News Column

Carlisle teen aims for professional career in theater

July 25, 2013

YellowBrix

July 25--CARLISLE -- Michaela Coplen is a self-proclaimed workaholic as the Carlisle teen's schedule proves.

At only 17 years old, the incoming senior at Carlisle High School has put more than 35 musicals and plays under her belt and already takes parts in the Allenberry Playhouse productions that focus on more adult actors.

It's one of those roles -- Lori Beth in Allenberry's production of "Happy Days: The Musical" -- that earned the attention of a reviewer for BroadwayWorld.com.

"I think I just stood out because I was the only person under 23 on the cast," Michaela said.

Other regular cast members of Allenberry's shows, however, are used to seeing Michaela on stage. When she arrived in Carlisle with her family in the sixth grade, she took part in Allenberry's Actors Professional Theatre Conservancy for youth and stuck with Allenberry's productions for most of her recent roles, including those in Allenberry's Christmas shows, the Children's Theatre production of "The Lion King" and last year's "Sound of Music."

Though the "Happy Days" production ended in late June, Michaela has already kept to her busy schedule by taking part in a six-week summer musical theater workshop at Carnegie Mellon University.

"I'm kind of a workaholic, so I'm feeling right at home here," she laughed.

Michaela said classes run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, with special activities from 7 to 10:30 p.m. a few days a week. Add that with the optional workshops and homework, and Michaela has a very busy summer schedule. When the workshop is over in two weeks, she'll be back in Carlisle and on the soccer field as practice starts.

"I have a lot on my plate," she said.

Inspiration

No matter how busy the schedule, Michaela said musical theater was something she wanted to do since she was young.

Though none of her family members are involved in acting or theater -- both her parents are in the military and her sister is an ROTC cadet and political science major -- Michaela got involved at a young age by simply looking at the exterior of a theater. When she was 7 years old and in the car with her mother Lorelei who was about to take command of a battalion at Fort Campbell, Ky., Michaela said she saw a local theater nearby.

"It looked like magic, and 7-year-old Michaela was awed by the marquee lights," she laughed.

Her mother signed her up for an acting class at the theater. However, the class was originally for actors aged 13 and older, and Michaela said the director wasn't too pleased about seeing her. She was relegated to sitting and waiting for her mother to pick her up while the other actors in the class took on a read of Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickelby."

"It's a very difficult text to read through, but at one point, I remember just jumping in," she said. "I was already exposed to Charles Dickens because my mother and grandmother taught English. The room just got quiet, and the director said, 'OK, keep reading.' He didn't ask me to leave after that."

Career

It was an early lesson in what Michaela has learned will be a tough career.

"It was my first real experience of proving someone wrong," she said. "I have to prove I have what it takes, and you have that a lot in theater."

That became very apparent when Michaela met the other students in Carnegie Mellon's workshops. In the four weeks she's spent with the other hopeful theater actors, she said the most important piece of information she's taken away so far is to set yourself apart from the other actors.

"Everyone here is so good, and there are hundreds of people who are good singers and good actors, but there is only you," she said. "You have to value you because somebody is going to be looking for someone like you. It's not so much a competition to decide who's best. It's about making yourself better."

Michaela plans to use that lesson when she gets to college. Unlike the usual application process for colleges and universities, Michaela has to audition to join a musical theater program at a school.

"Most people apply to five or six colleges, but if you're a musical theater person, you're expected to audition up to 20," she said. "It's very competitive."

Michaela has her list of schools she hopes will accept her and intends on making her auditions the focus of this coming school year.

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