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Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Last Tuesday, while friends in Eugene were fidgeting in school waiting for Thanksgiving break to begin, 10-year-old Kyra Siegel was in New York City sweating out her first professional audition.

Kyra, daughter of Eugene dancers Marc Siegel and Pamela Lehan-Siegel, had drawn rave reviews this fall as the blind, deaf and mute young Helen Keller in the Cottage Theatre production of "The Miracle Worker."

She was a natural for the role. She has been legally blind in one eye since she accidentally poked herself with a knife last year. She's also a veteran performer, a gymnast and a dancer.

But that was community theater.

This was Broadway.

Kyra was auditioning to be the understudy to 13-year-old celebrity Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") as Helen Keller in a "Miracle Worker" revival that is to open with previews in February at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York.

She and her parents flew to the city at their own expense after Pamela heard the upcoming production was looking for an understudy for Breslin.

About 40 girls auditioned in one long day, called in one at a time to perform while their nervous parents waited in another room. Some were sent right home. Not Kyra.

"We did a routine the director asked us to do," she said. "After I did the routine, the director gave me direction and told me to do it a different way. And I did it again. And then they said, `OK, you can stay.'"

At the end of the day, each remaining set of parents was called in, leaving their children to wait. The room got emptier and emptier.

Then it was Pamela and Marc's turn, and Kyra waited alone. "They basically said, `I want you to think about this, but we want Kyra,'" Pamela said.

There was plenty to think about.

The whole family would be uprooted. Kyra would have to leave school in the middle of her fifth-grade year. She would miss her gymnastics class here. No one quite knew what to do about Dance Theatre of Oregon, Marc and Pamela's little touring dance company, or the house the family owns here.

Even Kyra had mixed feelings, sort of. "Please, don't turn it down," she finally asked her parents.

They head east next month.

Marc and Pamela will rent out the house, put the dance company on hiatus, and look for jobs in New York. Kyra will begin home-schooling with her mother.

"I will have to leave all my friends for eight months!" Kyra said. "And there are projects I've been working on at school but I can't do. And there's a big trip that the fifth-grade class does every year to Quebec ..."

"I view it as a sabbatical," Pamela said. "There are many, many things involved. Even though we come from New York, we've been living in Eugene 18 years. We've put down some roots. We have our own jobs and interests and family and friends. We own a house in Eugene."

Kyra's accident with that knife may have weighed in her favor. The Broadway show drew heat last month from the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts for not casting a disabled actress as Helen Keller, and a number of children who auditioned for the understudy part were blind or deaf.

As a member of Actors Equity, the stage union, Kyra will be paid about $1,700 a week, plus health and 401(k) benefits. That's more than her parents often make, combined, as performers in Eugene, leaving Marc to work part of the year as a house painter.

"We don't want her to feel the pressure of money," Pamela said. "We don't want her to have the idea she has to support the two of us."

As understudy, Kyra will be required to be backstage, ready to perform, at every performance. With a schedule calling for eight performances a week, she has an excellent chance of doing the show.

She's dying to meet Breslin. "I am really, really excited to meet her," Kyra said. "I've seen some of the movies she's been in. I'll get to meet her in January!"

Marc and Pamela were working as dancers in New York when they first met each other. She danced with David Parsons' company. He was with Le Ballet Trockadero. She was ready for a break from the city and wanted to found her own dance company. He had parents in Eugene. They headed west.

Now they're on their way back, at least for the duration of Kyra's eight-month contract - or to the end of the show, whichever comes first.

"We're not going to sell the house," Pamela said.
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Title Annotation:Arts and Literature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 1, 2009
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