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(NOTE TO EDITORS AND BROADCASTERS: Ventara is pronounced "ven-terra." The winning "My Ideal Tomorrow" essay accompanies this release. Contact us if you are interested in following Ventara through her "Annie" experience.)

Winner of walk-on role will celebrate 10th birthday during Hancher run of 'Annie'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Ventara Dillon, a fourth-grader at Shimek Elementary School in Iowa City, will share the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium stage with the stars of "Annie" as the Grand Prize winner in the "My Ideal Tomorrow" essay contest. She was chosen by a panel of celebrity judges at a Nov. 21 event at Old Capitol Mall in downtown Iowa City. She is the daughter of Kathy and Vernon Dillon.

The 20th-anniversary production of "Annie," which comes to Hancher Dec. 8-13, will not be the only experience making the week a special one for Dillon: She will celebrate her 10th birthday on Dec. 9.

The "Annie" cast with which she will perform includes TV and film stars Sally Struthers and Conrad John Schuck. Dillon will appear in a walk-on role as one of the orphans in five performances, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12; and 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.

The other Grand Prize finalists were nine-year-old Megan Henson, 11-year-old Kayla Casavant, 10-year-old Zoe Lynn Mayberry and nine-year old Georgia Flaum of Iowa City. Each of the finalists not selected for the walk-on role received four "Annie" tickets, donated by Old Capitol Mall.

The finalists read their essays for judges Lee Iben, representing the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the "Annie" media sponsor; radio personality Roy Justis of KXIC in Iowa City; Iowa City High drama teacher Cindy Cochran; and Gene Silverman, vice president for marketing at Telegroup Inc., the corporate sponsor of the "Annie" performances through the University of Iowa Foundation.

More than 20 young essayists paid tribute to the irrepressible optimism of "Annie" with an essay based on the musical's most famous song, "Tomorrow."

Dillon will also receive four tickets to the Dec. 8 performance, so that she and her family or friends can watch the show, observe her role -- and celebrate her birthday in style. She will also win two tickets to the Friday night performance, so that her family or friends can watch her perform.

"Annie" tickets are now on sale at the Hancher box office, 319-335-1160, or toll-free from Iowa and western Illinois, 1-800-HANCHER.

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MY IDEAL TOMORROW by Ventara Dillon

The ideal tomorrow for me is a world filled with Dreamers. To me it's dreams that keep people going. If you didn't have a dream, like this one for instance "I wish I could fly on a plane to Colorado and climb their mountains." Well, if you work hard and keep dreaming, you'll get there! But if you say, "Oh, it will never happen, I don't have the money", how do you think you're going to get there? Well, you're not going to. You have to think positively like, "I will get there!" And you know what, I betcha you will!

You're probably thinking, how can a little 9 1/2-year-old girl talk about dreams when she's not even in the 5th grade. I can tell you this: famous movie stars like Whitney Houston had to have dreamed, right? She had to have thought one day I want to be a movie star, and sing to the whole world, right? And I bet she worked very, very hard to get to where she is today. And like me, I always dreamed of one day getting to be able to walk out on a stage and perform. So that's why right now I think it's my turn to show everybody my dream come true. By writing about my Ideal tomorrow I will show people that don't believe I can do it! Then little kids like my sisters will go "that's my big sister, and I am going to dream like her." But they'll also know that with dreaming, you have to get up and do something to make it come true.

I hope to be picked to have this role in Annie. But if not, I will keep on dreaming. And one day, I will win! Annie was a dreamer, and so am I.