The talent young kids have


Johnna Johnson is a recent high school graduate of the Breck school who will be attending St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN in the fall. She is the ASM (assistant stage manager) for SteppingStone Theatre’s production: The Wizard of Oz. 

Parker Payne will be a senior in high school at St. Paul Conservatory of Performing Arts and hopes to attend Bethel University the following in 2019. Parker plays Uncle Henry in Wizard of Oz. 

Both Johnna and Parker are part of the core company and LEAP program through SteppingStone Theatre which provides leadership and mentorship opportunities for students. Both students shared their experience in working on Wizard of Oz at SteppingStone Theatre which runs until July 28th. Come out to see this amazing show! 


Tell me how you got involved with acting and theatre. How did you get started? How other shows have you worked on? 

Parker: I started in theatre in fourth grade and now am going into twelth grade at St. Paul Conservatory of Arts. My emphasis at school is musical theatre. At school, I have worked on many shows including: Mary Poppins, Murder Crime, and Ship Wreck. I am also very active in my church shows as well and started theatre at church. I have performed with Morris Park Players in addition to SteppingStone. SteppingStone is my home base theatre. I have worked on nine shows including: Beauty and the Beast, Goosebumps, Jack and the beanstalk, and the Three Little Pigs and the Frog. I enjoy networking with SteppingStone where I can act, sing, and move. I hope to attend Bethel University in 2019 where I can major in musical theatre. 

Johnna: I just graduated from Breck school where I have done a ton of shows. I am attending St. Olaf college this fall where I hope to continue to pursue theatre in stage management. I am a part of the LEAP program and have done Aladdin Jr as part of the stage management with this show for SteppingStone. I have been in theatre my whole life and always enjoyed acting. I joined theatre for middle school productions, but in high school wanted to join the technical side as I am a hands-on person. I learn by doing. I enjoy set design, being a stagehand, tech-oriented classes, and those areas just clicked for me. I love organization and making things run smoothly. 


What role (s) do you play with Wizard of Oz at SteppingStone? 

Parker: I am playing Uncle Henry. I auditioned for this role during camp. They tend to put me in roles where the cast is lacking. I am also a member of the ensemble. I also mentor many of the younger kids. 

Johnna: I am the assistant stage manager for Wizard of Oz. I keep things together. I organize the props, find cast members, check kids in and out, close the curtains. I also mop and sweep the floors. I serve as an older authority figure that students can go that they can trust. 


What is the LEAP program and what does it mean to be a core company member? 

Parker: The LEAP program is for leaders for young artists. It shows that anyone can do theatre. It is a great way to create community and build social skills. There is an audition process and a camp. As part of the core company member, I check people in and out, clean up things, work out cast disagreements, and lead warm ups. For the audition I had a monologue, sang a song, and provided a resume. 

Johnna: Core company is a peer mentoring program. I was invited by Mark (artistic director) to join. I joined because I enjoy helping kids get into theatre. We meet once a month, although it is a fairly new program. It trains us to work with young people. I participate because it incoporates what I love which is peer mentorship which I didn’t get as a child. 


What do you enjoy most about playing your character or your role? 

Parker: Uncle Henry is sarcastic. He has heart and cares about Dorothy. I love being a part of the ensemble because I get to play wacky characters and swap between them such as a: jitterbug, Ozian, and munchkin and I get to see the nuances between each of those characters. 

Johnna: For me, this show holds a place in my heart as it is from my childhood. LEAP program allows me to be a part of main stage productions. 


What did you learn about yourself during this process? 

Parker: I learned it is hard to step back and not have the biggest role. I learned to cope with having smaller roles. It is a fun experience and to be able to experience the show as a whole. 

Johnna: Being ASM reaffirmed for me my enjoyment for theatre and it helped me to show that I can see myself doing this in college and beyond. 


What skills did you learn from this production?  

Parker: I learned how to dig deeper into a script. I also learned to understand the reason why your character says your lines. It is important to understand what your character is thinking and how it affects them.

Johnna: As ASM I learned time management skills and how to prioritize things. I realize that I need to sweep and mop the stage before each show and how to do that efficiently. I also learned how to balance spreadsheets and personal work life balance. 


What do you want the audience to leave with? 

Parker: I want the audience to walk away knowing they are loved and that people care about them. 

Johnna: I want the audience to walk away having the appreciation and enjoyment for the talent  young kids have (ages 12-16). 


What did you do to prepare for this show? 

Parker: I watched the Wizard of Oz movie. I like to watch the movies if there are any. I then find nuances between my characters versus movie characters. I also did some research within the great depression as that is when the WoZ came out. 

Johnna: I get ready for the show by marking down in my calendar how often I will be busy, prioritizing my time, and double-checking prop lists. 


What are you most excited about for performing this show? 

Parker: I am most excited about making people laugh, get scared, cry at emotional parts and seeing audience’s reactions. I also love meeting the audience after each performance. 

Johnna: I am most excited about when things go well at each performance. That idea of a show going well, makes my day. 


Do you have any upcoming shows? 

Parker: I will be in ‘Fun House’ at my school and the lead in Fly Guy which opens in October at SteppingStone. 

Johnna: I will be going off to college, so no shows at this time, but would like to get involved with my college’s theatre department. I will be coming back to SteppingStone next summer to help with Junie B Jones and am looking forward to that.  


Nikki Abramson

Nikki Abramson is an educator, actor, director, teaching artist, author, and speaker. She holds a masters degree in K12 education from Bethel University. Nikki wrote the books "I Choose Hope-Overcoming Challenges with Faith and Positivity" and "Hope for Today".