new york city ny, 1988, age eight
"Mackenna, will you stop being such a brat?"
"Mommy, it hurts!"
"I swear, your sister was never this difficult. You want to be a star, don't you?"
The eight year old girl hesitated, because really she had no clue what she wanted. Most eight year olds were focused on their cursive lettering and trying to get over the mortification of getting such thick glasses. Most eight year olds weren't being shuffled around to auditions or dance classes or private voice lessons. Having her hair tied up in a tight ballerina's bun - tighter than usual - like the rest of the girls in the narrow hallway she was waiting endlessly in, Mackenna waited restlessly for her turn to audition.
"See, I told you. Everyone does Sound of Music now. Our choice is better." Georgina Cleary reminded her, because 'Let Me Entertain You' from Gypsy was so much better.
The irony of singing a song originally about a daughter being forced into show business by her fame-starved mother was something the eight year old overlooked. School had long been a passing thought, Georgina more concerned with perfecting her natural abilities in whatever method she thought necessary; voice lessons came much easier than dance, many nights ending with the middle Clearly child in tears. Her feet are clumsy and she just can't keep up with the count. It's a lot to ask, especially when Georgina really couldn't demonstrate herself for fear of ruining her pedicure. The dance studio her father had built in the basement was complete with stage lighting and wall to wall mirrors, all the more for Georgina to bark movements until Mackenna couldn't stop yawning.
"Come on, baby girl. You want to be in Annie don't you?"
new york city ny, 1991, age eleven
Julie Andrews presenting the Secret Garden cast at the 45th Tony Awards made it impossible not to be nervous. The rehearsal the day previously was possibly the most magical moment of her young life - even moreso than learning she had been nominated for the Broadway community's highest honor. Getting to chat with Julie Andrews on the edge of the stage while the lighting board fiddled with the correct lighting is a memory that will never leave her. They gabbed like they were old friends, and Mackenna remembered so vividly the way the lighting behind her made her look even more angelic than she thought possible.
There were so many actresses nominated for the award older and more deserving of the award, and despite how many times Georgina made her practice her speech, nothing could have prepared her for the moment they read her name out loud. The award felt so heavy in her tiny hands, and for a long moment she spun the circular plaque over and over, mesmerized by the gold reflecting off of the stage lights before finally thanking her cast for teaching her so much already, for her family for being supportive, for her agent for making it all possible. Bernadette Peters with her mane of perfect hair came over to congratulate her (little Mackenna thought she could die a happy girl) and she had the biggest ice cream sundae to wash down her sparkling cider at the after party. She can remember her mother thanking people on her behalf, and after the third time, Mackenna put on a charming smile and said, "I think it says Mackenna, not Georgina." The taller people around her chuckled heartily, but for a moment the girl hadn't been sure if Georgina was going to plow her over to accept the award on her behalf.
The mother-daughter duo shared an apartment with another pair just like them, with her mother making comments about how they'd never get a call back with that monologue, those shoes, those teeth. It was hostile and toxic in the name of boosting her daughter's self-confidence, which was already solid enough with her name carved into the award on her nightstand.
studio city ca, 1993, age thirteen
Moving between major cities and time zones was difficult, but getting used to five o'clock makeup calls and mandatory homework and lunch breaks was even harder. Playing the shy and awkward oldest daughter of a Broadway producer was something she could really get on board with, and together her television family on The Nanny became a home away from home. Her home life was strained after living in New York away from her siblings and father, and their sudden moving home after a series of rushed auditions made it just the slightest bit awkward. More and more Mackenna was looking forward to being on set rather than being home.
The adults began to try to brag about the other siblings, and instead of being encouraging it was competitive and unhealthy. There was an air of resentment from the division, the bookend siblings that stayed in California with their father and Mackenna who had been in New York the last two years with their mother unknowingly in a showdown of 'which child is the most successful' between the parents.
"Mackenna got to meet Bette Midler today. And she told her how she'd seen her in Secret Garden. Isn't that wonderful?" Georgina started, twirling into her pasta with an air of haughty pride.
"I am going to a final audition tomorrow," her older sister chimed in, because the need for validation had already settled along the dinner table.
California was beautiful all of the time, but there was never anyone her age around. At least on set she had fake siblings to hang around with. She sought out people her height to hang out with, and sooner or later she noticed a handful of kids her age with their tutors. That was when Mackenna decided she wanted a tutor instead of Georgina's lessons - something her mother dramatically denied before finally caving. Mackenna graduated from high school two years early fluent in French and free of her mother's bullshit.
new york city ny, 1999, age nineteen
Six seasons had come and gone before Mackenna would move back to New York City. This time, she broke the news to Georgina that she would not be her roommate, that a few girls she had continuously auditioned with over the years were going to move in together. Life on her own was incredible, and not having someone hovering over her shoulder every waking moment of the day made her feel like she could do anything. It didn't stop Georgina from popping in unannounced, shmoozing her way through the stage door to be found cleaning her dressing room.
"I thought I would surprise you, darling!" Georgina would say, and it wasn't until that moment Mackenna felt like Gypsy Rose Lee staring at Rose, wanting to so terribly tell her off. But she bit her tongue and took it, because she owed so much to this woman. Sure, she had her flaws, but she had gotten her this far.. That guilt was something she just couldn't shake, so deeply ingrained that Mackenna bit her tongue and let her mother take her to dinner.
Nineteen years old and free of the short leash her mother had kept her on, Mackenna felt refreshed.