Theater alumni return to Alexandria
They came from Boston, from Florida, from Duluth, North Dakota, the Twin Cities.
Some hadn't seen each other in three or four years.
But when theater teacher Jessica Chipman — who they affectionately call "Chip" — called these former stars of the high-school stage to return to Alexandria for a performance, they all said they would come.
"It's so cool to do something with them again," said Lindsey Knoll, a 2018 graduate who drew accolades from the Hennepin Theatre Trust's Spotlight Education program for her portrayal of Winnie Foster in "Tuck Everlasting." "I was so pumped," she said.
Next weekend, these Alexandria theater alumni will put on three performances of "Broadway Revue," a sampling from hit shows like "Wicked," "Newsies" and "Les Miserables." They are donating their talents to help a new generation of high school actors take a dream trip, to participate in the International Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland in August 2020. The three performances will mark the first fundraiser for the trip.
The festival dates back to 1947 and draws 3,500 or more acts each year. Streets fill with stilt walkers, jugglers and fire eaters while theater groups deliver a variety of performances, including comedy, dance and musicals. Alexandria is going through the American High School Theatre Festival, which sends about 80 high schools each year, said program director Angela Davis.
For the fundraiser, Chipman sought out high school alumni who had played lead roles in productions over the past seven years, which is how long she has been directing musicals at the high school.
"The students I asked were people who I knew would likely be interested in performing again and were easy to work with," she said.
During the performance, she confessed a selfish motive for inviting them back: "I miss them!"
The former students representing the high school during this first-ever reunion performance are proving themselves great role models for younger actors.
"They're showing how kind they are in doing this and not getting paid," Chipman said. "It says a lot about them as humans."
Besides Knoll, returning performers include: Anna Peterson, a 2015 graduate who starred in "Mary Poppins"; Josie Nelson, class of 2017, who earned rave reviews for her portrayal of Ariel in "Footloose"; Jackson Grove, who graduated in 2018 and starred in "Tuck Everlasting"; Haley Wegner, class of 2015, a musical theatre BFA candidate at Florida Southern University; Tyler Carlson, who graduated from Alexandria in 2014 and from UM Duluth's Theatre BA program; Victoria Long, class of 2014, who starred in "Thoroughly Modern Millie"; Ryan Ledman, who graduated last year and also starred in "Tuck Everlasting"; and Tristen Chamberlin, class of 2015, who starred in "Mary Poppins."
Two former students were unable to participate because their colleges or universities remain in session, Chipman said.
Some of these students are continuing to work in music and theater. Peterson, for instance, has landed a job in Iowa working in "Oklahoma and Nine To Five," as well as doing the choreography for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." Chamberlin, a nurse in a long-term care facility, is about to release an album of acoustic guitar.
Carlson is filming a documentary on kindness for the Sundance Film Festival and Netflix. Grove landed a role in a Twin Cities production that he is not yet at liberty to name, plus he choreographs musicals for the high school along with Peterson.
At a recent rehearsal, he provided direction for his former classmates, telling one his arms looked "too seaweedy," and showing others when to swivel their hips.
Alexandria Area High School's theater department and individual performers have performed well in recent years, drawing high marks not only from the Hennepin Theatre Trust, but from the Minnesota State High School League's One Act Play evaluations. This year, for instance, they were among three schools in their category to receive a "starred" performance for "Antigone and Ismene."
Chipman said her former students have clearly grown as performers since they graduated.
During rehearsal at Discovery Middle School, their voices filled the auditorium. During down time, they laughed and reminisced.
That old magic they had discovered performing onstage while they were in high school in Alexandria was back.
If You Go
What: Broadway Revue, a sampling of song-and-dance acts from Broadway hits
When: Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 2 at 6 p.m.
Where: Discovery Middle School auditorium
Cost: $12 for adults, $6 for students. Tickets are at the door.