Unlike many who try out for a play, Erika Soukup didn't want the lead in this year's Pine River-Backus Community Education production of "Alice in Wonderland." She wanted to be the Mad Hatter.
"I just wanted to be someone crazy," Soukup said. "In most of the roles I've played, they were more antagonistic roles. Eventually I hope to be able to be a main character, but right now it's just fun to kind of let loose a little bit. I have a lot of structure within my own life. I have to do school and I always have to think of what I need to get done. I'm a very organized person. Whenever I play characters that are mean or a little insane, I get excited to be someone who is truly not me. The Mad Hatter is interesting."
To Soukup, the lead role - a 7-year-old in the source material - was less interesting than the nuttier characters. Soukup said that isn't all bad, as Alice's sanity makes the insanity in the rest of the cast possible.
"I think there are so many scenes where they are just really funny with the actors," Soukup said. "There is the Mock Turtle, the Griffon and the Caterpillar. Whenever those scenes come on they are incredible actors and they make it so funny. Alice brings the sanity to the play, so every scene she is in there can be insane characters."
"Alice in Wonderland" is another role in Soukup's growing list of plays that started with church Christmas plays, moving on to the Prairie Fire Children's Theatre production of "Cinderella" as a member of Prince Charming's band, then the Prairie Fire production of "Aladdin" as a tiger. Then she began performing in school musicals with the "Little Mermaid," where she was in the ensemble, and "High School Musical," where she played Mrs. Darvis.
Most recently she played the Wicked Stepmother in "Cinderella." "Alice in Wonderland" is her first community education play. These all helped Soukup to plan her future.
"I just kind of got my college plans more solidified," Soukup said. "I want to go to Concordia University in St. Paul and major in theater and minor in music and dance. I want to start with acting because that is what I know how to do."
Soukup has been mostly home-schooled, though she is finishing her high school career as a Post-Secondary Enrollment Options student through the University of Northwestern in St. Paul.
Soukup grew up in a large, creative family with six sisters, every one of them a book fanatic. She said none was ever in sports, but all had their heads in books growing up, which may have helped her to develop her love of theater.
"I remember I read 'The Three Musketeers,'" Soukup said. "Because I wanted to be so positive I had read the book, I read every single page, including the back and front of the index and chapters. My sister told me I didn't have to, but I wanted to make sure I had everything."
Soukup said her parents always supported her and her siblings, who have gone on to be writers, nurses, Peace Corps members and a university employee. When she told her parents she would like to study theater, they supported her just like her older siblings.
Soukup is excited to get to college as well.
"I've always lived with my family, so this will be a big first step," Soukup said. "I'm not that nervous about it because I feel really ready. I just want to start budgeting and buying my own food and learning how to cook without anyone else around and singing really loudly. I'm really excited. I'm kind of ready to kind of start building my own life. I will always love my family, but I kind of want to start building my own life and routines and how I want to live without having to rely on someone else buying the right brand of cheese or something."
'Alice in Wonderland'
Who: Pine River-Backus Community Education.
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 4-5; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 6.
Where: Pine River-Backus High School stage.
Cost: $8 for adults; $5 for students and seniors; free for ages 5 and younger.