Trio of peers cast in Civic Theatre production of ‘Frozen Jr.’

Meet the Future: actors Alexa Wollney, Xavier Turner and Abbie Westers

From left, Alexa Wolley, Xavier Turner and Abbie Westers are friends and fellow thespians. They are all cast in the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre production of ‘Frozen Jr.’

Editor’s note: Creative, innovative, imaginative … Many of today’s students are all that and more in a vast variety of interest areas. This new series, ‘Meet the Future,’ features students with exceptional and unusual gifts.

A trio of Byron Center High School classmates will take the Grand Rapids Civic Theater stage Oct. 18 to 27, as cast members in the musical “Frozen Jr.” The accomplished young thespians say they developed their acting chops in school and community theater and are reaching for the stars when it comes to the future.

Senior Alexa Wolney plays Elsa; Junior Xavier Turner plays Kristoff; and junior Abbie Westers is dance captain and in the ensemble.

Byron Center High School senior Alexa Wollney plays Elsa in ‘Frozen Jr.’ at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre

Name: Alexa Wollney
School: Byron Center High School
Jam: Theater, currently playing Elsa in ‘Frozen Jr.’

How old were you when acting became something you wanted to pursue, and what’s the story there? I guess my first performance with lines was in the fifth grade. I got to act as a sort of director on stage who was putting a show together. After that, it was pretty apparent that performing was something I needed to do. Even my parents were shocked at my love for the stage and absolute open stage presence at such a young age. Since then I’ve constantly been in shows, growing as a person to achieve that goal.

List a few accomplishments related to performing: This past year I have been in six shows alone, which has really pushed me as a human being. In the past, I typically stuck with two shows at most. I now see the incredible growth that occurs by getting out there and I feel so grateful for the opportunities we have here in Grand Rapids.

Is there a teacher or teachers who have had a big impact on your involvement in this? In general I feel so thankful for all of the guidance I have received from all my directors I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Each and every one of them has taught me something new about myself and truly opened my mind up to the possibilities of portraying a character.

Do you plan to pursue this professionally? If so, envision yourself 10/20 years from now. If not, envision yourself 10/20 years from now: I do intend to pursue this as a career. In 10-20 years I am hoping to be working professionally on Broadway and just be indulged in what I love most.

Outside of acting, what are your other hobbies and interests? I very much value quality time with my friends and family when I’m not working on a show. Whenever I have some down time, I’m also someone who loves to write songs or just fiddle around with my guitar.

The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in acting is… “You are enough. You are so enough it’s crazy how enough you are.” This quote was spoken by my current director at Grand Rapids Civic Theater and it has resonated with me ever since.

If you walked into your school building to theme music by a favorite artist or band, what would the song be? Although I’m a bit biased, at the moment, I would have to say “Let It Go” gives me all the power for the day. Haha. I absolutely admire the strength and empowerment the song portrays and it certainly motivates me to do more.

Byron Center High School senior Xavier Turner plays Kristoff in ‘Frozen Jr.’ at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre

Name: Xavier Turner 
School: Byron Center High School
Jam: Theater, currently playing Kristoff in ‘Frozen Jr.’

How old were you when acting became something you wanted to pursue, and what’s the story there? My family (mom especially – she’s a music teacher) is very musically inclined, so I’ve been involved with music my whole life. I’ve sung my whole life as well, but I started theater in seventh grade. From that point, I knew it was what I wanted to do in life. There is no better feeling than performing on stage.

List a few accomplishments related to performing: Well, my most recent accomplishments for theatre other than being involved in community theatre occurred last year. I took part in a Musical Theatre Intensive run by the Michigan School Vocal Music Association, which brought in University of Michigan theater faculty. A hundred people performed overall (divided into four groups that sang for certain faculty); eight were selected to perform before everyone (including the faculty) as a recital. Out of those eight, two finalists were selected to perform at the Michigan Music Conference. I was one of those two finalists! So, I got the recognition and opportunity to perform in front of some very important people in the music department.

Because of that opportunity, I got the chance to audition to be in an ensemble to represent musical theatre at the Michigan Youth Arts Festival. And gladly, I got to be in that group at perform at Miller Auditorium at Western Michigan University.

Is there a teacher or teachers who have had a big impact on your involvement in this? Definitely choir director Kris Ryskamp. She and my mom are the reason I got into performing in the first place.

Do you plan to pursue this professionally? If so, envision yourself 10/20 years from now. If not, envision yourself 10/20 years from now: YES! I very much hope to pursue a career in musical theatre and whatever spawns from that potentially.

Outside of acting, what are your other hobbies and interests? To keep it short, I love playing sports, instruments, spending time with friends and family, and of course, I love singing and dancing.

The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in acting is… Cliche, but true: You can do anything that you put your mind to. Giving something your all can almost guarantee success.

If you walked into your school building to theme music by a favorite artist or band, what would the song be? Probably “Carrying the Banner” from Newsies.

Byron Center High School senior Abbie Westers is dance captain for the production of ‘Frozen Jr.’ at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre

Name: Abbie Westers
School: Byron Center High School
Jam: Theater, currently dance captain for ‘Frozen Jr.’

How old were you when acting became something you wanted to pursue, and what’s the story there? I have been acting since I was about 7, but as I got older and more serious, the more I realized I wanted to do it as a career. After I saw a show at Civic with kids my age in it I fell in love and wanted to do every show. I would say I was about 13 when I knew that I wanted to go into musical theatre.

List a few accomplishments related to performing: This past year I was Ariel in our school musical, “The Little Mermaid,” and this was an amazing experience. I grew as an actor and a person by having the responsibility of a lead role like that. 

I also had the opportunity of being the assistant choreographer of “Newsies” at Civic. I learned all of the choreography and filled in for cast members that could not be at rehearsal. This was especially helpful because I was able to fill in for three shows after one of the Newsies got seriously injured.  

Is there a teacher or teachers who have had a big impact on your involvement in this? Allyson Paris, the associate director at Civic, has had a major impact on my life. She has known me since I was 10 and has always been there to be a mentor and encourage me when times got rough. I owe a lot of who I am to her today.

Do you plan to pursue this professionally? If so, envision yourself 10/20 years from now. If not, envision yourself 10/20 years from now: I am planning on pursuing this as a career and in 10 – 20 years I hope to be living in New York performing!

Outside of acting, what are your other hobbies and interests? This slightly goes along with acting, but I am a dancer. I was dancing long before I was acting and I love it with a burning passion. Being able to tell a story with just my body is one of the best feelings in my opinion. I also love to draw, sew and write my own songs.

The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in acting is… It is harsh, but “there are always going to be better singers, dancers and actors than you, so you have to find what makes you unique to be able to stand out in this world.”

If you walked into your school building to theme music by a favorite artist or band, what would the song be? I would probably be listening to  a mix of musical theater hits and jazzy pop like Alicia Keys and Ariana Grande.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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