S H O W O F S P I R I T
Work in ‘Peter Pan’ an act of gratitude for EMILY CIPRIANI
COURTNEY HERGESHEIMER DISPATCH
Juvenile arthritis won’t keep teenage star from soaring
By Ken Gordon • THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
As an actress, Emily Cipriani is adept at covering up problems. • The 15-year-old has a reputation for smoothly handling mishaps in a play, whether providing ad-libs during a scene gone awry or discreetly fixing a technical malfunction. • As a hurting child, though, covering up had its limits. • For months in 2009, she endured joint pain and swelling. • She soldiered through, continuing to perform, but it took a toll. • “It was hard watching her come home so exhausted and in pain,” said her mother, Rosemary Cipriani. • Eventually, doctors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital diagnosed juvenile arthritis.
More than three years later, the care she receives at Children’s makes her latest role particularly meaningful. She has the lead in Peter Pan, a fundraiser for the Pleasure Guild, which benefits the hospice and palliative care program at Children’s. The annual benefit show will open Friday at the Palace Theatre.
“Everyone really wants to be here, because we know we’re doing it for a cause,” Emily said at a recent rehearsal.
- Six months after symptoms started in her ankles, knees, wrists, fingers and neck, Emily couldn’t stand the pain. One evening, the joints around her ribs swelled, making breathing difficult. Her parents sought medical care near their home in Westerville.
“Yeah, it was scary,” Emily said. “There’s no sucking it up for that.”
Although they were shocked to hear a diagnosis of arthritis, Emily and her parents say the unknown was worse. “It was, ‘OK, now we know what the problem is. We can figure out how to solve it,’” Emily said.
- Now a sophomore at Columbus Academy, Emily gives herself weekly injections, and said she is free of pain and swelling. The only clue that something is amiss is the sound her knees make when she bends them deeply. “Snap, crackle and pop, like the Rice Krispies Treats — listen,” she says, demonstrating.
The entire Cipriani family is creatively inclined. Rosemary, a violinist, has performed with the Westerville and Newark- Granville symphonies. Emily’s sister, Michaella, 17, a senior at Columbus Academy, is an accomplished singer who is interested in pursuing a career in opera. Dad Larry downplays his talent but acknowledges having played the trumpet once upon a time.
Emily began acting in fourth grade. In 2007, at age 10, she landed her first major role in the Columbus Children’s Theatre production of Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business. She has participated in more than 20 musicals or plays since then.
“It’s just fun to step into other people’s shoes and try and see things from different perspectives,” she said.
COURTNEY HERGESHEIMER DISPATCH Emily Cipriani practicing sword fighting with choreographer Austin Channell
Lisa Andres is directing Peter Pan, the third time she has worked with Emily in that role. “Emily is an amazing actress,” Andres said. “She’s just so natural and so real. I never thought about casting her as Peter Pan, but she got up there and read (at auditions) and I said to my music director, ‘She’s Peter Pan; she just is.’ “Whatever character she’s playing, she just becomes.”
Both Andres and Columbus Children’s Theatre Artistic Director William Goldsmith are impressed by Emily’s improvisational ability. “She’s mature beyond her years,” Goldsmith said. “When something happens onstage, she’ll be the one to cover, even over the adults. You can always depend on Emily .” to take care of it.”
Andres recalled a time when Emily’s microphone battery pack came unclipped during a dance number, “and she just reached back with one hand and tucked it in, smiling away the whole time.”
The actress is reluctant to talk about her arthritis. “Emily is very low key,” said Gloria Higgins, her doctor at Children’s, whom she sees every few months. “She doesn’t like to make a fuss.”
- Emily’s prognosis is difficult to project, Higgins said. Because Emily has polyarticular arthritis, which means multiple joints are affected, “she has a lower likelihood of it going away completely,” Higgins said. “But we still would not want to say it could never happen.”
Higgins and Emily have developed a good relationship, and Higgins said she hopes to be able to attend a performance of Peter Pan.
Emily said she is grateful to Higgins — whom she calls, “really nice, like a superintelligent teddy bear” — and the hospital staff.
“They weren’t like, ‘OK, here’s your medicine, you look fine, go ahead and leave,’” Emily said. “It was like, ‘How are you? How do you feel about this? What can we do to make this better?’
- “My goal was to get back into theater and be well enough that I can dance (without pain),” she said, “and they’ve done a good job of making that happen.”
AT A GLANCE
Peter Pan PLEASURE GUILD: PALACE THEATRE 34 W. BROAD ST.
Contact: 1-800-745-3000, http://www.ticketmaster.com
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $15 to $35
Emily didn’t just fall out of the crib a star – – she has obviously worked for it. And her professional associates admire her demeanor and ability. What comes thru rather clearly is the quality of her consciousness and an attitude of gratitude. This is frankly rare in one so young.
I wanted to run this article, not only to brighten everyone’s day, but also because of the seeming coincidence of having run another article only two days ago called Leaky gut – Juvenile arthritis on the 6th. This is rather unusual because though I have been active with “smokinchoices” for 5 years now, this is the first time, I believe that I have had stories on Juvenile Arthritis. When we ‘Oldsters’ get painful creakin’ joints and swelling, we all kinda feel, well, its par for the course. . . .we can’t seem to feel as cavalier about a youngster going through that. It’s not acceptable. Some thing must be wrong, somewhere, somehow. We’d like it fixed if possible.
I know Emily is grateful for what she has achieved already, and that is beautiful. But what if there was another way, a simple, non-pharmaceutical method of trying to correct the situation ? It might be valuable to look into it. I as always, speak from a point of view that the body reflects radiant health when its functioning well on all the burners. Body is receiving the nourishment it needs and functions best with organic, whole foods. Conversely, it also speaks to us loud and clear when things go wrong. For a child to have this kind of problem with pain, swelling and stiffness is a clarion call of trouble within the organism. Since my middle name is “You are what you eat,” I see nutritional mal-function or mal-absorption and this all happens in the gut. Sounds like Emily’s problems are very much akin to the other story. The young boy was able to go off all meds and totally loose his pain; health restored. In his case, it was eliminating offending foods which his body couldn’t tolerate (not that the foods are bad), and then restoring intestinal flora to the abundant volume and variety required to re-establish superb immune health. Just sayin’ . . . Jan)