By Scott Pesznecker, Herald Writer
From the moment she first donned fairy wings, Caitlin Kinnunen dreamed of someday acting in a Broadway show.
Someday came sooner than expected.
Kinnunen, a 16-year-old actress from Camano Island, is in New York City to perform in the Tony Award-winning Broadway show “Spring Awakening,” a coming-of-age story set in Germany in 1891. The show has been on Broadway since December 2006.
Kinnunen is scheduled to make her Broadway stage debut today at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. She moved to the Big Apple in June with her mom, Betsy Stam.
“It’s starting to sink in very slowly right now,” said Kinnunen, an energetic girl with strong vocals. “I’ve dreamed about this forever now. I thought maybe, possibly it might happen in 10 or 20 years. The fact that it’s happening now is like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going on?’”
No stranger to the stage, Kinnunen has already played several large roles, including Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” Amy in “Little Women” and the redheaded orphan in “Annie.”
She’s performed at the Village Theatre in Issaquah as well as the Seattle area Book-It Repertory Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre and The 5th Avenue Theatre.
And now, Broadway.
“I get very nervous for shows,” Kinnunen said. “This is going to be very exciting and very nerve-racking, but I think I can handle it.”
It’s rare that a Kidstage actress is graduating to Broadway — a first, actually, said Suzie Bixler, Kidstage programs manager based in Issaquah.
“We have over 1,000 kids in our program and she is the first one to have officially gone to Broadway,” Bixler said. “It’s definitely a very rare opportunity. There aren’t that many kids in this area who make it to Broadway because it’s New York and it’s not that often they will have a national audition.”
But this time the producers were looking for young, fresh talent, so Kinnunen got her big break.
“It’s just a lucky thing for Caitlin, a huge break,” Bixler said.
Raised on the north end of Camano Island, Kinnunen was 5 years old when her mother, an artist, took a job as theater production manager for Sky Theatre — now part of Village Theatre’s Kidstage program — in Stanwood. Soon after, Kinnunen’s older sister, Julia Kinnunen, got a part in a Sky Theatre play.
Little sister wanted to try it, too.
The young actress made her stage debut in the nonspeaking role of a fairy.
It was everything she’d hoped for.
“I thought it was fun and amazing, and I got to dress up,” Caitlin Kinnunen said. “It was everything a 5-year-old dreamed of.”
As Kinnunen grew, so did her roles.
“We knew right away this kid had the natural talent,” said Kati Nickerson, director of Youth Education for Village Theatre’s Kidstage program. “What she brought to it and what her family helped develop in her were the personal resiliency skills to really tackle the professional rigors of a very demanding field.”
Last September, a nationwide casting call was held for “Spring Awakening.” Kinnunen heard about the casting call through her friends, and she went to Seattle to try out.
A month later, just before she was scheduled to perform in “High School Musical” at Seattle Children’s Theatre, Kinnunen got a call from the “Spring Awakening” casting crew. It was a Thursday.
They wanted her in New York on Saturday.
“I was not expecting it at all,” Kinnunen said.
In the Big Apple that Saturday, Kinnunen was asked to sing and read a script. Halfway through her reading, the casting crew stopped her and asked her to return for more tryouts the next day.
On the trip back to Camano Island, while changing flights in Philadelphia, the casting crew called and asked Kinnunen to return in November.
The final call-back in November consisted of three days of dancing, singing and performing. She worked with the show’s musical director, and she watched a performance of “Spring Awakening.” The actual auditions were held on the third day at the Eugene O’Neill Theater.
“For us this has been an amazing ride,” Stam said. “It has been a little bit of a surprise every time she gets through one more step.”
Still, Kinnunen had to wait.
In June, she was at home watching television when the phone call came. Her mom picked up the phone and started talking. Kinnunen looked into her mother’s eyes and knew she’d made it.
Stam hung up. Kinnunen cried.
“We just kind of looked at each other in silence for a while,” Kinnunen said. “It was one of those moments where you just know.”
Stam, an online teacher for Everett Community College, accompanied her daughter to New York. Kinnunen’s father, Randy Kinnunen, a longtime employee with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, stayed behind with her older sister, who is preparing to attend college.
It may take time for the teen to get used to New York City.
“There’s a lot going on in New York, and there’s really not a lot going on in Camano,” Kinnunen said.
In “Spring Awakening,” Kinnunen will portray the character Thea, the youngest of a group of friends who is “very spunky and fun and has a ton of energy,” Kinnunen said.
The play itself delves into issues faced by young people today, she said. It’s about knowing who you are and how to find yourself.
Kinnunen’s way is on the stage.
“I really don’t know what I’ll do afterward,” she said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to stay in New York and keep doing theater here. If not, I’ll be perfectly happy going back to Seattle and doing local theater there.
“It’s just one of those things, you have to wait and see what happens,” she said.
Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.