By Bridget Morgan, Senior PR & Communications Manager
Most members of Seattle’s musically inclined theater community know Kelsey Thorgalsen. Slight in stature with curly brown hair, her gaze is direct and her demeanor is honest and non-judgmental. This last point is a critical as far as most people are concerned as typically they encounter her in an audition on the other side of the casting table. Kelsey is the Casting Director at The 5th Avenue Theatre with an astonishing mental Rolodex® of musical theater talent, whether they be 5th Avenue Theatre regulars or up-and-coming stars performing in the black boxes and smaller houses around the Puget Sound.
But this month and next, she is stepping back for a spell, away from auditions and into rehearsals. Kelsey is the director of Anything Goes at the University of Washington. “In particular,” she said in a recent chat, “the production is for the undergrads in the musical theater department, but the auditions were open to the whole school, and we have got a lot of really talented people in the cast.”
While Kelsey is not directing this production in any official 5th Avenue Theatre capacity, the Theatre has enjoyed a long-standing symbiotic relationship with UW’s theater program, particularly under the leadership of the late Sarah Nash Gates (a former 5th Avenue Theatre board member and sometimes costume designer on our stage). Producing Artistic Director Bill Berry, Music Associate Albert Evans and Resident Music Supervisor Ian Eisendrath have all taught courses there over the years, and many graduates over the years have, in turn, trod the boards at The 5th.
Kelsey made new connections with the musical theater program (a sadly short-lived specialization offered by the theater department that will end in 2020) over the last few years. She worked closely with then-Program Chair Wilson Mendieta to arrange semi-professional opportunities for the students in the program, including the ability to participate in readings of new musicals—an opportunity that allowed them to work alongside professional actors and supporting the development of new musical theater. “After we launched that,” she said, “I came in two years ago to teach a one-day-only final audition class where I worked directly with their program seniors.” Mendieta has since moved to Los Angeles to chair the dance program at Chapman University, but prior to his departure suggested Kelsey to the faculty as a candidate to direct.
“Bill Berry has been very supportive,” she says of The 5th’s Producing Artistic Director. “We both recognize that it’s an opportunity for The 5th and the UW to deepen their relationship, and it’s an opportunity for me to get to know these students really well who are going to graduate and hopefully then become a part of our community of actors. I think there are about 25 musical theater students, and they are a very talented group of kids.”
“The show was easy to cast,” she adds. “They have a great group in the musical theater program. We also have non-musical theater majors, and even some non-theater majors, some engineering majors!” she says with pride. “Alia Thomaier, who was our Rosemary in Rising Star Project: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 2016 will be playing our Hope. She’s not a theater major, but she’s definitely one of our 5th Avenue Theatre kids.”
She’s excited to work on the show. “If you look at the world of Anything Goes, you know, it’s the middle of the Great Depression. These people are getting on this ship to escape for a little bit; they are escaping all of the financial woes, all of the political woes. I feel like right now in this time, everyone could use a bit of escape. And in the words of Albert Evans, this show is a ‘frolic.’ It’s a chance for people to go to the theater and have a good time and escape from everything going on in your world, just like the people in the show are doing.”
“Something else is that is exciting about this production,” she volunteers, “is that I get to work with M.F.A. grad students as the design teams. So I’ve spent a lot of time with them since July—mostly set and costume so far—and this is their thesis project. A lot of them have never worked on a musical before so it’s been a learning process for us both. It’s a huge show!”
Kelsey has had a few opportunities to sharpen her directing skills during her tenure at The 5th Avenue Theatre. “I assistant directed the Beautiful Poison reading with Chris Ashley for our New Works Program. I directed The Long Game reading as a part of NextFest last year—that’s an Andrew Russell/Rich Gray collaboration. I also assistant-directed A Chorus Line under David Bennett.”
Bennett, it turns out, is one of her mentors, as is Bill Berry. “I like that they seem to approach shows from opposite perspectives, but turn out similar end results where the humanity of a moment is valued over ‘performance.’ That’s the lesson that I am trying to take with me into Anything Goes—be simple, be honest, be human.”
If you’re interested in purchasing tickets for Anything Goes at UW, click here.