It's opening night, and the curtain at Rhode Island College's Roberts Auditorium is about to rise for the first of two performances of The Wiz. Elizabeth Beisel takes one last deep breath before stepping on stage in the role of the title character, the perfect part for this precocious 10-year-old.
Participating in the children's theater program each summer is just one of the many activities enjoyed by the North Kingstown, R.I., native. She plays violin in the Ocean State Youth Orchestra on Sundays—following a one-hour lesson and five hours of practice during the week—and takes piano lessons as well.
But sports is as big a part of Elizabeth's world as is the arts. She owns a total of seven national 10-and-under age-group swimming records in freestyle, backstroke and individual medley, and as a year-round competitor has set her sights on qualifying for the Olympics someday. When the conditions are right, you'll find her surfing in Narragansett Bay, and when her schedule permits, she plays golf. (In the summer she's in a Thursday-morning junior league.)
"At times I feel like it's a little much," says her father, Ted, a construction superintendent. "All I care about is her being happy with it."
She says she is. "I couldn't just sit down all day and stare at the TV," says Elizabeth, who has a brother, Danny, 9. "I have to be active. I just love everything I do."
Elizabeth, who turned II in mid-August, will soon reach a juncture many 10- to 12-year-olds face: As an elite performer she will have more and more opportunities to participate at a higher skill level, an option that will require a greater commitment to one instrument or sport—at the expense of the rest. For now the Beisels are avoiding this specialization, but they realize that day is coming. This summer, as a member of the Magnus Aquatic Group based in Attleboro, Mass., Elizabeth swam in five meets nationwide, from Austin to Boston, increasing her three-hour practices from five times a week to six.
Of course now that she's in middle school, her homework load will increase and she will have the typical preteen girl's desire to spend more time with her friends. Child psychologists suggest that children delay specializing in one activity until they're at least 12, but what will Elizabeth do even then? "I don't know," she says. "I'm an athlete and a musician. I wouldn't want to stop either of them, but if I have to, I'll know it would be for a really important reason."
Would she give up the violin for a spot on the Olympic team? "Yes," Elizabeth says.
Would she give up swimming for a spot with the Boston Pops? "Not sure," she says.
"I hope that whichever she chooses, she has a passion for it," says her mother, Joanie. "It may not be either."