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Ryan Johnson, Published December 29 2013

Making a Scene: Fergus Falls native on path to career in musical theater

FARGO – For the kids Katharine Strom has taught, theater is more than a fun extracurricular.

“It can change people,” said the Fergus Falls, Minn., native, who got her start in musical theater at age 10 when she played Mary in a church Christmas program.

When her performance drew praise from the congregation, Strom decided she had what it took to be on the stage.

She landed roles in the summer shows at the Fergus Falls Center for the Arts, appearing in “Cinderella,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Schoolhouse Rock,” among others.

She earned an associate’s degree at Minnesota State Community and Technical College’s Fergus Falls campus and transferred to North Dakota State University, where she graduated in May with a bachelor degree in musical theater.

Strom’s time here gave her the chance to sing in several NDSU productions, including “Oklahoma,” “The Servant of Two Masters” and “9 to 5: The Musical,” and she played Louise in Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s production of “Gypsy” in April.

But Strom, now 24, also was able to try another aspect of theater while in Fargo – giving acting lessons to the young actors at FMCT, where she said she could watch kids grow from shy, unconfident cast members to stars of the stage.

“To see that change in two short weeks with a silly little musical, that’s huge,” she said. “That probably will change who they are for the rest of their lives.”

Strom was the winner of FMCT’s Broadway Bound competition earlier this year, giving her the opportunity to travel in October to New York City for auditions and an immersion into another career goal – making it in America’s theater capital.

When did you know musical theater was your calling?

I think it was maybe my junior or senior year. I knew I was going to go to M State to get my bearings and really crack down on what I was passionate about.

Still to this day, the only time I really feel absolutely confident in what I’m doing ... is when I’m on stage.

After talking to my parents and thinking about it a lot, I came to the conclusion that theater is what I’m passionate about and it’s worth at least trying it and seeing where it goes. If I don’t like it, I can try something else.

How was your recent trip to New York?

I worked with Rachel Izen, who’s done a lot of work on the West End and also stuff in the United States. We were going to work my audition package, so work on my monologues and things like that.

But she asked me, “Katharine, what do you want to do? What’s your plan?”

I’m like, “Um, I don’t know exactly,” so she said, “Instead of working dumb monologues, let’s figure out where you want to go.”

She said you have to be so committed and you have to really want this in order to make it in the city, which is where you need to be to make it to that next level.

Telsey and Company, the company that I auditioned for, they’re in the midst of casting a ton of shows right now, so the actual audition was very much up in the air.

I hardly had any time to be nervous, which is awesome. … I sang a song from “My Fair Lady,” and then they wanted a contemporary piece, so I sang that.

(The auditioner) was like, “OK, well you’re on the right track, great contrasting pieces, good choices. Are you living in the city?”

I said that I wasn’t, and he said, “Well, when you move to the city, let us know.”

We left the audition room, walk down the stairs and Scott Brusven (director of theatre for FMCT) asked if I knew who I auditioned for.

I said no, and he’s like, “That gentleman’s name is Patrick Goodwin, and he has cast every Broadway show since 2006.”

Thank the Lord I didn’t know that because I would’ve been a wreck.

Overall, it was very inspiring. It’s definitely gotten my wheels turning as far as where and when I want to go.

You’ve talked about wanting to teach theater to kids, but you also have aspirations for your own career on the stage. What’s next for you?

The plan for now is to move to the Twin Cities in the winter. I want to build up my resume and get a little bit more professional experience before I make that bigger move. I’m thinking in the next two years, I’d really like to try the East Coast.

I don’t know when or anything like that, but I really would like to try and at least say that I did try rather than just wishing that I had.

I’m just going to do a variety of auditioning in the Cities and get involved as much as I can and meet cool artistic people and make beautiful things.

I’m so open to new things. I’m willing to try whatever comes my way.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587