Every student has a story.
Max Carlson, age 20
Max Carlson smiles as he remembers his first role at Children’s Performing Arts (CPA) in 2008: “I played a butler in Annie. I took Daddy Warbucks’ coat--that was my role, and I took it seriously. I learned so much in that show and found purpose in the chorus.”
Max went on to play Fagan in Oliver (2010) and King Louie in Jungle Book, Kids (2012) before graduating from the program. He recalls how his most embarrassing moment at CPA became one of his greatest lessons: “Playing Fagan in Oliver, I blanked on a song, right in the middle. I’d practiced that song 50 times in my basement, but when I got up there, I froze,” Max says. “The audience was staring at me, but I had to keep going, so I just found a way to do it. In the end I learned you have to stay the course, even through a hard obstacle.”
Today, Max is a junior at Winona State majoring in Movement Science (with a 3.7 GPA). He also plays linebacker for the Winona State Warriors football team and plans to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy. “A lot of the things I learned from CPA, I still use today. The biggest is that we’re all preparing for something—a game, a show—and when something goes wrong, it’s how you respond. I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at if it weren’t for CPA teaching me that.”
Ada Zavadil, age 14
Ada Zavadil didn’t grow up doing shows at Children’s Performing Arts. She discovered theater at Lincoln Elementary in White Bear Lake in 2nd grade, five years before the Hanifl Performing Arts Center existed or CPA had programming there. She came to CPA in 2018 through one of its directors, Diane Smith.
“I was really close with Diane because she was my director at Lincoln and I was friends with her daughter,” Ada recalls. “She approached me about doing The Rough-Face Girl [summer 2018] at CPA. I’d done shows, in the past, at community places and hadn’t loved it, but I tried CPA because I knew Diane would have my best interest at heart.”
Now, two years later, Ada’s a freshman at White Bear Lake North High School and has done every show she can at CPA. She appreciates the ability to do multiple shows each year and the way the directors encourage students to explore characters: “CPA lets you take that leap of faith and do your idea of the character. If they don’t like where you’re going, they’ll tell you, but they let you do your own thing. I think that’s why Little Shop [of Horrors (summer 2019)] came together so well because we started with taking characters our own way and got to rehearse the whole time in character.”
Ada says CPA’s made a big impact on her life, even affecting what she wants to study after high school. “When I first started at CPA, I wanted to be on Broadway but seeing directors and all they do, I realized I liked directing and thought ‘even if I don’t do Broadway I can still do theater.’ So, right now--it may change--I really want to go to Boston, to Emerson College, and study theater education and be a theater-education teacher.”
Noah Ratgen, age 20
Noah Ratgen’s first experience with Children’s Performing Arts was Oliver! (2010). He played the title role, a part he split with a fellow CPA student.
“CPA was really the first time, for me, that it was all about the kids,” says Noah who’d acted at Masquers community theater in Forest Lake before CPA. “Masquers gave adults time to shine, but CPA put a lot of energy into me. It’s a much different learning environment when kids are playing all the parts, even the adult roles. It catapulted my confidence and solidified my love of performing and made me want to keep doing it.”
After CPA, Noah did A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie for three years, as well as four shows at Children’s Theater Company before heading to Shenandoah Conservatory, a prestigious performing arts school at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. “I’m shooting for Broadway,” says Noah, now a sophomore at Shenandoah. “But I really love telling stories and using imagination to create them. It’s why I got into acting in the first place, so if I don’t make it to Broadway, I’ll still find a way to tell stories because it’s what I love.”
When Noah’s home from school, he joins his family at CPA shows to see his sister, CarlyFaith, and brother Jacob, act. He remembers CPA being “in a church somewhere” back when he did Oliver and marvels at the Hanifl Performing Arts Center--“an astounding theater”--where his siblings get to perform.
Anthony Hotakainen and his dad first visited the Hanifl Performing Arts Center in the spring of 2018, hoping to become involved in local theater. They had no idea Children’s Performing Arts would become a second family or that it would launch songwriting opportunities for Anthony.
Since then, Anthony has explored every possibility at CPA: main-stage and black box productions and show choir, student directing, teaching music at Birch Lake Elementary through the TOPS program [Theater Outreach Program for Schools], running sound for productions and concerts, and even volunteering at community events.
“I’ve made friends and had fun, especially acting with my brother, Carter, but I’ve also learned how to take up opportunities and get experience,” says Anthony, a junior at Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake. “I’ve gotten into songwriting and sound through CPA. In 2018, I started writing down some music. Something clicked, and CPA really drove it home, especially doing show choir and helping teach the little kids in Frozen and Jungle Book.”
Anthony credits a great deal of that to working with Wendy Muhlhauser, Jennifer Grimm, and Kat Perkins—local artists he met through CPA. His collaboration with Wendy and Jennifer have resulted in the release of several voice-overs, two original songs, and his first Christmas CD (his CD is available for purchase or can be streamed on Spotify under “Anthony Hotakainen,” www.spotify.com).
“A lot of what I do in my personal life has been influenced by CPA. It’s more than just a luxury; it’s more than just acting and dancing on a Tuesday. I’m writing my own music and getting it out to the world. CPA has been a big part of that.”