Four dizzying days of rehearsal had wrought countless revisions in step and sequence as Channah Zeitung — Carmel Valley's young Taekwondo master — and a troupe of aerial acrobats with Broadway bona fides — raced against the clock to orchestrate their intricate, interwoven fight scene for NBC's kid-talent show Little Big Shots.
Filmed in November and set to air Sunday, April 29 at 8 p.m. — during sweeps week, no less — the episode puts Channah on stage for a whirling dervish routine with her signature bo staff, a weapon that has brought her multiple world titles. In the ensemble fight scene, the dancers play menacing villains rigged in wire suspension, bounding and swooping across the stage with Channah at their center, fighting them off in a blur of feigned kicks and punches, like a Kill Bill writ small.
Never had Channah been part of such an elaborate production. Together with the last-minute revisions, nerves were running high, even for the impossibly poised 9-year-old. But the moment she set foot in the Hollywood dance hall where her episode would be filmed, the mere sight of its beckoning stage washed all that worry away.
"When I came out I was like, `Wow, look at that, I can't wait,'" Channah said. "I love applause and I love seeing everyone smiling and having fun. I just love to shock people and make them think, `How did she do that?' They see this little girl but I have a fierce side."
Having last week reached the ripe old age of 10, Channah's career in front of the camera is only beginning to take shape. Two months ago, she starred in her first sitcom: Game Shakers, one of Nickelodeon's highest-rated shows. To prepare for the "Game Shakers" role, she worked with Master Ken Church of Encinitas and Carmel Valley-based Church's ATA Martial Arts, where Channah practices.
And now with Little Big Shots, she hopes to kick the door open to ever more opportunities to fulfill her other lifelong dream of acting.
When Channah started getting serious about combining her passions for martial arts and acting, she had little more than Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee to look up to.
"She asked me once, `Mom, do I have to be a boy in order to do that?'" Channah's mother Gloria recalled. "And when she did Game Shakers, she was confused because the girls who taught her the stunts don't act, they just do stunts. Channah said `I want to do both,' and they said `Well, maybe you can change that.'"
If anything is going to bring that glass ceiling crashing down, it very well might be Channah's kick, punch and wallop of her bo staff.
"I want to be the first girl action star," she said. "I want to be the person that people look up to because I want to be that person that people are like, `I want to be just like her and feel strong inside and have the confidence that I can be who I want to be.'"
Channah and her family leave this week to film for Australia's version of Little Big Shots. An awfully busy summer awaits her return — red carpet events, acting classes and still more NBC commitments, all while maintaining the intense training for the world championships in July and carrying out her new-found responsibilities after being named an ambassador of Taekwondo. We caught up with the jet-setting dynamo this week to find out what doesn't the future have in store for this wunderkind?
Your performance on Little Big Shots was unlike anything you've done before. How hard was that to adjust to?
"It was really weird because there's people hanging from the ceiling and they're doing flips and I'm doing flips and I had to pretend to kick and punch them. It's really different from doing the drill stunts and that made it so much fun."
Does this mark a new direction in your career?
Yeah, I want to do more performing. I want to go on other TV shows and be in movies and be an action star. I love acting because I get to be a person that I'm not. It's been my dream since I was a little girl, and every time I perform it makes me feel stronger and more passionate.
Your plate is pretty full for a 10-year-old. Did you think you would have all these opportunities at this age?
Yes, I thought I would. Every day I have a vision that I'm going to get stronger and I'm going to be successful when I'm older and I'm going to push through any of my weaknesses."
That dogged determination was on full display this February at the American Taekwondo Association's Spring Nationals in Las Vegas. Injury and illness had knocked out several teammates, so you learned the routines in one weekend and helped the team take top honors-all while you were fighting off the flu.
I had a 102 fever, something like that. It was really hard but I kept pushing through and pushing through. I really wanted to show everyone that I could do it, that I could push through and prove that I'm strong."
What's next for you in terms of your Taekwondo?
I want to become the best martial artist that I can be. I envision that every day. With my bo staff, I'm working on my throw because I want to show people I can do as many spins as I want. In Big Shots you'll see that I can throw it up into the air and do spins and then catch it. I can do two throws now, and one behind the back. Also I'm working on new kicks and stuff like that to make my performance more powerful and make it look awesome. I'm also learning swords and other weapons, and I want to learn Wushu.
So no matter what your career evolves into, martial arts is going to play a part in that?
"Yes, because I want to be a role model to other kids. I want them to feel `Wow I have a person I can look up to.' I want them to believe in themselves, that they can go up to another level, up to another belt. I want them to have a big confidence so they can feel like they belong, they are awesome and they are amazing."