Logan StoryCorps: Our unusual life
MICHAEL BALLAM: I am Michael Ballam
LAURIE BALLAM: And I'm Laurie Ballam. I kind of knew what I was getting into when I married you.
VANESSA BALLAM: My name is Vanessa Ballam, here with my father and my mother and I just assumed all children lived their lives like this. One of their parents was a professional performer and we would be able to go and spend time with him one on one.
MICHAEL BALLAM: Do you know why I started taking one of you with me?
VANESSA BALLAM: I think it's my fault isn't?
MICHAEL BALLAM: It is your fault. Completely your fault. I was at the Kennedy Center and I got a phone call. You were crying. You'd been watching La Traviata. And you said it's about a little girl whose daddy is always gone. And she's so sad that she says, "I will die if you don't come back." And I knew then: this should not be the case.
LAURIE BALLAM: And I decided that we could arrange to send this little 5-year-old.
VANESSA BALLAM: And I think I had a sign on me that said, "Help me." I flew by myself.
LAURIE BALLAM: Yes. She had a stewardess assigned to her.
VANESSA BALLAM: I really credit my parents for that choice. We were allowed to just go into these operatic rehearsals and we were welcomed. And so for me, not only being inspired by the operatic theatre magic that I was seeing in front of me and also the community that existed, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. And I am curious when Leora Thatcher came into your life.
MICHAEL BALLAM: I was 13. She was a Broadway star. She came over to see a community production of Oliver! I was playing the Artful Dodger; she was there with her marble covered cane holding court. And she wanted to tell me that I had what it took, and that she and I would have a future together someday. And she became a mentor and friend and she was rabidly interested in Grand Opera. On Saturdays, she would play the Met broadcasts, but she told me I could not hiccup or sneeze or say a word. Two and a half hours of music, we sat there in silence. And I was just transported.
Well and then she asked me what makeup classes I had had. And I said, "I have had none." And she said, "Well, then Saturday morning, show up with clean face at 8 a.m." And I got there and she had a towel and she said, "Where's your makeup kit?" And I said, "I don't own a makeup kit." And she was disgruntled and she went upstairs and she brought down the makeup kit she had used on Broadway, and we started with ingenue and worked our way up through the characters to old man and it was five o'clock. We had worked through lunch and she had taught me every kind of makeup. I thanked her and went to the door. And she said, "You forgot your makeup kit." And I said, "I didn't bring one," and she handed me hers which was so meaningful to me. It's a treasure.
VANESSA BALLAM: And there are still elements from that makeup kit that you bring every show.
MICHAEL BALLAM: I have never thrown them away. She was very special to me.