Park City teen is off to see the Wizard of Oz at the Hale Centre Theatre
What: “Wizard of Oz”
When: multiple dates (see accompanying box)
Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy
How much: $29-$49
Right now, Ava Hoekstra is somewhere over the rainbow.
The 13-year-old Treasure Mountain Junior High student is the sole understudy to Lexi Walker in the starring role of Dorothy Gale in thee Hale Centre Theatre’s production of “Wizard of Oz” that currently runs through Saturday, Feb. 2, in Sandy.
An understudy – a substitute actor who learns the role, lines, songs and blocking necessary to fill in if the main actor isn’t present – usually takes on a less prominent role than Hoekstra’s current situation demands. But the Parkite is set to play an outsized role as Walker, 16, is a star in her own right, rising to prominence on YouTube and scoring recording deals.
“This time, things were a little different,” Hoekstra’s mother, Kristy, said. “Because the performance schedule for ‘Wizard of Oz’ is so long, Lexi will perform eight shows a week, and Ava will perform five.”
Mark Dietlin, executive producer and CEO of the Hale Centre, made the magnitude of this understudy position clear when Hoekstra and other auditioners were called back after their first shot.
“He said we would perform three to five shows a week as understudies, and that was the only conversation we had regarding the performances,” Hoekstra said. “I really don’t consider this an understudy role. It’s more like a second casting.”
Walker’s understudy has nothing but positive things to say about the star, who has performed with Kristen Chenoweth, The Piano Guys and Lindsey Stirling in her musical career.
“She is so amazing to work with,” Hoekstra said. “She is so talented, and it’s an honor to work with her.”
While Hoekstra and Walker haven’t talked about their respective interpretations of Dorothy, they have learned a lot from each other.
“I learn from her with singing, because she has more experience as a singer,” said Hoekstra, who just released a cover of Sia’s “Snowman” on her own YouTube channel. “I think she plays off of me acting-wise because I’ve been acting since I was 10.”
Hoekstra’s acting experience has helped her tap into Dorothy’s characterization.
“I think she’s a strong person,” the actress said. “She’s very proper, because that’s how she was raised by her aunt and uncle.”
The character is also strong-willed yet selfless, which Hoekstra said she relates to.
“I mean, she snaps at the Wizard, but also makes sure all of her friends get what they want before she asks for something for herself,” Hoekstra said. “I think there is a little piece of me in her. I can get aggressive and put up a fight. And I know how to show some good manners.”
Even with her acting experience, Hoekstra feels the pressure of bringing an iconic character like Dorothy Gale to life.
“She needs it to be almost perfect, but I think it’s also good to have some flaws to show her human element,” she said. “You don’t want it to become cartoony. It needs to be in the real world.”
Hoekstra enjoys working with the cast that includes Kooper Campbell and Jordan Dahl as Scarecrow, Dustin Bolt and Scott Rollins as the Cowardly Lion, Preston Taylor and Addison Welch as the Tin Man, B.J. Whimpey and David Marsden as the Wizard and Carolyn Hartvigsen and Sharon Kension as Ms. Gulch and Wicked Witch of the West.
“I’ve grown so close to these people, and I can talk with them about anything,” Hoekstra said. The musical’s main focus is on the connection between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West, according to Hoekstra.
“Dorothy is terrified of the witch, but she wants to stand up to her and beat her,” she said. “Me and witches are best friends off stage, but they are scary and terrifying on stage.”
Hoekstra has also enjoyed working with director Dave Tinney, with whom she worked on the musical “Heart of Robin Hood” a couple of years ago. She likes the trust Tinney affords his actors..
“He leaves things up to ourselves to decide how we will interpret a scene,” she said. “If he doesn’t like what he sees, he’ll make a suggestion.”
On the first day of rehearsal for “Wizard of Oz,” Tinney helped Hoekstra and Walker form a backstory for this rendition of Dorothy.
“We discussed how she ended up with her aunt and uncle and what happened to her parents,” Hoekstra said.
That helped the actresses get into the overall story.
“I like the honesty of the story, which is so relatable,” Hoekstra said. “Dorothy wants her life to be better. She dreams of ‘somewhere over the rainbow, where skies are blue.’ After she has her adventure in Oz, she comes back to Kansas and realizes all she wanted is right in front of her. That’s really powerful.”
Hoekstra is also thankful for her parents’ support.
“They have always been there for me and have made sure I am able to do these things,” she said.
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