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'Little Mermaid' hits close to home: Student actress has much in common with character

Pine River-Backus High School's production of "Disney's The Little Mermaid" is a story of a young woman with red hair trying to make her way in a world where her mother is no longer there to guide her. Her name is Ariel, but it could just as well...

Alexis Arseneau of Pine River-Backus High School, plays Ariel in this year’s musical, The Little Mermaid. Photo by Travis Grimler
Alexis Arseneau of Pine River-Backus High School, plays Ariel in this year’s musical, The Little Mermaid. Photo by Travis Grimler

Pine River-Backus High School's production of "Disney's The Little Mermaid" is a story of a young woman with red hair trying to make her way in a world where her mother is no longer there to guide her. Her name is Ariel, but it could just as well be Alexis.

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'Disney's The Little Mermaid'

When: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday & 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pine River-Backus School old gym

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Tickets: $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors (60-plus). Tickets will be sold at the door one-half hour before showtime

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PR-B freshman Alexis Arseneau plays Ariel in the musical that will be performed this weekend.

"I freaked out when I found out," Arseneau said. "I was very excited and happy and jumpy. I cried, and I don't really usually cry out of excitement, so that blew my mind. I had to step out of class because I was so excited."

"She read really strong. She was sweet but also determined," said drama director Jennifer Anderson. "When she sang the vocal choice, we just knew, this was our Ariel."

The character has several similarities to her own life, one of which Arseneau didn't immediately realize.

"I didn't realize Ariel's mom had died in the show until I was in auditions," Arseneau said. "Someone said she was dead, and I was like 'What? Really?' It hit me then. It kind of makes me relate a lot to my character. I'm still trying to find myself, as Ariel is in the play. It's kind of comforting. It makes me fit in well with my character."

Arseneau lost her mother, Stacy Sundquist, to a small plane crash a year ago in Pine River. The musical is helping Arseneau to deal with her own life, and helping her to reconnect with memories of her mother.

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"I watched ("The Little Mermaid") quite a bit. It was one of my favorite movies to watch with my mom," Arseneau said. "She sang with me a lot, so I think when Ariel is singing or arguing with her dad a lot, because I don't really have a dad either, it's kind of nice to know I have a dad in this play who is trying to fight for me and keep me safe and at home, even when my mother can't be there."

"I think she is able to go deeper with Ariel and bring out more in her character because of what she has experienced in losing her mom," Anderson said. " Ariel and Alexis are both teenagers trying to navigate the world without their mother."

In theater, Arseneau has also found support in more than her stage father. Many of the cast members are close friends, including Scuttle, Sebastian, Ursula and Flounder. She says theater is supportive.

"I can express myself," Arseneau said. "All the team members don't judge. I can be me around them. I feel at home and it is nice to not have to worry about the outside room. It's just me and the cast. It's my own little family. It's nice."

Arseneau said "The Little Mermaid" has challenged her when it comes to learning her songs, though she said her lines were easy. Her favorite scene is upon entry into Prince Erick's palace.

Arseneau was in "Sleeping Beauty" in Brainerd and was briefly a flapper girl in last year's Pine River-Backus production of "The Addams' Family." In addition, she participates in volleyball, dance and school choir groups.

"Alexis is a very talented vocalist," Anderson said. "She is also a hard worker who has attention to detail. Audiences will be delighted with her performance."

"When Jen told me I was going to do this, she told me it would be a nice tribute to my mom and I agree with her completely," Arseneau said. "It made me so happy to get the chance to do this. I think it is so nice and if she were here she would be really proud."

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Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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