Melanie Gillott has found herself in an unlikely place. The 16 year-old used to be shy and introverted. She sought solace from the world in her room writing novels and creating colorful characters.
It was her comfort zone. That is until she got pulled out of it and discovered that she’s a pretty colorful character herself.
A New Beat
It started with a black and white newspaper ad for Rhythm Nation, a fledgling drum performance troupe looking for participants and a short conversation Melanie recounted that ensued.
“Melanie, you should join this”, her mom, Michele, said. I told her, ‘I’m not doing that’ and my dad is like, “You’re going”, she said.
Later that week, she and her dad were sitting on a stage surrounded by people of all ages, ethnic drums, and accessory percussion, and the very welcoming directors, Gayle “C” Cuneo and her son Vince.
“I was nervous, but they made feel at ease. It was very comforting and very therapeutic to be in this atmosphere. My dad is a percussionist so I appreciated the fact that this was something we could do together,” she said.
After weeks of practice and a final community performance, Melanie followed Gayle to “C Glee” at the Carnegie Library of Connellsville, a musical theater program Cuneo directs. She also started taking voice lessons from Gayle’s daughter, Cait Cuneo, professionally known as “Violet Rose”.
“If you’d have told me 6 months ago, that I would have performed a solo at C Glee performance, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’ve been encouraged by Gayle and Cait to put myself out there. I stepped out of my comfort zone.”
Now, in addition to C Glee, the Southmoreland High School junior is also participating in school and community musical programs.
“I grew up in a musical family and have wanted to sing since I was five years old.” That’s when while taking piano lessons at Atkins Music store in Connellsville, PA, she saw a voice lesson in progress. “It looked so fun.”
“When you’re little, you don’t care what people think of you, but you get more scared when you’re older. I was dealing with people constantly judging me and until recently had never gotten into theater.”
A Kid at Christmas
When she was in 7th grade, she discovered the legendary comedienne, Carol Burnett, on YouTube.” “It was the coolest show. I wanted to do a variety show like her.
Last year, for my 15th birthday my parents got me tickets to see her the American music theater in Lancaster. I was the youngest person in the audience.When Carol came out she performed, showed clips from her show and did questions and answers from the stage.”
Melanie didn’t get to ask a question from the audience so when she got home, she sent the entertainer her question by mail. “I asked her what advice would she would give to an aspiring actress.”
One day at home, among the bills, was mail from Santa Monica, California. In a note, hand-written on her personal stationary, Carol Burnett responded with well wishes. “That was a time I was having an awful day. Getting her note was the highlight of my year. I was like a kid at Christmas.”
And until now, she kept the note a secret. “I didn’t know how people would react. It means so much to me. It’s priceless. I’ll keep it forever.”
Reaching for the Stars
Receiving Carol’s note, Melanie started to believe that anything is possible. And through Gayle and Cait’s continued encouragement, she knew that with hard work, she could reach for the stars.
Both a voice coach and singer, Cait’s EP album, “Violet”, includes a song called “Working Hard”. Melanie said she lives these words every day.
“Cait has encouraged me to work hard and taught me that hard work does pay off. I practice and don’t make excuses because if I don’t practice, I won’t get better. I want a career with musical theater. I want to be good so that I can be successful.
Two years ago, I didn’t know I could sing. I was in chorus, but I never thought I could have a voice like I do now. Cait has worked with me so much. I can only get better.”
In a recent C Glee performance, called “Hullabaloo”, Melanie sang, gave a speech in the middle of the song, danced and had to smile. She didn’t have to work at the smiling part. It just came naturally. “My mom said, ‘I’ve never seen you smile so much.’
When I’m on stage, I can forget about things for the hour-long show. I can breathe. I can be anxiety prone, so when I’m feeling stressed, I pull out my musical theater book. It makes me happy. C Glee is the highlight of my week. It makes me push through the week because I have something to look forward to.”
Melanie, who is taking journalism in high school and writes for the school newspaper, said she enjoys writing. Her comedy and young adult stories include a 28,000 word novel she wrote when she was in eighth grade.
“I wrote a story about a high school student with a dream of being a professional ballerina. She develops bone cancer and becomes an amputee, but will not give up her goal. The story follows her struggles and determination to overcome obstacles. While wearing a prosthesis, she finally makes it to the professional stage.” She added, “I also enjoy writing comedy and would like to write a musical about Lucile Ball – the story of her life.”
While she is a writer, through C Glee, Melanie has discovered that she is a performer.
Her Greatest Gift
And from that stage, Melanie is writing her own story.
“After I graduate in a year and a half, I’d like to do musical theater and attend college, possibly at NYU or Boston University. I want to write movies or a TV show.”
She remarked that musical theater has built her confidence. “I’ve grown so much as a person. I’m following my dreams. It feels good to be applauded.”
She added, “My aunt cried after seeing me sing a solo for the first time, saying, ‘you seem like you’re so comfortable up there.’
Yes, in this unlikely place, Melanie has found herself. And discovered that the greatest gift is having the confidence to dream big – and to go wherever her talents take her.
C Glee at the Carnegie will present their holiday performances on December 21st & 22nd at Carnegie Library in Connellsville, PA. Performances begin at 7pm with doors at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door.