[media-credit id=653 align="alignleft" width="300"][/media-credit]Freshman Katie Sgroi isn’t wearing her glasses today. She’s not going to jokingly brag about how she got them at Costco. She won’t have to push the big frames up off the brim of her nose. Today, Katie is wearing her contacts.
They normally cause migraines and rarely see the world outside of her medicine cabinet, but Katie is taking a calculated risk; she needs to pull out all the stops. She’s wearing her hair down instead of up like she normally does. She’s trying not to get too nervous. Because today, for the first time in her life, Katie’s auditioning for Shakespeare in the Park. Specifically, for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Antony and Cleopatra.”
And Katie really wants to get a part.
She can’t even begin to think about a summer without Shakespeare. When she was in fifth grade, she was first exposed to “Romeo and Juliet” at the Heart of America production in KC. She remembers liking how the play was outside and it wasn’t a musical like at Theater in the Park. The next summer, she came to the Shakespeare camp offered to students and put on their own version of “Othello.” Then the next summer, she came back for “Merry Wives of Windsor.” And she kept coming back. Year after year.
But today, Katie is auditioning for the mainstage, professional show; the one that 22,000 people will come out to see. It feels kind of strange to her — after all, she is going out for something that she was always kind of around as a kid. She still remembers dragging her family to the shows every summer. She remembers begging her parents to let her do Shakespeare camp.
Today, Katie has the audition she’s always wanted.
It wouldn’t be until a week later, in the middle of a busy Journalism-1 class, that she would find out she got it. She would find out that she got small parts in both shows and that about 30 days of her summer will be dedicated to it. But Katie, who has spent most of her life around the theater anyways, can’t imagine spending her summer any other way.
“It really is hard for me to get away from theater,” Sgroi said. “I really have grown up with it.”
* * *
Katie loves theater more than almost anything.
As a matter of fact, she can’t really take a break from it. She says that it feels weird to go a couple of weeks without wandering into the Little Theater. She says getting home before it’s dark out is a rarity. She even says that her friends will often get mad at her for bailing on them for a show she has to work on. To her, theater is an addiction.
It started when she was 10 years old. That’s when she went to see “Romeo and Juliet” and grabbed a front row seat. She loved the costumes. She loved the elaborate set. She even remembers laughing when a fly landed on Juliet’s supposedly dead face and the nurse had to wave it off as if it was a part of the show.
“I remember thinking how cool it was that these people memorized all these lines and they made it seem so real even though they were just actors in costumes pretending,” Katie said. “But it seemed like they were real people actually just living their lives.”
Katie got really hooked in middle school. When she got to Mission Valley as a frizzy-haired 12-year-old, she went out for “Beauty and the Beast.” She was cast as a spoon. Looking back at it, she likes to say that it didn’t really qualify as real theater she says a lot of it was pretty simplistic. But she loved it nonetheless. She loved having to come in early on Saturday mornings to do tech work like building sets or painting scenery. She loved having pretend conversations with friends on stage.
She continued with it in high school. Katie says that most of her free time this year has been spent constructing sets, acting on stage or just watching rehearsals. Her theater friends say she was “bitten by the bug.” She’s worked tech for the musical revue, was cast as a fairy in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” was assigned props crew chief for “Bye Bye Birdie” and was even given the job of Crew Chief for “Durang, Durang.”
“My hobbies are… pretty much just theater,” Katie said. “All I’ve done this year has pretty much been theater.”
Among other things, Katie loves the “social aspect” of theater. A lot of her memories of from theater come from goofing around behind the scenes of a show. Like the time she dropped the angel statue during “Durang, Durang” then joked around with her friends about super-gluing it back together. Or how she hung around rehearsals for Bang Bang You’re Dead even though she wasn’t in the show. Or the time she was with sophomore Chloe Vollenweider backstage of “Bye Bye Birdie” jiving in a style that Vollenweider could only describe as “nerdy white girl dancing.”
Vollenweider says that Katie seems to just be happy around theater. She sees it everyday.
“She has this glow about her when she’s working in the theater. She’s so happy,” Vollenweider said. “Even on those days when you are exhausted and tired and angry at the world, she is so happy about it. Like, she’s happy she’s there, she’s happy she has an opportunity, she’s not afraid to go after stuff. In the chaos of it all, she’s enjoying herself.”
It’s hard for Katie not to feel happy when she’s playing pretend. That’s the way it’s always been. Her mom, Mary Sgroi, still remembers when Katie would play “dress-up” as a stumbling toddler and do different accents. She remembers how one day she tried to act out “Witches from Macbeth” with her babysitter. The dialogue probably didn’t have the right emotional depth and Katie maybe didn’t understand the play’s complexities, but she enjoyed babbling along to Shakespeare.
“Even at a young age when she was playing a character she was always able to stay in character even if I came down to ask if she wanted a snack or something,” Mary said. “She would stay in character even when answering me.”
For Katie, this summer is kind of like coming full circle. She will be acting on stage with the people that taught her growing up. She may even be acting with people she has seen multiple times across Kansas City stages. She’s nervous for the shows. Just like she was in the audition, she worries about how people will receive her. And she has never done anything on this big of a scale: it’s scary for her to imagine going from Dan Zollar’s auditorium for East shows to an outdoor venue that seats thousands.
But, according to Katie, she has a “most definite” addiction to theater. She couldn’t really get away from it even if she tried.
* * *
[media-credit name="Photos courtesy Doug Hamer" align="alignleft" width="249"][/media-credit]Katie still can’t believe she got the part. She says she will often go a little while without thinking about her upcoming summer, then she’ll read for Juliet in English or see something about Shakespeare in the paper and it hits her. It makes her feel giddy. Because even though she likes to stay modest, Katie can’t help but get a smile when thinking about her summer.
“It is a pretty big deal…for me,” Katie said. “There was a fair amount of people there at the audition, and for me to be one of them [in the cast], it’s a pretty big thing.”
Katie knows that performing at Shakespeare in the Park on a professional show is impressive. She knows that thousands of people will come to watch her. But she also knows that when she tells people she made the show, they may stare at her blankly and say “Umm… you mean Theater in the Park?”
Katie’s OK with that, though. She likes things that are different. She likes sitting at home and watching “Doctor Who” on Saturday nights. She likes her thick-rimmed glasses and the silver emblem that separates them from everybody elses’. She likes drinking hot green tea in her “Rampallian!”- and “Fustilarian!”-covered Shakespeare insult mug.
Katie’s always been drawn to things that aren’t the norm. And this summer is going to be brand new for her.
“This is close to five or six weeks instead of two or three months,” Katie said. “That’s going to be much shorter and more compact than anything I’ve ever done before.”
This summer, she is going to be performing 30 shows in a little over a month. She’ll have Mondays off to hang out with her friends or catch up on TV. But she may have to rethink family vacations. She can forget about any sort of summer job. She’ll probably have to deny a lot of friends’ requests to hang out.
But Katie can’t wait until that first friend asks her if she can do something on a Saturday, or a Tuesday or even a Sunday. She knows exactly what she’ll say.
“So, [it will be] like, ‘Hey do you wanna go hang out?” Katie says with a smile. “No… if you hang out on a Monday I can see you. Otherwise, no — cause I’ll be doing a show every night.”