Three from Fargo-Moorhead to take bow at Miami arts event

Local teens will form an outsized Fargo-Moorhead lobby at an ultra-exclusive gathering of overachieving young artists in Miami next week. This year, 140 high school seniors out of 6,000 applicants nationwide scored an all-expenses-paid trip to yo...

Talented trio

Local teens will form an outsized Fargo-Moorhead lobby at an ultra-exclusive gathering of overachieving young artists in Miami next week.

This year, 140 high school seniors out of 6,000 applicants nationwide scored an all-expenses-paid trip to youngARTS Week, where over the years fledgling artists have worked with top tenor Placido Domingo, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard and dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Among them will be Fargo Oak Grove High tenor Marc Koeck and Moorhead High actresses Rachel Clausen and Kelsey Langness - all local musical theater standouts who are giving the term "triple threat" a whole new meaning.

From among the 140 winners, organizers will pick nominees for Presidential Scholars in the Arts, the highest honor for young artists, an award that's akin to a talented academic student being named a National Merit Scholar.

But as they prepare to leave for Miami on Monday, the three actors say they see the coming week as a chance to perform and grow, not a contest. And, they say, the disproportionate F-M delegation is no fluke.


"We're an oasis of musical theater here," says Rachel. "Fargo-Moorhead starts you young and early, and it just gets better after that."

All three youngARTS winners boast precociously packed performing resumes.

Last year, Marc played the lead in two productions of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat": at Oak Grove and at Trollwood Performing Arts School. Trollwood

co-founder Vicki Chepulis says behind Marc's string of plum Trollwood parts are years of hard work: dance classes, voice lessons, choir rehearsals and a gutsy crack at a professional audition at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. He made the call-backs.

Gooseberry Park Players alums Kelsey and Rachel are best friends who've shared a stage countless times since a Robert Asp Elementary production of "Music Man." Last year, they both made it to the national speech quarterfinals in Las Vegas and traveled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Moorhead High's "High School Musical."

Moorhead's theater director Rebecca Meyer-Larson says Kelsey, as lead character Gabriella, was faultless on stage.

Rachel was one of few freshmen in Moorhead High history to score a lead part - in "Seussical the Musical." She shined in Trollwood's "Our Country's Good," in a double role as a male prison colony commandant and a down-and-out prisoner.

In the past decade, Fargo-Moorhead has spawned three youngARTS winners, all from Moorhead High, and a host of honorable mentions.


Hugh Kennedy, who now works at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, went on to become Presidential Scholar in 2004. The week in Miami, he says, banished his doubts about his chances at a performing career.

"For a 17-year-old from Moorhead, Minn., it was a real confidence booster," Kennedy recalls. "I could perform with the finest young artists in America and hold my own."

Meyer-Larson felt sure this latest competition would yield an F-M winner after a three-year dry spell. But she didn't foresee three.

"Our students who come to Miami are really the crème de la crème of young talent," says Judy Block, the vice president of communications for the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts, which hands out the awards. "If you have three kids from your region, you should be very proud of that."

After returning from Florida, the winners will go back to applying for college. All are eyeing careers in the arts.

"Even if I have to live in a cardboard box for the rest of my life," Marc says, "as long as I have a chance to perform, I'll be happy."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

Where are they now?


Moorhead High School has produced three past youngARTS winners, who are all pursuing careers on the stage.

Hugh Kennedy, winner in 2004: Kennedy, who went on to become Presidential Scholar that year, graduated from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program last spring. He has performed in a half dozen Guthrie shows, most recently as young Scrooge in the 2008 "A Christmas Carol."

Preston Boyd, winner in 2004: Boyd, who got to sing with tenor Placido Domingo in Miami, recently graduated from the prestigious Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He scored a part on the TV soap opera "Days of Our Lives" this summer and is now auditioning for musicals in New York City.

Ben Gunderson, winner in 2005: Gunderson is a senior at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Last year, he won a highly competitive Princess Grace Foundation Award, which covered his full tuition this school year. He's playing the lead in his school's production of "Sunday in the Park With George" at his school.

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