Monday, April 24, 2017

Spotlight On: Abby Okoneski

This week's Student Spotlight features one of our dancers! Abby Okoneski has been dancing with the Minnesota State University, Mankato Dance Department since she got here three years ago. Most recently, you may have seen her onstage as an Exotic Dancer and Nubian ensemble member in AIDA. She'll be dancing in the Spring Dance Concert this weekend on Friday, April 28th at 7:30 PM, and Saturday, April 29th at 2:00. Let's get to know her!


Name: Abby Okoneski
Hometown: Eagan, Minnesota
Year/Major: Junior/BFA Dance
Current Role: Dancing in the Spring Dance Concert

How did you get your start in dance? I started dancing when I was three years old at a local studio called, Monique School of Dance. My mom signed me up for dance class with one of her friend’s daughters and I haven’t stopped since. I don’t remember much from being the little three year old that I was, but I do remember loving every minute of dance class. Many kids in my class would cry or mess around, but I remember always being very happy and focused during class. I never fought with my mom about going to class because I was the one always asking when it was time to go to dance.




What's your favorite thing about dance? This question is hard to answer, because I have so many favorite things about dance. To begin, I love performing on stage. The vulnerability that comes with performing is something I love for. It sounds crazy, but the idea of putting myself out there for others to think about and look at what I am doing is so intriguing to me. I find it so interesting that I can tell an audience a story through the movement of my body and get a reaction out of them. Performing as a whole is where I can give it my all and really commit to a moment, which is something I love. Since I can’t pick one favorite thing about dance, I also really enjoy the rehearsal and class process as a dancer. I like being able to push past my own boundaries and figure out what I can do and what I need to work on. I find it very humbling that there is something I can always get better at. The discipline that comes with dance has taught me so many things and I am truly thankful for that.




Favorite MSU Dance memory? I have so many MSU dance memories, but if I had to choose one it would be the duet that I did with Ian Lah. Rachel Dreist choreographed a duet for the both of us called, Stage Four. This dance had many chapters and always kept evolving. This dance allowed me to really connect with myself as a performer. I was pushed past my comfort zone in so many ways, and I found that so enjoyable. The final product of this dance was performed in the Fall Dance Concert, as well as at ACDA. It was very rewarding to be able to perform this dance so many times, but I also really enjoyed the process we took to get there. Getting to know Ian Lah throughout this process was something else. We would always goof off in rehearsals and we became closer that way, which I think showed in our performance. I will forever be very thankful to both Ian and Rachel for this dance, and I will never forget it.


Abby Okoneski and Ian Lah in Stage Four

Tell us about your involvement in AIDA. Was that your first experience in a musical? This is actually my first official theatre show that I have ever done. Back in high school we had a variety show through our theatre department called, ENCORE and I was involved in the show for three years. I never acted or sang in the show, but I danced and really enjoyed it. I remember I would always tell myself to audition for one of the musicals, but the whole singing thing really threw me for a loop so I never auditioned. Since Aida is my first musical ever, I am very proud of myself. I overcame a fear of singing in front of people and I am very glad I did. I have had a great experience with the show and I love the different dynamic a musical brings versus a dance concert.

Abby Okoneski and the cast of AIDA

What are your plans for after graduation? You know, this question always frustrates me because I really don’t know the answer. I know I will be going to grad school to complete my other major, but I do plan on performing either right after I graduate from Mankato, or after grad school. I really want to visit New York or LA and audition for a few dance roles there, but I am not really sure what will happen. I know that I am looking forward to graduating and being out in the real world, as well as seeing what happens in the future.



Any advice for aspiring performers? Advice can be hard because I believe everyone succeeds in their own way, but I would say that anyone aspiring to become a performer should keep trying. It sounds cliché I know, but it is the truth. Spend as much time as you can in the studio trying new things and perfecting old things, the stronger background and technique that you have will really help in the long run. One last piece of advice that I have for performers is to always be humble no matter what. There are times where things do not go your way, or you feel unchallenged in certain areas, but you always have to tell yourself that you can always be better. Being humble can get you so far in life, and it is something that many people forget to do. Keeping a positive mind and energy is all you can do, and trust me it makes a difference.





Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Library Opens Tonight!


We're nearing the final weeks of the school year, but we still have a couple more shows for you! Scott Z. Burns' The Library opens tonight at 7:30 in the Andreas Theatre! The play tells the story of Caitlin Gabriel, a young woman who survives a deadly shooting at her high school. She struggles to tell her story to her parents, the authorities, and anyone who will listen, but there are other narratives that draw attention in the media and paint her in a different light. 

The cast features Isabella Barberena, Jaclyn Britz, Riley LinDell, Martha Caceres, Maureen O'Malley, Derek Tomlinson, Braden Hanafee-Major and Alexandra Blesi. 

Riley LinDell (Nolan Gabriel), Isabella Barberena (Caitlin Gabriel)

The show is being directed by Second Year MFA Acting Candidate, Doni Marinos. This is the second show he's directed this year at MSU. Last semester he directed the Kiddie Tour. This time he's going in a different direction. "I chose the play because it focuses on a story that our world tends to forget and ignore. Rather than focusing on the tragedy itself, it focuses on the aftermath and how the people involved with it attempt to continue their lives. Also, because it makes a big comment on the role that media has in our lives and how it has the power to change them."


Isabella Barberena (Caitlin Gabriel)

Doni has been busy, but his talented cast and production team have made the whole process worth it. "The process has been great! The cast members and designers have been working around the clock to create a dynamic show. Myself and everyone involved are very excited for people to come and see it. We're ready to share a story that needs to be told and get the audience to consider the world we all live in and their roles in it."


Martha Caceres (Dawn Sheridan), Isabella Barberena (Caitlin Gabriel)


The Library is playing tonight through Saturday, April 22nd at 7:30 in the Andreas Theatre! Don't miss our final studio show of the year! Get your tickets a MSUTheatre.com or call the box office at 507-389-6661 anytime between 4-6 PM Monday through Friday. We'll see you at the theatre!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Spotlight On: Michaela Shapiro

Meet Michaela Shapiro! She's a senior BFA in Musical Theatre this year and we know you will recognize her from some of the roles she's played in her four years at MSU. It's quite the list, but here are just a few: Sue Snell in Carrie: The Musical,  Nina in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Gertrude McFuzz in Seussical: The Musical, Madeleine Astor in Titanic: The Musical and JC in Comic Potential. Let's get to know her!


Name: Michaela Shapiro
Hometown: St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Year/Major: Senior/Musical Theatre
Current Role: Ensemble in AIDA

How did you get your start in theatre? I began by taking ballet classes with a local company and that eventually led me to Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts in Minneapolis. The people there really nurtured my love for musical theatre.

What's your favorite thing about theatre? I love how it promotes compassion. I also adore the community!



Michaela Shapiro as Nina in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike


What's your favorite MSU Theatre memory? Show-wise, my favorite memories here are probably being a part of Titanic: The Musical, Seussical & Carrie: The Musical. The music in Titanic is magical; I played one of my dream roles in Seussical and I sang songs with my best friends in Carrie. Pretty much everything about those three experiences was phenomenal.


Michaela Shapiro (Sue) and Daniel Lane (Tommy) in Carrie: The Musical

Mikhayla Clauson (Margaret), Michaela Shapiro (Sue) and Amanda Mai (Carrie) in Carrie: The Musical

Any advice for aspiring performers? You are always capable of more than you believe yourself to be.

Plans after graduation? I'll be in three of the shows here for Highland Summer Theatre and then leaving on a tour with National Theatre for Children in the fall with one of my very best friends, Daniel Lane!!! After that (and in between all of it), I'm going to continue auditioning and see where it takes me. Hopefully there will be lots of travel involved. And ice cream.


Michaela Shapiro (Gertrude) and Amanda Mai (Mayzie LaBird) in Seussical

Thanks for letting us get to know you Michaela! We wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors! We will miss you here, but we know you will do amazing things wherever you go!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's "Written in the Stars"...go see AIDA tonight!

Our final Mainstage production of the year opens tonight! You won't want to miss this epic love story. AIDA, with music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice, is a beautiful love story about a Nubian princess, Aida, who finds herself falling in love with Radames, an Egyptian soldier who is betrothed to the Pharaoh's daughter, Amneris. As their forbidden love blossoms, Aida is forced to weight her heart against the responsibility that she faces as leader of her people.


Jessica Staples as Aida, Delanie Wiedrich as Amneris
Costumes: David McCarl
Set Design: John Paul
Lighting Design: Steve Smith

Playing the role of Aida is no easy task, and we could think of no one better than our very own Jessica Staples. She's a Junior BFA this year, and was thrilled to get to step into this challenging role. "AIDA has been an unbelievable experience in every way possible. This beautiful story is something we need now more than ever. I've learned a plethora of things from working with two extremely talented people as principle characters [Gabe Sell and Delanie Wiedrich]. Learning to abandon vocal perfection and just be present is something that I will carry with me through every show."

Understudying Jessica in this role is MSU Theatre newcomer, Anastasia Ellis. She's a Music Major, and was thrilled to be a part of this production. Anastasia will be going on as Aida this Sunday, April 9th, and Thursday, April 13th.


Jessica Staples as Aida, Delanie Wiedrich as Amneris, and Gabe Sell as Radames

AIDA is one of our biggest casts this year, and we're excited for you to see many new faces up on the stage! Directed by Melissa Rosenberger, with Music Direction by Nick Wayne, the cast and crew have worked extremely hard on a show they're all very proud to present. You won't want to miss this production. The show runs April 6-9 and 13-15 in the Ted Paul Theatre. As usual, you can purchase your tickets online at msutheatre.com, or call/visit us at the Box Office at 507-389-6661 Mon-Fri from 4-6 PM. We look forward to seeing you at the theatre!