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BWW Blog: The Ghost of Christmas (Musicals) Past

Without one holiday musical eight years ago, and the inspirations and mentors it gave me, I might not be where I am today. This is my ode to them.

BWW Blog: The Ghost of Christmas (Musicals) Past
The kids of Elf the Musical
get their picture
with Santa (Sean Griffin)

I was recently reminded that this time eight years ago I was opening one of my favorite holiday experiences: Elf: The Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre. The memory was bittersweet in a Christmas void of the special magic of holiday-season live theatre. But in the spirit of the holidays, the longing reflection became a moment of gratitude, as I realized how important that experience, and the mentors it gave me, have been towards getting me where I am today: in college working toward a professional career in theatre performance, choreography, and teaching.

In the fall of 2012, I was an aspiring young actress who had barely lived in Seattle a year and had no professional theatre experience. An audition at one of Seattle's leading professional theatres was simply an exciting, fun opportunity, and I had no expectations of even being called back, let alone cast. I had no idea that not only was I in for one of the most chaotic and magical Christmases of my all of twelve years, but that I would also connect with inspirations and mentors who would shape my journey and show me what I could be, that Christmas and for years to come.

BWW Blog: The Ghost of Christmas (Musicals) Past
With Trina Mills (and incredible dance captain Nikki Long)
at Elf's opening in 2012, shadowing Trina as
her student counterpart in The Pajama Game in 2016,
and working as her choreography intern
on Rising Star Project: West Side Story in 2019.

My parents had been taking me to the theatre from a young age, so the concept of theatre as a profession was not completely foreign to me. But it was only when I experienced it firsthand, watching adults sing and dance and play pretend get paid for it, that it fully sunk in that this theatre thing I had loved since I was eight could be a real career. I idolized the adult professionals I was acting with - performers like Kendra Kassebaum, who had played Glinda on Broadway and would go on to originate Janice and others in Come from Away. A few cast members, like Trina Mills, Gabriel Corey, and especially Taryn Darr, took the time to connect with this kid in the ensemble who looked up to them, and it meant the world then and over the following years when I would see them in shows, audition for them, or take classes with them, and they would remember me. I've often wondered if I would have seen acting as a path I could viably pursue professionally, and chosen to do so, were it not for this experience and those inspirations.

BWW Blog: The Ghost of Christmas (Musicals) Past
Rehearsing for RSP: Pajama Game
with fellow cast members and Gabe Corey.
My experience as dance captain
on this show would guide my early work in choreography.

These theatre-makers would also be a significant reason I'd become a choreographer and teaching artist. As I auditioned for other productions at the 5th, I frequently found myself in dance calls led by Taryn. When I returned to the 5th a few years later in their Rising Star Project (an incredible program allowing a cast of high schoolers to remount a professional 5th Ave production), Trina Mills was my choreographer. In the next year's Rising Star Project, Gabe Corey was as well. I'd known them all first in Elf as a musical theatre performers with a particular strength in dance - a category I also saw myself in. It was seeing them, along with other musical theatre performers I knew, choreograph and teach theatre dance around Seattle that made me wonder if perhaps I could do that too.

BWW Blog: The Ghost of Christmas (Musicals) Past
When celebrating Elf's first preview
with castmates and family, I had no idea how much
this introduction to professional theatre
would shape my journey for years to come.

Not only did these artists inspire me to choreograph and teach, they taught me how. When, as a cast member of another Rising Star Project, I expressed my burgeoning interest in choreography, I was given the specific ensemble role Trina had held in the professional production we were remounting - including her position as dance captain. This time around, Gabe was my choreographer, and as I worked closely with him and shadowed Trina as her mini-me I learned from them both my first lessons about what it is to be a choreographer. After exploring teaching and choreography further in my freshman year of college, I was given the opportunity to return to the Rising Star Project on the mentor side as a choreography intern, assisting and learning from Trina and Gabe on a production of West Side Story and helping a new generation of high school RSP participants discover professional theatre.

Today, I'm preparing to spend my winter choreographing and performing in Northwestern University productions and teaching dance for The Virtual Theatre Co (which you can learn more about in Annie Coulson's blog post here!). The role inspirations like Trina, Taryn, Gabe and others have played in getting me here has made me passionate about mentorship myself, leading me to seek opportunities at school to mentor younger artists. I'm sure it's a story many of us share, and while the pandemic might have caused a bump in the road on our theatre journeys, the impact of mentors who've inspired us can still be felt and appreciated. As I experience a holiday season that's feeling a little dimmer without marquee lights, I'm feeling grateful for a particularly brightly lit Christmas eight years ago and the mentors it gave me: inspirations who showed me, and continue to show me, what I can be.


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