At sixteen this cabaret and concert performer already outdoes most Hollywood stars when it comes to Halloween.
Ava Nicole Frances is a young singing actress on the rise. She has an impressive resume that reflects her very obvious
talent, talent that was on showcase in California and New York nightclubs last year. With CD and video releases, even during quarantine, her fan base continues to grow. Ava Nicole Frances, it is easy to see, is an industrious and focused artist with her eyes on her future as a performer.
Ava Nicole Frances is also a teenager.
And her dads are making sure she gets to enjoy being a kid, while she still can.
Many young people don't like being called kids; they don't want to be called children or teenagers - they want to be grown-ups. In many aspects of her life, Ava Nicole is a grown-up. As a performer, she takes her training seriously, she concerns herself with the quality of her work, she sees to the needs and wishes of fans and followers, and she puts in the time to conceptualize, create and care for new works of art. ANF has come to understand her mission statement as an artist and her brand as a commodity. Ava Nicole does more work as a teenager than some people labeled by society as adults.
So why shouldn't she get to play a little, now and then?
From her earliest years, Ava Nicole's fathers, Frank Silletti and Sonny Vikuc have seen to her education in the arts. Ava has always been exposed to quality film and theater, and the decision to never shy away from allowing her to see works of art perhaps considered too advanced for a young person has provided her with a solid foundation of what she wants her career and her artistry to represent. It has also provided her with the most kick-ass Halloween costumes ever worn by any neighborhood kid on the trick or treat circuit. With Frank at the designer's table and sewing machine, the entire family participates in elaborate theme costumes based on famous movies and Broadway plays, and it has made them local celebrities in their hometown. Each year, the family tries to outdo the last year's creation, with every new theme being documented in epic photoshoots, and this year sixteen-year-old Ava Nicole is taking on another in a long line of memorable characters from the stage and screen. An email to Ava's dad, Frank, to ask about this remarkable Halloween tradition yielded an interesting twist: an offer from Mr. Silletti to write out the history from his parental point of view.
So, dear Broadway World Readers, I invite you to enjoy this read from a guest author today, Frank Silletti - or, as he's better known, Ava's dad.
Life's a Banquet for my family on a "bumpy" Halloween!
by Frank Silletti
My sixteen-year-old daughter, singer and actress Ava Nicole Frances showed an aptitude for performance and character at a very young age. As a toddler, she learned songs from Broadway musicals and by age three she pretended to be the characters who sang them. She would tell her dads that she was no longer Ava, but now Annie Oakley from Annie Get Your Gun and should be attired and addressed as such for months at a time until another character or story caught her eye and the cycle began again. We found this lovable, extraordinary, and awesome.
I saw it as a teaching opportunity and a passion we could both share. And so it began, Ava and I picked one or two musicals a year (Broadway or Hollywood) and began learning the score or a particular song, and then we would dig deeper into the production, studying the time period, style, makeup, costumes, and the actors who portrayed them. The Sound of Music; My Fair Lady; The Wizard of Oz; Meet Me in St. Louis; Easter Parade; Mary Poppins. We kept it fun and light, and it all ended with a family celebration on Halloween, trick-or-treating as those characters. Most years we would conspire to make Papa Sonny the silliest costume in the year's offering. Sometimes this would backfire. But of course, young Ava was always the star!
We could not have guessed that what began as a fun learning game would turn into a well of discovery and creativity for our little trio, and a defining characteristic of Ava's childhood. As well as a launchpad for her as an artist.
Our costumes gradually became part of our family identity. Ava is known for her amazing transformations and I became a self-taught costumer and designer along the way.
All along I thought I was sharing with Ava the knowledge of art form and individuality that she needed to grow to be her best self, but in the process, I found qualities in me I hadn't known before. I think just being a parent changes anyone in that way, but who knew that these projects would be so valuable and life-affirming to the family as a whole.
This year, with everyone socially distanced or quarantined, we thought it is particularly important to stay calm and carry on with our costumes. A way to stay focused and keep up our morale during this crisis, a happy escape. Luckily, we usually (and by we, I mean I) begin planning the next year's costumes as soon as the current Halloween is over. We begin our research, and I begin the process of collecting the materials needed: the fine details of fabrics, trims, beads, dye, furs, jewels, wigs, makeup, shoes, and whatever else the project calls for. Having accomplished most of these tasks before the shelter in place began made it easy to hunker down during quarantine, and create. The process is slow because everything is hand done. (I still have not learned my way around a sewing machine!)
As Ava grew so did our skills (except the dreaded sewing machine), and the scope of our designs and characters grew too; Norma Desmond; Dolly Levi; Victoria Grant: Eva Peron.
We became a thing in San Francisco with this Halloween tradition. People anticipate the next costume, and we have fun giving out clues online to see who'll guess the upcoming one.
As a fabulous little trick-or-treater, Ava would literally get applause as she strutted down the street as Marilyn Monroe, or people would shout out our characters' names from passing cars. Never one to be shy, Ava reveled in the attention.
One year, in particular, drew a reaction as seven-year-old Ava as Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, roller skates and all, attempted to trick-or-treat in those roller skates. She unwittingly recreated a live Roller-skate Rag!
It was then I thought that we better begin documenting all this ourselves by other means than our own snapshots and selfies. First, we went to the true and tried department store photographers. And then this happened: we arrived at JC Penny's decked out as a mini Sally Bowles, as the Master of Ceremonies, and as Bob Fosse as literally the man behind the curtain. The "Money, Money" scene in Cabaret had arrived!
Arrived seventeen minutes late. As we rushed up to the counter in our altered states, the receptionist informed us that the session was canceled due to our lateness. They could give us a fifteen-minute grace period, but seventeen was beyond so, No. And also no mention of our costumed appearance!
Now I'm never the calmest under pressure, but here I really did proceed right into a meltdown. "YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! LOOK AT US! JUST LOOK AT US! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LONG IT TAKES TO PUT EYELASHES ON AN 8-YEAR-OLD?"
The receptionist stayed steadfast because he evidently did not have any idea. But he empathized and gave in (at his manager's urging).
The inspired ending to the story is that a month later, Liza Minnelli herself saw the costume, loved it, and invited Ava to join her on stage in San Francisco. She sat Ava (as the mini-Sally Bowles) on her knee, told her how her parents met over this next song, and sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to Ava and the audience.
The next year we graduated to more sophisticated photographers and studios. San Francisco photographer Fima Gelman, then LA-based photographer/author/film historian Mark A. Vieira. These artists helped to create a mood and an atmosphere for the characters to live in. Given the 2020 concerns, our truly dedicated Mr. Vieira and his team trekked from LA to San Francisco to create a studio in our living room and pull off a physically-distanced and safe photo shoot.
As Ava's interests in performing have evolved and matured, we decided to expand from strictly musicals and include iconic comedies and dramas stars as well. Elizabeth Taylor. Jean Harlow. Vivian Leigh. Ingrid Bergman.
Each year we look for ways to grow and one-up ourselves. In creating this year's Auntie Mame look, we chose Rosalind Russell's Broadway opening scene costume over the film's. We felt it is more character-revealing: exotic, glamorous, outrageous, open to new ideas and cultures, loud yet with a calm heart of stars, flowers, clouds, and mysticism! It's all there and more. I strove to create a couture look, using embroidery, appliqués, and fabric painting, all hand done.
In choosing another strong and outspoken woman to celebrate this year on the film's 70th anniversary, Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve, we wanted to showcase two independent, successful women who marched to their own beat. However, both women drink and smoke in their respective scenes. Now there's something for a young actress to sink her teeth into. During the shoot, Sonny corrected Ava about how she was holding the cigarette. She laughed and said, "When you get yelled at for not knowing how to smoke!" Ava also enjoyed playing the dual role of Eve Harrington and I shamefully admit Addison DeWitt fit me like a second skin.
Ava now helps in the makeup department and even found a new joy - the thrill of a soldering iron to make the jewelry. Sonny is always game and willing to help in any way, even if he needed a bit of coaxing this year to take on the part of Agnes Gooch!
Our dream is to one day combine all our passions - charity, costumes, music, drama, family, and the Divine (no, the other one... Bette Midler) and attend her Hulaween New York Restoration Project Costume Gala. Alas, not in the cards this year (we do have our virtual tickets!), so there is always next. And next year might be our final Halloween production as Ava will be a high school senior and the year after that off to pursue her college and Broadway dreams. "I'll come home on Halloween for this!" she calls out when she hears me say that. So who knows... stay tuned.
After spending a full year with these characters, there is always a feeling of melancholy as the year's costumes are packed away to make room for the new ones about to begin. Another year passes and a new year dawns with new history to create and past history to explore.