A song of support: Nine-year-old uses voice to give back

Ava Ventrella is using her acting as means of connection.

By the time Ava Ventrella turned 5, people were constantly stopping her and her mother, Nicole, on the street asking if the young girl did photography work. Nicole said she never envisioned taking her daughter to acting classes, but after a photograph led Ventrella into modeling and an agent, she thought: Why not?

Now 9 years old, Ventrella is using her acting as a means of connection and as a way to give back. This summer she and a group of 1,000 fellow summer campers recorded a version of “A Million Dreams” from “The Greatest Showman.” The profits from the iTunes track will go to NSPCC’s Childline Services, a supportline for whatever problems children may be facing.

Acting was never something Nicole wanted to force her daughter into. When an agent suggested signing her up for classes, Nicole thought it couldn’t hurt to give Ventrella tools on how to sit and present herself. So, she signed her up for classes, but she didn’t put too much pressure on the situation.

Ventrella said at first she was uncertain, but at a point, she grew to love the craft. Before moving to Moorestown this September, the family was living in Haddonfield, so Ventrella began acting with Haddonfield Plays and Players.

Her feverish passion for the craft inspired Ventrella to start taking more and more classes. She found herself burning through all of the acting courses for her age group at the Walnut Street Theatre, so she started acting with the 11 to 14 age group. She said despite the age (and height) difference, she was undeterred.

Nicole said her husband is from the United Kingdom and still has family just outside of London. She knew they’d be returning to London this past summer, so she began looking into the theater camp at the West End Stage Summer & Stage School. They applied to have Ventrella participate and built their trip around the experience.

Ventrella said the camp was more disciplined than any of the acting classes she had taken before. Nicole said the week-long experience gives children a deep dive into the craft and helps them decide if acting is something they seriously want to pursue.

During the week, campers sang, dance and practiced all of the facets of musical theater. Ventrella said there were frequent skits, and the entire experience culminated in the campers singing “A Million Dreams” on the final day.

Kerry Ellis, star of the West End and Broadway, teamed up with the students on the piece. At the time, the campers weren’t informed the song was being recorded for charity.

“I didn’t know it was going to be such a big event or such a good cause,” Ventrella said.

When the Ventrellas later learned that the profits from the recording are being donated to Childline, they said it felt like a perfect fit. Ventrella is working on a project to provide support for children. While the project isn’t fully up and running yet, her goal is to form a support network for children who have siblings with special needs.

These days, Ventrella is auditioning for commercials and even has plans to star in a movie this spring. She’s already filmed commercials for Toys R Us and PricewaterhouseCoopers, but Nicole said that doesn’t mean she gets to skip out on school work. She said Ventrella still has to attend school even if she has an audition the same day and is maintaining high grades despite a hectic schedule.

Having just moved to Moorestown, Ventrella is hoping to earn a part in the Upper Elementary School’s upcoming production of “Mary Poppins.” She said she’s practicing hard and looking forward to auditioning.

Visit iTunes and search “A Million Dreams for Childline” to purchase the track.