A day in the life of Emily Elizabeth
By Lia on September 27th, 2012
As many of you know, Clifford the Big Red Dog celebrated a major birthday this week (he looks good for 50, doesn’t he?!). In honor of our favorite dog’s big day, we celebrated at Scholastic’s New York City headquarters with the biggest birthday party ever, complete with Clifford cupcakes, a live webcast with Norman Bridwell that we streamed to classrooms nationwide, and a humongous birthday banner that cascaded down the front of our building.
A longtime Clifford fan, I was honored when Billy DiMichele — our VP of Corporate Productions and Creative Services — asked me to play the part of Emily Elizabeth in the live webcast. (Plus, as a theater major, I was excited to take on my first role in over a year.) Last week, Dante provided an inside look at what it’s like to be the editor of Scholastic News Kids Press Corps; so, in that vein, I give you “A Day in the Life of Emily Elizabeth.”
It’s important to note that, though Billy and his team made Clifford’s birthday celebration look effortless, they worked for MONTHS to make the webcast and Auditorium read-aloud that followed come together. What we didn’t see on-camera were the countless hours (and people!) that made the event run so smoothly. From writing and revising the script to coordinating a live audience comprised of hundreds of schoolchildren, securing the permits that allowed us to set up red AstroTurf and film live on the streets of SoHo to devising a way to rig a 12-story banner so it dropped down the front of the building, Billy and his team did an amazing job of orchestrating the entire production. Our awesome A/V team handled the filming, lighting, and sound design so that classrooms across the country could tune in to watch Clifford’s birthday party, while catering chipped in and put together healthy Clifford snack bags for the kids to take home. Our Trade and Media divisions did an incredible job of coordinating a live Q&A with Mr. Bridwell, creating special video footage for Clifford’s 50th birthday, and reaching out to local media about the big event. We even secured a proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg declaring Monday, September 24, 2012 “Clifford the Big Red Dog Day” in the City of New York. Quite the production, right?
Needless to say, all their hard work made my job super easy. In the month leading up to Clifford’s birthday webcast, Billy sent me links to Clifford the Big Red Dog videos so I could listen to and emulate Emily Elizabeth’s voice; Roman (our Director of Corporate Productions) organized several costume and wig fittings, and Joseph and Yanique (our Corporate Productions team) made sure that I had copies of the script so I could memorize my lines, and spent countless hours fiddling with the wig to get it just right. (Special shout out to Michael and Tash from The Scholastic Store for lending their creative input!) The week before the big event, I met with Billy so he could coach me on my lines and finalize my blocking (in theater or film, “blocking” refers to where the director wants the actor to stand and when).
The day of Clifford’s birthday went something like this:
6:00am – Alarm went off. Made sure I’d packed my Emily Elizabeth essentials (make-up, bobby pins, and LOTS of hairspray!) before leaving my apartment.
7:00am – Call time! (Theater lingo for what time you have to be on set or at the theater.) I arrived at Scholastic’s headquarters in time to see the tech crew putting the finishing touches on the red AstroTurf and setting up the film equipment. The anticipation of it all was so exciting!
7:15am – Channeled my inner child and watched “Clifford the Big Red Dog” cartoons online while I ate my breakfast. Hey, a girl’s gotta get into character!
7:30am – Headed down to the greenroom backstage to do my make-up, prep my hair for the Emily Elizabeth wig, and get into costume. Tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach. Made Clifford pose for some pictures.
8:00am – Dress rehearsal and sound check on the street outside Scholastic’s headquarters. The sound crew helped me put on a wireless microphone (called a lavalier) and made sure my hand-held mic was working. Amidst some funny stares from passersby, we began an abbreviated dress rehearsal. Billy (who, in addition to producing, also hosted the webcast) ran though the script so we all knew who was supposed to stand where and when.
9:00am – Headed backstage to pre-set my props for the Auditorium portion of the event following the live webcast. Once I was sure my copy of Clifford’s Birthday and his giant bone cake were in place, I headed upstairs to wait for the live audience to arrive. En route, I was lucky enough to meet the real Emily Elizabeth–Norman Bridwell’s daughter. She was so warm and down-to-earth; I could only hope I’d do justice to the character she inspired! As the first-and-second-graders arrived, waving and calling, “Hiiii, Emily Elizabeth!” I was nervous all over again. What if they didn’t like me as much as the character in the books or on TV?
10:00am – No more time to be nervous. The webcast began promptly at 10. Seated in a teeny white chair alongside the excited students, I completely forgot about the cameras and the crowds. All that mattered was celebrating Clifford, the iconic Big Red Dog who has had such an impact on children’s lives over the past 50 years. Sitting in the middle of that sea of children wearing their red Clifford shirts and dog ears, I couldn’t have been prouder to be a part of Scholastic.
11:00am – After Clifford’s birthday banner billowed down the building, I was fortunate enough to meet Norman Bridwell himself. Kind and humble, he was just as wonderful as I’d imagined. Post-photos, I was ushered downstairs to the Auditorium for the read-aloud portion of the party. I read through Clifford’s Birthday backstage, just to make sure I had it down. Then, at Billy’s cue, I headed onstage to face an auditorium full of students and tell the story in my best “Emily Elizabeth voice.” (Let’s just say my cheeks hurt after smiling so much…)
12:00pm - Once the story ended and each of the classrooms in attendance had their photo taken onstage with Clifford, I helped round up the students for their buses. After lots of high-fives, several hugs, and a few more photos, the students headed back to school, buzzing with the excitement of spending the morning with Clifford the Big Red Dog and the man who created it all. As one of the students hopped off the stairs to the stage, grinning from ear-to-ear, he turned to me and said, “Emily Elizabeth, you’re my favorite.” I think that’s when I melted, in awe of the powerful and timeless legacy Norman Bridwell has created.
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