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With ‘Working’ as their final curtain call, seniors bid adieu to Roosevelt Theater

Posted on 09 June 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Katherine Quackenbush as Kate Rushton (center). (Photo by Jill Boogren)

By JILL BOOGREN
As graduates prepare to toss their caps in the air and contemplate their futures, it’s a fitting time to take a closer look at the workaday world. In its 2019 spring production of the musical, “Working,” the Roosevelt Theater company brought to life the stories of working people, ultimately showing that people are much more than their jobs.
Directed by Ryan Underbakke, actors remained on stage throughout the show, supporting one other through song and movement – as students, customers, clerks, commuters, laborers and truck drivers.
The set, imagined by Kurt Gough, consisted of filing boxes stacked high, which became a platform, office cubes, countertops and props.
The music, under the direction of Jay Albright and student conductor Km Boogren, was performed entirely by student musicians who often switched instruments and were sometimes joined by a cast member sitting in for a tune.
All combined to create a show that was deep, funny, intense, unsettling, sad and delightful, sometimes all at once.
The musical marked more than the end of a school year. It was the eighth show over four years since the lights came back on in Roosevelt’s auditorium, so this class of seniors was the first to have theater available during each of their high school years. Some joined as freshman, others later. Many came with stage experience. All hope to be involved in theater or other performing arts after high school.
Here are the stories of eight of the hard-working graduating seniors in “Working:”
Anastasia Mlsna-Lubin joined theater to make some friends. Nervous and not-yet-ready to act, she joined the tech crew of “The Seussification of Romeo & Juliet.” She was assigned the role of stage manager, which Mlsna-Lubin called “really nerve wracking, but kind of a rush.” In later shows she helped with costumes and props.
As a junior, Mlsna-Lubin was already in choir, really liked the show “Into the Woods,” auditioned and got the part as Rapunzel’s Prince.

Sebastian Gonzales as Roberto Nuñez sings of a better day in “Un Mejor Dia Vendora.” (Photo by Jill Boogren)

“I had a really good time. I really liked showing off,” she said.
By contrast, in “Working,” she played a teacher Mlsna-Lubin saw as “old, confused, out of time and out of touch.” She had to dig deep to empathize, but not condone, racist remarks.
Of her overall experience at Roosevelt theater, Mlsna-Lubin said: “There’s this bond that happens when you’re all working toward this goal. You’re all invested, you wanna be there… it helped me come out of my shell and build some confidence. I went from sitting in the back not being seen to center stage. It was amazing to have that feeling of growth and development.”
Ella Spurbeck joined theater as a freshman playing the role of a senator in “Urinetown, the Musical” She had done theater at Sanford Middle School and, impressed after seeing Roosevelt’s first play, got involved.
She really liked “Almost, Maine.” Though it was “kind of fluffy,” she found Echo Olsen to be a really good partner in their scene, in which, all bundled up in winter garb and to great comedic effect, they fell, literally, as they realized they were falling in love.
Spurbeck was on stage for all but “Into the Woods,” for which she was assistant stage manager. She learned that wasn’t for her. She’s now interested in directing and being a full-time musician in a musical, as well as working at designing sets and costumes.
“I think if you’re looking to get into theater, Roosevelt is a great spot to try it out,” she said.
Having previously been in theater at Sanford and Powderhorn Park, Katherine Quackenbush jumped at the chance to play a part in “Seussification” (she was Narrator 4). “I guess I’ve always wanted to be involved in theater, saw there was a play and thought, ‘I’ll be in it,’” she stated.
Quackenbush was involved in every show since, sometimes working on costumes, sometimes acting. For her latest role in “Working,” she sang of being “Just a Housewife,” conveying a feeling of someone unfulfilled and unsupported.

Sophia Stout (at center, holding towel) as Amanda McKenny, with (left to right) Lily Myers, Anastaia Mlsna-Lubin and Ella Spurbeck in “Cleaning Women.” (Photo by Jill Boogren)

She said of her experience in theater: “Something in theater stuck with me. It’s the kind of notion, if you’re gonna look weird, you might as well look weird all the way, try as hard as you can. The community at Roosevelt theater was great.”
Lily Myers had done plays in middle school and was encouraged to audition for “Urinetown.” Though already a choir performer, Myers had an anxiety attack during her audition that prevented her from singing “Happy Birthday.” Fortunately, she got a role anyway and acted in every play thereafter.
“I enjoyed singing and dancing so much, I didn’t care about having a role or not,” she stated. “I just wanted to be involved.”
With “The Laramie Project,” she began exploring how to differentiate characters through their costumes and accents, eventually finding her own voice, learning her range and how she likes to act. She could relate to both her starry-eyed Rapunzel in “Into the Woods” and the millworker who forges through the monotony of factory life with a measured determination in “Working.”
“Acting is just yourself in different personalities,” she said. “Rapunzel and the millworker definitely have different aspects of my character. I can be resilient and strong, but I can also be lighthearted and goofy and romantic.”
Theater gives Myers a deep sense of pride. “Theater has meant so much to me. I’ve been able to come into my own. I’ve gone from having an anxiety attack in my first audition, and now here I am singing my own solo in the last musical of my high school career.”
Luke Longfellow’s first play ever was “The Laramie Project.” He played several different characters, which he called “insane and really, really fun.” He got involved because friends insisted he try it out, and it was one of the most stressful things he’d ever had to deal with. Everything was new: working under a director, memorizing lines. Rehearsals were tiring, but he found he loved being on stage. “I loved being able to see the crowd react to what you’re saying and doing,” he remarked.
Longfellow acted in every subsequent play until “Working,” where he was part of the crew. He was an ancestor in “The Addams Family” and Milky White in “Into the Woods.” “Ghost people and a cow. That’s a broad range,” he said.
Longfellow credits theater for giving him more confidence and making him less reserved, nudging him out of the sidelines to interact with people more and even changing his physical expression. “I [became] more willing to be out loud in public… I always acted more reserved, closed up. [Now] I feel all right about expressing myself around other people, in what I wear and do and say.”
Michael Gough followed his friends into theater, beginning with “The Addams Family” in a role as the father of the boy who wants to marry Wednesday. As a musician, Gough had performed in front of audiences before, just not in theater. “It was new and definitely a little draining, but it was fun,” he said.
He loved his role in “Addams,” but his role in “Almost, Maine” stands out in that it was nothing like him. “I’ve never had to scream or cry on stage before that. It was a very challenging but rewarding experience to completely ignore my own feelings and focus on the character.”
Gough’s take away from theater: “I’ve never been a big put-myself-at-the-center-of-attention person. Theater’s kind of a way to get that experience while having other people back you up along the way.”
Sebastian Gonzales met some of the theater crew through choir and got excited about the musical, “Urinetown.” He had been in a show at Sanford, but his experience at Roosevelt showed him that theater “is actually a profession that people do.”
He enjoyed many roles – as one of The Poor in “Urinetown,” Jack in “Into the Woods” – with his final role as Roberto Nuñez in “Working” his favorite.
“Over the years, I’ve played young kid roles, who haven’t seen a lot. I’ve grown up in theater. I was a baby freshman year,” he said. “Now I’m like six feet. Roberto I can culturally identify with. [Also], looking back on your past, seeing how you got to this point in your life, as a senior in that moment it connected with me, connected with my Latino culture, it felt like home.”
Gonzales likes the roles that don’t have a complete conclusion or a pat ending, because “life isn’t like that.”
For Gonzales, theater at Roosevelt is about family. “We work together. We fight sometimes, some people might not like each other, but we get the job done no matter what… we all have this professionalism.”
Sophia Stout joined theater with her choir friends for “Urinetown” and loved it – singing, being on stage. Stout is also a swimmer, and when she couldn’t give full attention to a role, she helped with costumes and back stage.
Her favorite roles were as the cleaning woman in “Working” and Jack’s mom for a show in “Into the Woods.” “I finally proved I could do something,” she said.
Theater has given Stout confidence and stage presence. “I feel like freshman year I was too timid to do anything. I’d sing quietly. In theater we learn to project. In choir we project, we also know how to warm up our voices so we don’t ruin [them].”
Her parting words: “I hope everyone gets involved in theater once in their life. It’s a good experience.”
For more information about Roosevelt Theater, search Advocates of Roosevelt Theater Arts on Facebook.

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