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Kids invest in the darndest things

When the play 'The Woman in Black' scared the beejeebies out of 11-year-old Emmett Shoemaker, he saw an opportunity.

August 31, 2003|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

Emmett Shoemaker remembers being scared when he was briefly separated from his mother in an elevator. He was about 5 at the time.

But nothing fictional had ever frightened him, not even the work of his favorite authors, Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King -- until he saw the play "The Woman in Black."

"This play scared the heck out of me," he said.

So like any fan of a good fright, he wanted to see it again -- and again. And after his fourth visit to the Road Theatre in North Hollywood to see the English ghost story, he decided to invest in the Road's plan to move the show to a larger venue.

Emmett is 11. And he's one of the executive producers of "The Woman in Black" at the Coronet Theatre on La Cienega Boulevard, where the show opens Oct. 4.

He's investing his own money. Emmett has been acting in films and TV since he was 7, including the CBS series "Citizen Baines," the miniseries "Firestarter 2: Rekindled" ("that was cool, 'cause I had these demonic powers") and some voices in "Finding Nemo."

Emmett and everyone associated with "The Woman in Black" won't say exactly how much money the boy has provided. But producer Helen Harwell said he is in the midrange of the six or seven individuals who are expected to invest enough money to be called "executive producers." Budgets for remounted productions like this frequently cost between $10,000 and $40,000. Emmett said that his check was equal to several years' worth of his allowance.

He first saw the show with his parents: Rick Shoemaker, president of Warner/Chappell Music, and Denise Abbott Shoemaker, a freelance journalist. "I was reluctant," Emmett said. His mother had noticed an article in a newspaper, he said, that "made it sound Shakespearean and not very scary." But she "has rarely been wrong about these things," he volunteered.

"The Woman in Black" isn't a kids' show, he said. Only one other kid was in the audience at the 43-seat theater that day, "and he was crying."

Emmett saw the play again two weeks later with his grandmother and a friend. He's now seen it six times; his grandmother has seen it four times.

On his fourth visit, his grandmother started talking with producer Harwell, who informed her of the hope to move to the Coronet but cautioned that the money hadn't been raised.

"I was bummed" at the prospect that the show might have to close, Emmett recalled. So after talking it over with his parents, he decided to help. He presented his check to the company on closing night at the Road.

He had been saving up to buy a sterling silver "Lord of the Rings" ring, "but then this came along, and the ring seemed less important."

The young actor was planning to use the last 30 or 40 weeks' worth of his allowance for "The Woman in Black." But within a few minutes after making the decision, five checks representing residuals from the foreign screenings of one of his movies, "Facing the Enemy," arrived in the mail. He decided to use them instead; they were worth more than his accumulated allowance. "It was serendipity," Emmett said.

He was a little worried that the expansion of the show in a venue with 94 instead of 43 seats might hurt it. "The immersion level is so high" in the smaller space, he said. But the Road crew says that the dimensions of the new space are only a few feet larger.

Director Ken Sawyer said the show "will retain the creepiness."

Although chances of the show making a profit in a 94-seat space are not great, "I'm thinking if it goes bizarro huge," Emmett said, "I might get some money in return -- which I might just give back to the company."

Yes, he has a separate college fund that isn't being touched, his mother confirmed. She added that once she and her husband "got over the initial shock" of their son's decision, "we were very proud that he wanted to contribute something. The play moved him to the point that he wants others to share it."

However, when she began talking about her son's pure motives in front of him, he quickly interrupted, "I'm not Joan of Arc."

Emmett has never acted on stage. The demands of his screen career and his studies at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, where he's in the sixth grade, don't allow it, his mother said.

But he has found the time to write a short book in the horror/sci-fi genre, he said, and he wants to write two sequels. A few of his activities are a little more typical of kids his age -- he just spent two weeks at tennis camp.

And, apologizing if any of his words sounded garbled, he explained: "I lost a tooth the other day."

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