ACTING OUT: 13-year-old finds self-love while exploring new talents
Published 11:01 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Thirteen-year-old Morgan Whitaker used to be bullied for her high-pitched, “squeaky” voice. She was shy, yet a cheerleader, trying to fit in, trying to be cool.
But on one July afternoon in 2017, she tripped over a soccer ball and broke her leg. Then, everything changed.
Now, with a couple of screws in her leg, and a renewed sense of self, Morgan is using her “squeaky” voice to help others.
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Morgan, an eighth-grader at Robert D. Campbell Junior High School, missed cheerleading tryouts for the 2017-2018 school year due to her injury.
She thought her life was over.
“She actually said her life was over,” Diana Bentley, Morgan’s mother, chuckled.
For weeks, Morgan stayed to herself and sunk into sadness. Cheerleading was all she knew. It was her future. Or so she thought.
Bentley said she couldn’t take watching her daughter sit around and do nothing. She had to find something else in which to get Morgan involved.
Finally, Morgan began taking acting classes at IMAGES Model and Talent Agency in Lexington. Now, Morgan takes classes each Tuesday and Thursday. In class, she does cold reads, works on characterization techniques, practices improv, performs general acting exercises and her favorite – reads monologues.
“If it weren’t for my injury, I would’ve never thought about acting,” Morgan said. “My dream was to be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader. I thought of cheerleading as a career…That wasn’t meant for me. A door closes, and another one opens.”
Janie Olmstead, owner of IMAGES, said when she first met Morgan, Morgan just gotten the cast off her leg. She was shy, Olmstead said. But with each class, Olmstead saw Morgan come further and further out of her shell. T
“Just gradually, it was like cream rising to the top,” Olmstead said.
Olmstead said she knew Morgan was bullied for her voice, but encouraged Morgan to use it as her strength.
“I said to her, ‘you have a voice that would be good for voice overs,’” Olmstead said. “…She has a future in this.”
Morgan had never any formal training before IMAGES, and already within a year, she is going places, and getting opportunities, Olmstead said.
As Morgan sits down on the brown leather couch in her living room, she straightens up her blue jean jacket, her long reddish brown hair curled, and out of her face, reveals her youth. She begins talking, her voice high, her smile higher. Morgan watches her “ums,” but remains sure of herself.
Morgan said she has always had a strange imagination. She loves accents – especially British accents – and loves films more so.
“The more and more I push myself to do acting, the more I fell in love with it,” Morgan said.
Morgan said she recently returned from Los Angeles. She was at a competition hosted by International Modeling and Talent Association. Morgan had turned in an audition tape in which she said she brought out her flair and creativity to a Chipotle commercial. Luckily, she made it in. To prepare for the competition, Morgan trained every Sunday. She put in a lot of hours and stressed.
“There were lots of tears on Sundays,” Bentley said. “She’d come home and say I can’t do this. I’m not going.”
At the competition, while juggling her nerves and excitement, Morgan interviewed with various acting agencies and competed in several categories alongside about nine others, ages 8 to 20, from Images Model and Talent Agency.
The judges were intimidating, she said. Morgan was up against thousands from all across the world – China, Paris, Milan, Australia, England, Washington D.C. and more.
“You get up there and show them you mean business,” Morgan said. “This is your time to sparkle.”
And sparkle, she did. She placed first in monologue, 4th runner-up in actor of the year and top 8 in all of the categories she competed. But you have to stay humble, Morgan said.
“One of her friends only won one medal,” Bentley said. “Morgan didn’t want to wear her medals at our dinner because she didn’t want to hurt the other girl’s feelings. That made me proud of her. I was proud because of the medals but nothing like I was over her being like that.”
Bentley said they had no idea Morgan had a knack for acting. They thought she was too shy, Bentley said.
“Every time the teacher came out and told us she did so good and she was a natural, we kind of snickered at each other,” Bentley said. “We didn’t believe them at first. She was so shy; there was no way.”
For the longest time, Morgan wouldn’t let her parents watch her act. But once she did, Bentley said she could finally see what all of Morgan’s acting teachers and coaches were saying.
Now, Morgan aspires to be a role model for younger girls and boys akin to her inspiration – Sadie Robertson from Duck Dynasty.
“I want to show them you can follow your dreams,” she said. “Believe in yourself.”
After coming out of her shell, Morgan has become an advocate for kids who are bullied. Recently, Morgan put a video on Facebook to address bullying going on at her school.
“She never would’ve done that before,” Bentley said.
Morgan and her family may be relocating to Los Angeles if Morgan gets in with an acting agency. Her new dreams are becoming a reality, all because she learned just to be herself, she said.
“You get more places in life by being yourself and by being nice than by being mean and being somebody that you’re not,” Morgan said.
In one class, Morgan had a script with the words “Oh My God,” but she said she didn’t feel comfortable saying it. Instead, she said “Oh My Gosh.”
“People think you have to do whatever they tell you to do,” Bentley said. “But –”
“You just have to be yourself,” Morgan interrupts.
Morgan said she hopes to act in films, plays or do voice-overs. And to maybe, one day be on the same level as her favorite actors – Johnny Depp, Reese Witherspoon and Denzel Washington.
“I would be on Cloud Nine,” Morgan said. “I just have to think of going with the flow. If it happens, it happens. And if it doesn’t, then, it doesn’t for some reason.”
In the meantime, Morgan’s just like any other 13-year-old. She goes to school and spends her free time acting, drawing or horseback riding. In her room, where she spends most of her time practicing and preparing her makeup, pictures of friends and family are scattered and taped to the wall. A framed M watches over her half-made bed, a tall giraffe spotted with oranges, greens, pinks and blues stands confidently in the corner and a tiny Los Angeles snowglobe sits proudly on a side table next to her bed.
On the wall, Morgan points to a whiteboard where she channels her inspiration through quotes from actors.
Adjacent to a heart and underneath a smiley face, she wrote her current favorite:
“I was the shyest human ever invented, but I had a lion inside me that wouldn’t shut up!” Ingrid Bergman
Gone is the shy, bullied, want-to-be cool girl, Morgan Whitaker. Here is Morgan Whitaker.
And that’s all she needs, she said.