Teens in three local productions get boost from grown-up guest artists

MOORHEAD - Over the next week, three teen productions will open in Fargo-Moorhead. Curtains will rise on Trollwood Performing Art School's production of "Legally Blonde: The Musical," Gooseberry Park Players' "How to Succeed in Business without R...

Kalyn Schnabel as Elle Woods
Kalyn Schnabel plays Elle in Trollwood's "Legally Blonde: The Musical." Photo courtesy Trollwood Performing Arts School

MOORHEAD - Over the next week, three teen productions will open in Fargo-Moorhead. Curtains will rise on Trollwood Performing Art School's production of "Legally Blonde: The Musical," Gooseberry Park Players' "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying" and Theatre B's B.E.A.T.'s production of "Metamorphoses."

The plays range from a classic to a new, light, musical, romantic comedy to a deeper coming-of-age story.

What all productions feature, however, is a young local cast that got to work with established actors from a variety of stage experiences. The encounters with the veterans gave the youngsters valuable insight into their roles and also the inner-workings of the theater world.

No dumb 'Blonde'

Fitting for the biggest production, Trollwood also brought in the biggest of the stars to work with the cast of "Legally Blonde." Fitting also because visiting artist Becky Gulsvig is a Trollwood alum and played the lead, Elle Woods, in a touring production.


So Gulsvig had lots of advice for how to play the spunky, legal student. So much so that Trollwood's Elle, Kalyn Schnabel, was at first a little intimidated to work with the star.

"She's such a warm, wonderful person, I got over that nervousness right away," the incoming senior at Fargo North High says of working with the Broadway star. "She'll give you advice on how to do something, but she expects you to do it your own way and she's not offended if you don't do what she says if you find a better way of doing it."

Schnabel loved Reese Witherspoon's original silver screen portrayal of Elle, which she calls "sweet and very naïve way of playing her."

But in her one-on-one time with Gulsvig, which she calls their Elle Woods time, she discovered Gulsvig saw the leading lady slightly differently.

"She really believes in the heart of Elle Woods," Schnabel says of Gulsvig. "She doesn't believe in getting a laugh out of people just to get a laugh. She believes in the story line. She cares more about Elle's journey and not just being a pretty face. She plays it with all the heart in the entire world."

Schnabel, who last year played Marian, the female lead in Trollwood's "The Music Man," also appreciated Gulsvig's advice and insight into being a professional actor, telling the younger artist, "For a Broadway actor, auditioning is your job and when you get the job, that's your vacation."

'How to Succeed'? Work hard

At Gooseberry classes, Christopher Gabriel offered a different take on an actor's life.


He told the teenagers working on "How to Succeed in Business without really Trying" that the unemployment rate for actors in 96 percent. While the numbers were daunting, success was available if the young actors were ready to put in the hard work.

Though he may be known locally for hosting the Christopher Gabriel Program on WDAY radio 970 AM, owned by Forum Communications, between 1980 and 2006 he appeared in more than 100 plays around the country.

Emily Haagenson, who plays Miss Krumholtz, and 16-year-old Taylor Elton, who plays Smitty, both say Gabriel's insight into the artist's craft was valuable.

"It was interesting when he talked about how meaning dictates sound and how you needed a thought process behind every moment on stage," Haagenson says.

"It was so much fun. He taught us how to be ourselves while still acting," Elton says, adding that he helped them figure out their character.

While the visiting artists offer a variety advice, sometimes them saying something familiar is what really strikes a chord with some actors.

"Even if they say the same thing as your director, it's really helpful. If more than one person says it, it must be true," Haagenson says.



For some young students, working with established artists is more hands (or feet) on than just talking with a veteran.

At Theatre B's B.E.A.T. (B Emerging Artists training), the theater's troupe and college interns teach technique and physical exercises, like the Suzuki Method, traditional Japanese exercises that work the core and lower body and help actors focus on their breath and strengths.

"It's opened up my experiences as an actor," says Laura Berger. "It makes you more in-tune with your body and how you can push it."

A recent graduate of Detroit Lakes High School, Berger hadn't experienced much variety in direction or character development ideas.

One of the added benefits of B.E.A.T. is working with drama interns who may only be a few years older, like Rachel Clausen. The Moorhead native had been involved in the Trollwood/Theatre B collaboration, Second Stage, before moving on to study theater at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn.

Clausen, who worked with a student intern when she was in Second Stage, says B.E.A.T. is a bit more challenging both physically and in discussing issues in the play. ("Metamorphoses is a series of vignettes based on poems by the Roman writer Ovid, including the story of Midas.)

Clausen says Theatre B's processes were, "a little more challenging ... something out of my comfort zone.

"I can really see how Theatre B provides a theater experience that is fun and serious and challenging," she says.


If you go

WHAT: Trollwood Performing Arts School's "Legally Blonde: The Musical"

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Thursday - Saturday, July 18 - 21 and 24 - 28

WHERE: Bluestem Center for the Arts, 801 50th Ave. S., Moorhead

INFO: Tickets range from $8 - $25. Contact (218) 477-6500.

WHAT: Gooseberry Park Players' "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying"

WHEN: 7 p.m., July 17 - 21 and 1 p.m., July 22

WHERE: Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre, Concordia College, Moorhead


INFO: Tickets from $6 for kids 13 and younger and $12 for those 14 and older. Contact (218) 299-3314.

WHAT: Theatre B.E.A.T.'s "Metamorphoses"

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Thursday - Saturday and July 18 - 21; 2 p.m. July 15 and 22

WHERE: Theatre B, 716 Main Ave., Fargo

INFO: Tickets are $10 adults and seniors, $5 students; show is rated PG-13 due to some content regarding coming of age and sexuality. Contact (701) 729-8880.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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