News Column

Future Broadway star?

June 3, 2014

By Aaron Krause, Norwalk Reflector, Ohio

June 03--Rural Wakeman homeschooled student Gracie Keener sat mesmerized in Broadway'sImperial Theatre in April, watching a revamped production of the classic musical "Les Miserables."

As she watched, she imagined herself on-stage, feeling what the actors were feeling. She'd never seen a Broadway show before and loved the atmosphere and the production.

What Keener will do this summer might help her realize her dream.

She will study under the Broadway Artists Alliance, a group that provides training for promising young musical theatre performers in New York City.

Keener, 14, will major in voice during the intensive workshop, scheduled for July 21 to 25. She will be assigned a mentor to help her perfect a song. After the five days, the local teenager will sing in front of a group of casting directors and other industry officials.

"I'm so, so excited. I can't wait to go," the daughter of Christopher and Jennifer Keener said. "I love telling stories to people. I like making people feel emotions these characters are feeling."

Keener said Broadway Artists Alliance representatives travel the country, auditioning students for their programs.

"I was very, very pleased," Keener said about her acceptance in March. "It made me very happy."

A huge smile stretched across her face the entire day.

A friend had told her about the alliance's visit to Bellevue and she decided to audition. After all, her goal is to perform on Broadway in six years.

Up until 2011, her performing experience comprised singing along with her grandmother's old karaoke machine. She'd sing every day, starting when she was 8 or 9, to, among other things, the entire "High School Musical" soundtrack and to an entire Carrie Underwood album.

She'd sing in front of family members.

"They thought that I had a really nice voice, but they thought I should be a little less shy, be a little more open," Keener said.

In 2011, she decided to audition for Huron-based Caryl Crane Youth Theatre's (CCYT) production of "Peter and Wendy." During the summer of 2012, Keener performed in CCYT's production of "The Little Mermaid." Keener was a part of the ensemble for both.

"I think it was probably all right," she said about her performances, although she added audience members probably couldn't hear her very well.

After "The Little Mermaid," Keener participated in an audition workshop with CCYT's artistic director, Brian Marshall.

She said she learned how to present herself on-stage and "sell yourself."

Marshall "looked at me with an extremely interested gaze," told her she has a beautiful voice and should continue singing.

"After that, my confidence just went through the roof," Keener said. "I wasn't sure what feedback I was going to get and it really touched me."

Since then, Keener has appeared in several plays, including most recently the musical adaptation "Oliver!" at Bellevue Society for the Arts.

Gracie portrayed a non-lead role, a female named Bet.

"I think I did relatively well," she said. "I've improved a lot since I first started."

Keener said in addition to Marshall's feedback at the audition workshop, guidance from different directors has helped her.

"Each director is so different and each stresses different points," Keener said.

One director stressed diction, she said, adding "that definitely helped me a lot."

Another emphasized the importance of an actor putting his or her own spin on a character.

Keener said she hopes to develop some connections during the Broadway Artists Alliance workshop to help propel her to a Broadway career.

"Experience the best of Broadway! Study with the masters!" the website proclaims.

To raise money for her trip, "Gracie Keener'sFundraiser Cabaret" is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Bellevue Society for the Arts, 205 Maple St., Bellevue. Admission is free, but there will be opportunities to donate throughout the evening.

"With classic Broadway songs such as, 'Tomorrow,' 'On My Own" and 'Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,' it's guaranteed to be a wonderful and memorable evening.!" reads a press release provided by her family. "There is no doubt in her mind that she wants to be on Broadway someday. With a powerful belting voice and a light soprano side, Gracie has an optimistic view of her future. She feels her passion for acting and her zest for life will get her far."


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Source: Norwalk Reflector (OH)

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