Mother's tight budget might have cost her daughter a big break in Hollywood

  • Written by Staff Reports


donae performs photo 8-3

Submitted photo

Evergreen Park resident Donae Parker, 9, performs during an Actors, Models and Talent for Christ (AMTC) competition last month in Orlando.

Claudia Parker, of Evergreen Park, said she wasn’t so sure she wanted her 9-year-old daughter, Donae Parker, going anywhere but into fourth grade at Northeast Elementary School.

“I was completely comfortable with her acting in community theater and church plays,” said Parker. “But the thought of her actually working in the acting industry makes me nervous, so I’ve been ignoring her pleas to find her an agent.”

Parker said she softened to the idea last summer after she and Donae attended an open audition for Actors, Models and Talent for Christ (AMTC). It’s a non-profit training ministry preparing performers for film, fashion, music and theater. They can be found at Some might find it comparable to The Second City Training Center, but with an emphasis geared toward people of faith.

“I signed Donae up for AMTC’s training program because they addressed every area of my concern,” said Parker. “I wanted Donae to get more than talent development. I wanted instructors invested in helping us to navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry.”

Parker also said AMTC sets itself apart from other training centers with their culminating event for graduates. “They host an international week-long conference with performers from Orlando, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta and South Africa. This year it was July 4-9 at the ritzy Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla. The conference is optional and entry for AMTC performers is included in the tuition, but transportation to Florida, lodging at the Gaylord and meals for the week are not.

Parker’s husband, Don, said he wanted Donae to attend the conference because of the unique opportunity it would provide for her to acquire a reputable agent, so they worked it into the budget by making it their family’s summer vacation. However, Claudia pulled back the reins on anything that warranted additional spending.

“AMTC had invited over 50 agents, managers and casting directors to the conference whom they call their VIP guests,” said Parker.

They’re present to watch performers showcase their talent. The conference is called SHINE because performers are being given the chance to shine before industry professionals that may lead to their big break.

Three showcase performances are included in the tuition. Those wanting to appear before the VIPs more than that can, but for an additional fee.

“There were over 420 children and adult performers showcasing various talents before the VIPs. Of course, every mom thinks their kid is the best, but if I’m being honest, there were at least 10 African American little girls about the same age, with similar talent and equally as adorable as my precious Donae,” recalled Parker. “Among that much competition I could see the validity in piling on additional showcases for a fighting chance to be noticed. Nonetheless, my wallet told Donae, ‘Girl, you better make your three shots count!’”

Each performer is given up to 20 seconds per showcase. Performances are broken into categories throughout the week. VIPs give each performance a score, which is calculated for an overall scoring determinate for the top 10-15 percent, which are selected to perform in the talent and acting finale.

One of the finale’s masters of ceremonies was Ser’Darius Blain. He was in the 2011 remake “Footloose,” “Star Trek: Into the Darkness,” “Maybe Someday,” “Camp X-Ray,” and he was the lead in “When the Game Stands Tall.” This December, Blain will star alongside Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black in the highly anticipated “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. “  

The AMTC performer packet reads, “We do not select a certain number of children, teens, songwriters, dancers or any particular age group or style; only readiness, show diversity and star potential are considered.”

Of the mere three showcases that Donae performed, she was selected to perform two of them in the finale.

“I was so happy I cried,” said Donae. “I didn’t want anyone to see so I buried my head into my mom’s chest.

“I was shocked,” said Parker. “I was a little skeptical at first. I had thoughts like, ‘Hmmm, are these VIPs legitimate people from the industry? And if so, what’s the true likelihood that they’ll notice my kid?’”

Parker said her doubts were put at ease after reading the bios of several of the VIPs and learning more about them during various seminars they conducted throughout the week.

Erica Cruz, of Lily’s Talent Agency, and Mike Theisen, of Gray Talent Group, were two of the VIPs present from Chicago. Both have very strong reputations.

“I can say without a doubt, AMTC is legit. Attending the SHINE conference really made me a believer. After Donae performed in the acting finale, which also streamed live over the internet for thousands to see, Donae got callbacks from two VIPs, DebraLynn Findon, of Discover Management, and Penny Middlemiss, of Mavrick Artists Agency, which are both in the heart of Los Angeles.”

Unfortunately, Parker said the family had chosen to leave the SHINE conference one day early to save $500 on the cost of their flight back to Chicago, so Donae wasn’t able to meet with the VIPs that expressed interest in her.

“I felt bad about it after that fact,” said Parker. “I suppose I should have had more faith in the SHINE process and trusted in Donae’s abilities over my budget. I guess I didn’t expect anything would really come of her performances.”

Parker said she’s learned a priceless lesson and she’s now moving forward in seeking Donae acting representation here in the Chicago area.

Interested in watching Donae’s 20 second performances? AMTC’s Leo Marshall Creative provided a professional reel. Residents can have a look at