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Small Peanuts

You're a good actress, Alana Parrish.


Fifteen-year-old Alana Parrish's name ought to be spelled out across the marquee of the Folly Theater in the biggest letters money can buy. She's a superstar. It's just that no one knows it yet.

"I want to be a big actress-singer person," she says, brushing back her long, black hair. "Because it's cool. I want to be funny and exciting and sing instead of being something boring like a lawyer."

Parrish's ascent to stardom has been Sisyphian. She's already felt the sting of rejection several times. In middle school, she was denied a part in three school plays. When she tried out for admission to the Paseo Fine Arts Academy -- the Kansas City, Missouri, School District's haven for budding thespians -- she was turned away with an insult.

"The woman told me I couldn't sing and I need help on my acting," Parrish says.

So she packed up her book bag and headed for Central High, where she assumed that acting lessons would be hard to find. No one who works at Central can remember the last time the school put on a play. In recent years, the school has had a hard enough time struggling to improve its test scores.

But divas like Parrish can't survive on tests alone. She wanted her high school years to be fun. "My freshman year, I got here, and I'm looking for something to get into," Parrish says. "But there's nothing, so I just, like, hang out."

This year, though, she spotted some fliers advertising tryouts for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown -- a musical, no less. She set her sights on the audition, but she was nervous. She assumed her bad luck would continue. "I'm thinking, if Paseo turned me down, [Central] will, too," she says.

Daunted but not dashed, she worked up a Humpty Dumpty routine, flitting about the stage and singing in a sweet, lilting voice.

Knowing talent when he saw it, the play's director, teacher James Franson, asked Parrish why she was at Central instead of Paseo. "I told him they turned me down," she says. "And he was, like, 'What?'"

She landed the role of Snoopy -- a part with few lines but two songs.

Then, less than three weeks before opening night, the actress set to play Lucy stormed off in a huff. Franson sunk into a seat in the school's Greek Theater, certain that the play he'd been working on for months would have to be cancelled. Parrish sat on the stage kicking her legs.

"We've got to do this play," she said. "I want it so bad."

She went through all the play's scenes in her mind and realized that Lucy and Snoopy share the stage for just one short scene. "I can play Lucy!" she declared. "I know all the songs by heart!"

At that, Parrish found herself in her first play, filling both the lead female role and the lead canine role.

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