Many performers in Greater Lakes Area Performing Arts productions in Pequot Lakes have come a long way in life before they start portraying characters for their local audience.
Stephanie White, for example, will play the titular character in the GLAPA/Pequot Lakes Community Theatre performance of "Jane Eyre" - which opens Friday, Feb. 28, in Pequot Lakes - but for years after kindergarten. there was nothing in the world that would convince her to perform on stage.
“I had a horrible experience where I knocked a kid off a stool in a little play that we had at our private school,” White said. “I swore it off for the rest of my life because it was so embarrassing. I never wanted to get back up on stage.”
So how did she end up back in the limelight? She has her other great artistic passion to thank - dancing. But that didn't come for many years.
White was born in Clearwater, Florida, and moved to Minnesota with her family at age 12. She went to Brainerd High School, and it was in Brainerd where she was finally coaxed back on stage.
“I was sitting at home and had behind the scenes of Paula Abdul on VH1. I was like, 'Whoa, that is amazing dancing,'” White said. “I want to do that. So from then on, I just really wanted to be involved with dancing. But then I realized that was still performing.”
In Brainerd, she performed in Rhythm of the Rails, but she didn't really consider that the same type of performing.
“(That) was more of a vaudeville style. When I was in that, it was like a troupe, a family, and I really fell in love with how everybody took care of each other and helped each other out with costumes or sets or props or whatever, and that is what hooked me, the family aspect of theater," she said.
Even then, White nearly took a different path in her sophomore year of high school when she was forced to choose between auditioning for a part in the play “Rhinoceros” or cheerleading. She chose the audition, though the play wound up getting canceled. That didn't stop her, and she tried again in her junior year.
“My first real one was '1984,'” she said. “I was the victory coffee girl. It was a very small role, but it got my foot in the door.”
She graduated from Brainerd High School and did as few dared, seeking education and employment in the arts. At Central Lakes College, she received an associate of arts degree, an associate of applied science degree and business management degree. She also honed her dance skills, becoming certified in American tribal belly dance.
Since then, White, who lives in Pequot Lakes, has a literal resume full of performances, including: Charlotte Lucas in “Pride & Prejudice,” Cookie in “Zombie Prom," Dora Parkoe in “Night Must Fall” and roles in 27 other performances for Action Entertainment, Stage North, Pequot Lakes Community Theatre and Central Lakes College. On top of that, she has had various paid positions as director, stage manager, tech or choreographer for several companies.
“I have done pretty much everything but set design and tech direct,” White said. “So it's a big passion of mine. I work for the Crossing Arts Alliance ... and I teach ballroom dancing at the Spirit Movement Dance Studio.”
Her favorite performances have included her portrayal as Pop, or Liz, in “Chicago” and Cookie in “Zombie Prom," a symbolic performance about segregation. Playing Mindy in “Five Women Wearing the same Dress” earned her an award for Best Supporting Actress from the Guild Awards.
Most recently she's tackled a particularly challenging character, however, in Jane Eyre in the play by the same name. White said the character is challenging because Eyre is very different from her. White is confident, independent and speaks with her hands. Eyre, on the other hand, was demure out of necessity and spoke very formally.
“It's always fun to be a bossy, sassy person because I am that person. So it's not too much of a stretch for me,” White said. “But I love the challenge of Jane Eyre, specifically because she has all these emotions, but she is a woman in the 1800s and can't say what she thinks, but she still does in certain ways. And I think that's really cool.”
What both White and Eyre have in common is being powerfully driven, an aspect White enjoys about the character.
“I like the relationships and seeing how Jane came from nothing and was treated poorly most of her life, that she still finds a way to love,” White said. “And I think that's amazing, especially for in that time and how she stays strong now, even though she continues to have bad things happen to her, and in the end, she does get the love that she wants.”
White believes audiences will be particularly entertained by Eyre's moments of subtle sass.
“There's certain times when Jane has a quick jab at Rochester. It's a drama, so it's not a comedy, but there will probably be some laughter in those parts,” White said.
Audiences might be interested to know that the show will go on, but it won't be without a hitch. As a matter of fact, there were several hitches starting with a shortage of male cast members.
“We have a lot of theaters in our area and men are few and far between for shows, so if there's a bunch of us having shows all at one time it's really hard to get someone involved in a chick flick,” White said.
The cast and crew, however, worked hard to overcome this and other problems.
“I want to say a big thank you to everyone involved in this production,” White said. “It has been the type of theatre production where if something could go wrong, it did go wrong. But somehow we're fixing it and keeping the show going - like the old phrase that says, 'The show must go on.'"
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, Feb. 28-29 and March 6-7; 2 p.m. Sundays, March 1 and 8.
Where: Pequot Lakes High School auditorium.
Tickets: Reserved seat tickets may be purchased online at www.glapa.org or by calling Pequot Lakes Community Education at 218-568-9200. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors age 60 and older and $10 for youths.
This play is produced by special arrangement with Playscripts Inc. and made possible by a grant from the Five Wings Art Council.