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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Former Monett students are finding college success in theatre

Friday, January 25, 2013

Laramie Ellis stars in a show at State Fair Community College. [Photo courtesy of Eric Yazell of State Fair Community College] [Order this photo]
If the entire world is a stage, then Monett is definitely a vast ocean of talent in this world, and may be for many years to come. Over the past few years, seven Monett students have found not only a niche, but also immense success in college theater.

Monett High School English and dual credit theatre teacher Ivy Nelson confirms this success.

"Our students are excellent and are fully embracing the growth that college provides future professionals," said Nelson, who also serves as director of the school play.

Kirstin Racicot stars in a show at Stephens College. [Photo courtesy of Kirstin Racicot and Stephens College] [Order this photo]
Roll out the red carpet southwest Missouri, because these seven Monett High School grads just might have a shot of putting Monett on the map as the home of a future Oscar winner.

Rebecca Kean, a member of Monett High's Class of 2007, is already living her dream in Los Angeles after a phenomenal stint at William Jewell College where she majored in English and theatre. Over the course of four years, Kean acted in 19 different shows, including "Angels in America," "Macbeth," "The Vagina Monologues" and "Frozen." She was the lead in four plays, received Best Actress awards twice, was awarded the Austin Cooper Edwards Award for Excellence in Theatre and was accepted into the Atlantic Acting School, which she deferred.

Since college graduation, Kean says her acting career "has certainly slowed." However, it doesn't seem that way as she has been in two indie films and participated in a house company where she was Best Actress and Best House Player. Kean also acted in a "24 play" in LA where the play is written and produced in 24 hours.

Meg Aleshire stars in a show at State Fair Community College. [Photo courtesy of Eric Yazell of State Fair Community College] [Order this photo]
Currently, Kean is writing more than acting, but she is still hopeful about her prospects.

"We will see where I ultimately arrive as an artist."

Playing the lead in the award-winning play "The Blue Window" is a role 2009 graduate Meg Aleshire treasures.

Mikayla Bennett confesses her love to a cheeseburger in "Something to Do With Shakespeare" at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. [Photo courtesy by Mikayla Bennett and SBU] [Order this photo]
"I can't even express my excitement for this [opportunity]," said Aleshire about the chance to travel and perform at the Lied Center in Nebraska. "The Blue Window" is being performed by a cast from the University of Central Missouri (UCM) where the young actress is now enrolled.

Aleshire began her theater success at State Fair Community College where she was the star in many shows, including "Noises Off," "Macbeth" and "Urinetown: The Musical." Transferring to UCM has led to more stage triumphs and lead parts for Alshire.

"I couldn't ask for more," said Aleshire. "I've been blessed with the best faculty since seventh grade. Mrs. [Marilyn] Mann led me into this, and I owe everything to her and Mr. [Gary] Cook for pushing me. Then, I got to have Eric Yazell and Tim Wells [at State Fair] and a full faculty at UCM who are absolutely wonderful."

Aleshire graduates in a year with a bachelor of fine arts in theatre performance and what does she predict for her future? She isn't sure, but whether it is Kansas City or New York City, Aleshire knows she will be auditioning like crazy to gain experience and build her already impressive resume.

Stephen's College was the perfect place for 2009 Monett grad Kirstin Racicot to grow as a performer. With a rigorous schedule over her four years, including involvement in Summer Theatre Institute, Racicot had leads and significant roles in plays and films that included "Steel Magnolias" (in which she acted alongside Dawn Wells from Gilligan's Island fame), "The Glass Menagerie" and "Sense and Sensibility."

None of these acting opportunities, however, measured up to "Necessary Targets," a play about a young woman who had been through the Bosnian War.

"The role broke me out of my shell," Racicot said, "and was absolutely the most difficult [play] for me." Every night of the performance she had to scream, cry and have a mental breakdown live on-stage.

"It made me realize I could do anything in the world and play any character imaginable."

Racicot recently graduated with her bachelor of fines arts in theatre and acting, and hopefully, her dream of doing anything will come true as Racicot is back in the area acting with a local theater in Mt. Vernon and saving her money for a big move to Arizona, and then California. She said she knows God, her friends and her parents will continue to be with her as she pursues becoming a professional actress.

Rolo Rodriguez, another Monett High School alumni, began his freshman year with a bang. He was cast in Missouri State University's Tent Theatre -- the only freshman to receive such an honor. Since then, this 2009 Monett grad, now a college senior, has not only had numerous roles at MSU, but he has also performed at the Springfield Little Theater and been in some student films and shorts.

"Chicago," the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Rabbit Hole," "The Odyssey," "Shakespeare's Love Labour's Lost," the MSU staff original "Evangeline Drowning" and "Noises Off" are just a few of the plays and musicals on this star's impressive list. He will be showcasing his talents in April for Los Angeles acting agents with the hopes of landing a role somewhere in Hollywood.

If an opportunity doesn't present itself, Rodriguez hopes to make his own luck by moving to California after graduating with his bachelor of fine arts in acting in order to pursue his dream as an actor in film or television.

Although a nursing major, Mikayla Bennett, a member of Monett's Class of 2011, is enjoying theater at Southwest Baptist University. She has already been a cast member in three one-act plays related to World War I propaganda, and she played a memorable role as Dorcas in "Something To Do With Shakespeare" this past fall.

"In this play I was a completely obsessed with food, and through a monologue, I confessed my love to a cheeseburger," said Bennett, who enjoys theater but feels her biology teachers are the ones who are fighting for most her time.

Kacy Barta and Laramie Ellis seem to be following in the footsteps of Aleshire with young women paving their own way at State Fair College.

Barta, a 2011 Monett grad, has had supporting and lead parts in multiple plays, including "Honus and Me," "Noises Off," "Almost Maine" and several children's shows such as "School House Rock Live!" Barta has also received a callback to audition for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival [KCACTF] Irene Ryan Scholarship for her work in "Noises Off."

This semester, Barta will be an assistant director for the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning play "Proof" next to professional director Trevor Belt, and she is performing in the spring musical, "Lucky Stiff."

Barta acknowledges that acting can be stressful and full of uncertainty, but at the same time she says "Acting is the best feeling, and it's what I love to do."

This love stems from the encouragement of her mom, current directors Eric Yazell and Tim Wells and former acting teachers Johnna Hilton, Marilyn Mann, Ivy Nelson and Gary Cook. Aleshire has also been an inspiration to Barta, and she will be following Aleshire to UCM later this year where she, too, will major in theatre.

Ellis, a 2012 Monett graduate, may only be a freshman at State Fair, but she has already played parts in "Almost Maine," a children's show called "Honk" and has earned a role in Lucky Stiff. Most recently, Ellis was cast by professional director Trevor Belt to play the lead in a production of "Proof." Her roles as three different characters in "Almost Maine" also earned her a nomination for the Irene Ryan Scholarship via the KCACTF.

Before entering high school, Ellis was unfamiliar with theater, however with the encouragement and push from Mann, Cook and Nelson, and her parents, Ellis now considers herself to be a "theater activist" and advocates this message -- "I know if high schools stop having arts programs that there will be teenagers all over America who never once find how much potential they truly have."

These young actors, actresses and activists, as well as their families and teachers, are helping to keep the arts strong and alive, both in and beyond high school.

"Year after year, I marvel at the wonderful acting talent at Monett High School," said Mann. "These students prove time and time again that you don't have to go to a large school with lots of money and expensive equipment to excel in the theatrical arts. We have six seniors this year interested in pursing a degree in theatre. I am very proud to have all of these outstanding individuals, both past and present, representing our school."

With a new performing arts building on its way for Monett High School and these seniors looking to do something with theater in college next year, be prepared for many more red carpet success stories to continue for years to come.

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