.”

She’s excited about taking drama and show choir this year at school and lessons at Gasper School of Dance. Even with a busy schedule, she’s kept her grade point average above 3.7.

Looking further into the future, Linton is excited that “American Idol” has lowered its minimum age to 15.

“Only two-and-a-half more years,” she tells Cameron.

“I’m not ready for Simon Cowell,” Cameron says, though her mother assures her the notoriously tough judge is gone from the show.

So where does Cameron see herself after she finishes high school?

“I don’t know, but I have a little idea,” she says. “I want to become a professional dancer who also happens to sing and model, and I want to go to India or Africa or both and save people. Kind of like Mother Teresa. But I sing.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533