Stepping onto a big stageBefore a couple of weeks ago, Ryan McDowell Poehler's biggest starring role was as Ebeneezer Scrooge in a fifth grade production of A Christmas Carol.
By: Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages
Before a couple of weeks ago, Ryan McDowell Poehler's biggest starring role was as Ebeneezer Scrooge in a fifth grade production of A Christmas Carol.
Nothing against the quality of drama offered at Shannon Park Elementary School, but it seems safe to say Poehler's latest role is a step up.
On April 24, Poehler, currently a sixth grader at Rosemount Middle School, appeared in one of the leading roles of the Guthrie Theater's production of Tony Kuschner's Caroline or Change. Poehler is one of two boys alternating shows in the role of Noah Gellman, a stand-in for playwright Tony Kuschner in the semi-autobiographical work.
Poehler isn't exactly new to theater. He grew up around the stage. His aunt and uncle volunteer regularly at the Sheldon Theater in Red Wing, and he's always loved watching them at work.
"I thought everything about it was so cool," Poehler said. "I knew them as my aunt and uncle, but when they're performing it's like they're this whole different person."
Poehler has attended theater camps and he's been part of the children's chorus for OnStage productions at Rosemount High School. But he's never done anything like what he's doing now.
He almost didn't get a chance this time, either. Poehler auditioned for the Guthrie show at the suggestion of his aunt. He didn't know what he was auditioning for at first. His father, Brian, figured it was some little experimental show on one of the side stages.
Poehler did some movement exercises with the director and the musical director. He sang some songs. He got a callback, but the role ultimately went to someone else. When that actor hit puberty and his voice started to change, though, the director called Poehler. He auditioned again, and he got the job.
The delay, though, meant he was two weeks behind everyone else in preparing. He had to scramble to get up to speed on a thick script that included several songs.
"For the longest time I couldn't do anything, because I didn't know the music, but I finally caught on," Poehler said.
It hasn't been easy. To prepare for last week's opening Poehler rehearsed eight hours a day, every day but Monday. From noon to 8 p.m., he was on the stage.
That meant sacrifices — time away from friends, and time away from school. Poehler said his teachers helped make his schedule work, and he's made up much of the work he's missed.
"I think they think it's pretty cool I'm in this," Poehler said.
Now that the show has started, Poehler's back on a mostly regular school schedule.
Not that things are exactly business as usual for the small, soft-spoken Poehler. There aren't a lot of middle schoolers who wrap up a day of math and English lessons by stepping on stage in front of a few thousand strangers. Poehler said he's started to adjust to the idea of being on stage — of singing on stage — in front of such a large crowd. Going through a few preview shows helped, he said.
"Opening night was hard because it was opening night, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," he said. "My first entrance I was just, like, 'Woah.' But then I kind of got used to it."
He's having fun, too. He's worked with the director on projecting his voice, and he enjoys having a pass that allows him to explore backstage. He misses his friends at school, but he said most of them think it's cool he's performing at the Guthrie.
Poehler is already thinking about auditioning for the Guthrie's production of A Christmas Carol, though he admitted this week he hadn't raised the idea with his parents yet.
Then again, Poehler might want to set his sights on a new challenge. He said he auditioned for Rosemount Middle School's recent production of Cheaper by the Dozen.
He didn't get cast.