ASPEN - Years ago, when Danielle Erickson was just little girl, she wowed a group of parents and teachers by singing a solo at her preschool graduation (I was there, and I remember it vividly).
Now, she's wowing other audiences - this summer at the Theatre Aspen tent, as the lead in the local theater company's all-ages production of "How I Became A Pirate," and just a few months ago, at the Denver School of the Arts, where she auditioned with 80 other kids for one of just three coveted spots in the academy's incoming eighth-grade class.
"I want to be on Broadway...that is my dream," said Erickson, fresh off the stage from performing in Thursday's production of "Pirate." "And I just can't believe I get to go to a performing arts school. It's just unreal."
In fact, it's very real. Just two days after "Pirate" closes, Erickson will leave the town where she was born (Aspen) and the schools that she has attended (Aspen elementary and middle schools) and the stages she has starred on (all in the Roaring Fork Valley).
"I'm excited. I'm nervous,," said the bubbly 13-year-old, who admits she loves acting because "I love the spotlight."
Interestingly, what makes her "nervous" about joining the prestigious arts school has little to do with the school itself; she is a strong student academically and singing, dancing and acting are second-nature to her.
"I'm nervous about moving to the big city. I've only lived in a small town," said Erickson, who counts among her favorite roles Peter in Jayne Gottlieb's production of "Peter Pan."
But to fulfill her dream, Denver is the logical next step.
"I didn't know she had 'it,' until people kept telling us what talent she had," said Danielle's mom, Cheryl. "It's pretty amazing."
Of course Danielle admits that acting has been in her blood since, well, "I was born."
Her father, Tom, was a longtime cast member at the Crystal Palace and continues to act professionally - starring alongside Danielle as Sharktooth in "How I Became a Pirate." It's a twist of fate that the younger Erickson could not be more excited about.
"It's so great, because we have such a strong connection already," she said, clearly enamored with her father and with the idea of following in his footsteps.
Danielle's mother, Cheryl, is similarly enthused - if not astounded - with the path her daughter's life has taken of late.
"She is so focused and driven, that when you have that, you have to follow it," said Cheryl, who runs her own dental office, but will adapt her business so she can live with Danielle in Denver. "We have to give her this chance to live her dream."
But to think that Danielle is a one-trick pony would be wrong. Very wrong. As she ticks off the things she loves to do, all the normal teenage hobbies spring forth: skiing, snowboarding volleyball, golf, tennis, hanging out with friends, sleeping in ... the list goes on and on.
"It's hard sometimes...sometimes you just want to hang out with your friends or sleep in," Danielle said of her busy summer rehearsal schedule and early-morning curtain calls. "But summer can also be extremely boring, and this gives me something to do.
"Well, and it's something I love, so I guess that is what really matters."