BEIRUT: Kids the world over dream of making it big on the silver screen and living a rich and famous lifestyle among Hollywood's hills. But for those with no access to the prerequisite network for such stardom, these dreams remain largely unfulfilled.
While Lebanon has its own thriving film and television industry, for those hoping to make the jump to a Western audience, there was very little help available in the form of training and management until the country's first international talent agency opened up its doors in 2013.
"Lebanon has lots of dreams and talent. John Robert Powers is the link to America and Hollywood for us Lebanese," said Christina Khater, managing partner at JRP.
Khater spoke at a news conference held Monday to toast the three young JRP "talents" recently recognized in New York at a competition held by the International Model and Talent Agency, an association that connects agencies with talent scouts on a global level.
The conference was held at JRP's office in Adma where the walls are lined with images of the agency's success stories – from Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly to Josh Duhmal and Katie Holmes – and gave the young stars-in-training a chance to talk about their experience representing Lebanon at the talent contest.
"I went to New York with low expectations as it was my first time doing something like this. So when I did well it was a shock," said Manal El Mallat, who took home medals for modeling, acting and singing along.
Her fellow JRP colleagues Wissam Hanna and Hadi Awada also won awards, for modeling and dancing respectively.
"In Lebanon, and the rest of the Middle East, we have dreams just like everywhere else, but thanks to John Robert Powers I'm getting the chance to realize mine," Mallat said.
Fairly common in places like the United States and Europe, agencies such as JRP specialize in scouting local talent and offering them classes on things such as social etiquette, image development, entertainment business basics and modeling and posing for the camera, as well as providing them with industry contacts and connections to scouts.
JRP's long roster of success stories, which includes several American first ladies, since its founding in 1923 attests to its wide network. It is the first such franchise firm to open a branch in the Middle East, and Khater hopes it will soon be known throughout the region as a place where Hollywood hopefuls can come to discover their talent and hone their skills.
"We say that everyone has some special talent, it's our job to find it and make it shine.
"The training is done here based on the curriculum developed at headquarters, and then we send reports back to headquarters. It is just like a school, so classes do cost a bit, but we also find sponsors for our talents to send them to things like the IMTA competition in New York," Khater said, explaining JRP's structure.
Aspiring model and actor Hanna echoed her sentiments about the importance of honing one's skills for a career in showbiz: "I never had training, I never studied acting or modeling before ... But it is now possible to audition abroad, to work in acting or modeling somewhere like the States.
"Lebanon and the Middle East are open for the world to see us and our talent now."