Young Parkite enjoys her role in Salt Lake Acting Company’s ‘Fun Home’
Salt Lake Acting Company will present “Fun Home” from April 4 to May 13, at 168 W. 500 North in Salt Lake City. Tickets range from $15-$42. Discounts are available for students and senior citizens. For information, visit www.saltlakeactingcompany.org.
When 13-year-old Ava Hoekstra heard she was cast as Small Alison in the Salt Lake Acting Company’s production of “Fun Home,” she knew she had to find a way to delve into the role.
“Alison and I are very different people,” said Hoekstra, a seventh grader at Ecker Hill Middle School. “She’s so masculine and I’m so girly. So it took a while for me to get into the character.”
“Fun Home” is a Tony Award-winning musical that is based on an autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. It features music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Lisa Kron.
The musical, which will run from April 4 through May 13, in Salt Lake City, is told from three stages of a Bechdel’s life and examines her relationship with her parents and her own sexual orientation as they struggle to keep up the perfect-family façade, regardless of some dark secrets that eventually lead to her father’s suicide.
Hoekstra is one of three girls set to play Alison as a child on differnt nights during the musical’s run. The others are are Natalia Bingham and Presley Caywood.
“The character I play is 10 years old, but the director (Jason Bowcutt) doesn’t want me to act as if I was younger than I really am,” Hoekstra said. “He just wanted me to have a more childlike quality.”
Hoekstra read the script several times and listened to the Grammy-winning soundtrack to find that attribute.
“It was tough for me, but I really listened and studied to lyrics and tried to think how ‘Small Alison’ would feel during a scene or a moment,” Hoekstra said.
The actress also talked with her older counterparts, Halie Olenberger and Shawnie Kennington, who respectively portray ‘Medium Alison’ and ‘Older Alison.’
“We did talk about the roles and I tried to immerse myself into character to see how I could show how Alison was before she got older,” Hoekstra said. “I even got a haircut, which helped a little.”
Through the preparation time, Hoekstra found a couple of similarities between her and Small Alison.
“She likes to draw and I like to sketch,” Hoekstra said. “I have a lot of sketches in my binder and on my homework.”
One of the most difficult concepts for the actress to grasp was the relationship of Small Alison and her father Bruce, played by Benjamin Henderson.
In once scene, the two get into a violent argument while drawing a map. It’s a pivotal scene where the audience begins to see how flawed Bruce is.
“It is hard for me to see the dad get so upset with Alison over the drawing, and it just didn’t make sense for me,” Hoekstra said.
Luckily Hoekstra had a good working relationship with Henderson, who helped her with the tense scene.
“Ben and I were in a show called ‘Heart of Robin Hood’ together at the Hale Center, so it’s kind of easy to act with him,” she said. “He’s also an acting teacher, too, so he gave me and the other kids in the play some tips.”
Salt Lake Acting Company Executive Artistic Director Cynthia Fleming is delighted to have Hoekstra and the other two girls portray Small Alison.
“They were the first ones to be cast,” Fleming said. “I was just blown away that we have three young women in Utah who can play the role. It’s a testament of the talent we have in the state.”
Fleming, who saw “Fun Home” on Broadway in 2015, and again in Las Vegas in during its 2016 tour, knew from the start that she wanted to produce the play in Salt Lake City.
“When it won the Tony for Best Musical, I didn’t know if we would be able to get it,” she said. “But I kept it in my mind, so this is a truly a dream come true.”
Fleming is grateful for her cast and crew’s dedication.
“This play has tough musical numbers, and the cast needs to get the notes and rhythm right,” she said. “They can do it thanks to our musical director David Evanoff. And our director Jason has incredible instincts and vision. He knows where this play should go. I’m blown away we get to produce it.”
The dedication also reaches to Hoekstra’s parents, who make sure their daughter gets to rehearsals in Salt Lake City six days a week.
“The only day off for Ava is Monday,” Kristy Hoekstra said. “She needs to be there after school at 5:30 p.m. and she’s there until 10 p.m.”
The schedule is different on Saturday and Sunday. It’s from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Ava Hoekstra said time management is the secret of balancing school with the production.
“We have a program at school called Lunch Bunch where we can do our homework, but I have also started taking my computer to rehearsals,” she said.
The hard work is worth it for Hoekstra.
“This is my passion,” she said. “I am so happy to act and get to work with Salt Lake Acting Company. Everyone there is so great to work with.”
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