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Stage struck

Wren Wertin
wren@vaildaily.com
Vail CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Rex Keep
ALL |

EDWARDS, Colorado – When she was in third grade, Suzanne Foster knew she wanted to be a teacher. It was an important decision for a child because she stuck to it with passion and dedication.

“There was an incident that happened my senior year in college,” the Battle Mountain High School theater, speech and debate guru said. “I walked away from an accident that I knew I shouldn’t be walking away from. And I promised myself that I would put all my energy and efforts into teaching and helping, that I’d do everything I could possibly do.”

Over the past four decades, that’s meant dedicating her entire life to her students – helping to raise them instead of raising her own family.

“I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything,” she said. “There’s something to be said for having a few thousand share-kids. I’ve been so lucky. I’ve worked in a job that I’ve loved, doing things I’ve loved doing, and I got paid for it. But it’s time. It’s time to let somebody else make their mark.”

In some exercise of cosmic kismet, her final class of students, Battle Mountain’s class of 2011, has produced more than a couple of kids destined for the stage. In fact, several have been accepted into exclusive theater programs across the country.

Kristofer Thornton

“Our senior class has a lot of talent,” Kristofer Thornton said. “A lot of individual talent. A lot of performers, athletes, singers.”

He’s one of those singers in addition to being an actor.

“Kristofer has always been a ball of energy confined in a human body, for better or for worse,” Foster said. “Musically, he’s something of a prodigy. He scares me with some of the things he can see and hear. He’s good and scary. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Thornton is heading to Drake University in Iowa. It’s a highly competitive school; only five men and 10 women were accepted into the musical theater program this year.

“College is so different than high school,” he said. “Some people who aren’t going to college just think it’s more school. They don’t understand the appeal. But you don’t learn the same stuff in college that you do in high school.”

And what is he hoping to learn?

“I really want to make myself into a more mature individual,” he said. “High school developed my social skills. But you establish who you want to be in college – how you want to be.”

There’s also a little thing called career skills. And Thornton has given those some thought.

“I have a plan, actually,” he said. “So I’m going into musical theater. Two years in, I’ll start auditioning for regional and Broadway shows. You can take a leave of absence – it’s appropriate at that point. Then I’ll have something to bring back.”

He’s also planning on spending his summers in Vail. He’s looking not for the scenery but for the Vail Performing Arts Academy.

“It’s such a professional group,” Thornton said. “There’s so much integration.”

Susanna DeChant

Susanna DeChant has spent more than a decade on the stage. She danced with the Vail Youth Ballet Company, but eventually decided she wanted to branch out into all things stage-related. She still connects with dancing, though.

“A lot of the time it’s the dancing that gets me in a production,” she said. “I think it’s so exciting and invigorating to watch a company of dancers that’s so into what they’re doing. You’ve got to have that stage presence, that ‘x-factor.’ Everyone has something about them that’s exciting to watch. I just want to jump out and join them.”

But she spent a lot of time over the past 3 years growing her acting and singing talents. She considers singing to be her weak link, but is confident that she’ll continue to improve.

“She blossomed, her singing improved tremendously,” Foster said about DeChant. “She’s a character actress, but she came into her own with performance and leadership with Guinevere (her role in ‘Camelot’). She’s the real thing – you can put that in quotes.”

DeChant is heading to Elon University in Burlington, NC. She wants to study musical theater, but hasn’t been accepted to the program officially. Five hundred students auditioned for 15 to 20 spots.

“I’ve always known there were plenty of other great performers and actors out there,” she said. “But when you get there, oh my gosh, all these people want the same thing I want, and they’re so much better than me.”

But she’s not letting that weigh her down, and is auditioning for the program again. In the meantime, she’ll be busy taking classes she’s interested in – dance, Spanish and the like. Spanish is her Plan B.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’m excited to live my life and see how the cards play out,” she said.

Jake Dutmer

When Jake Dutmer looks back at his time on the stage, he sees a cat. Or, to be more specific, the cat: The Cat in the Hat in “Seussical the Musical.” It was his favorite role.

“That was the best role,” Dutmer said. “He took on these different personas during the play.”

Soon after that performance, Dutmer decided to change schools. He went from Eagle Valley High School to Battle Mountain, strictly because of Battle Mountain’s theater program.

“People are more driven for the performing arts at Battle Mountain,” he said. “It’s year-round. Plus I’ve made lots of friends who are majoring in it, too.”

Dutmer is heading to the University of Northern Colorado’s musical theater program. They accepted 10 males and 10 females into the program this year.

“I was very honored,” he said. “I’m more of an actor than a singer or dancer, but I’m excited to work on all of that.”

“In theater Jake commands an audience,” Foster said. “People see him from a distance and thinks he looks older. He’s got that something special. His success this year in speech was the perfect melding of an actor to a piece. It’s a piece I’ve only used a couple of times, from ‘Assassins.’ It takes a really strong performer. Jake consistently took first place with that piece because he threw himself into the character.”

Dutmer credits his father, Larry Dutmer, with introducing him to the stage.

“He threw me into Vail Performing Arts Academy at age 7, and I’ve been performing ever since,” he said. I thank him for that. He’s helped me so much for college, performing and memorizing lines.”

Remsen Allard

Remsen Allard has been a student of Foster’s many times over.

“He’s one of my Renaissance men,” she said about him. “He’s so quiet, so unassuming. He’s good at music, at singing. He’s good at dancing – he’s good at academics. But he becomes his character. He’s going to be very successful. He is a very kind and gentle soul.”

Allard is heading to Columbia College in Chicago to study film and video. Despite his performing prowess, he’s more excited about cinematography. He helped make a movie for the senior class, “Homecoming.” It wasn’t the first film he’s been involved in.

“In my eyes, Remsen is the most talented person I know,” said his probably biased but nonetheless intelligent sister Whitney Allard Rogers. “He has paved his own path through life. He is determined to be a unique individual.”

Theater and performing has always been a family affair at the Allard household, as both his parents, Dan and Cindy Allard, as well as his sisters , were involved in community theater plays. He enjoys both the speech and debate side of the stage, as well as performing and being behind the scenes.

“Anyone who has talent is always really fun to work with,” said Allard. “Well, even people who don’t have as much talent are fun to work with. You can sort of teach them more, and they bring something new to the table, something I might not have learned before, and I can learn from them.”

Allard is musically gifted. He learned to play the violin at age 3, and then picked up the guitar. He also plays the trumpet, the piano, sings and gives a mean improv performance.

“Rem lives and breathes his many passions,” Rogers said. “He feels free doing what he loves.”

And that’s the best anyone can hope for.

Note: To read about Charlie Barry, another Battle Mountain grad heading into the theater, see the Tuesday, May 31 edition of the Vail Daily.


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