Stage presence | AspenTimes.com

Stage presence

Stewart Oksenhorn

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

As far back as her kindergarten years in Glenwood Springs, Jennica Lundin was a noticeably shy kid. Her music teachers, including Lori Courier, had a plan to handle that shyness: Put the child onstage and make her sing. Rather than be mortified and scared, Lundin saw the tenderness in the approach. “They really inspired me to do the performing thing,” said Lundin, referring to Courier as well as Jeanne Miller, her music teacher in the higher grades, who died last year. “They never discouraged me.”

As grateful as she may have been, Lundin didn’t notice any quick results. In seventh grade, she was still shy. And Courier was still her teacher, and still prodding her to confront her reserve with public performance.Courier, said Lundin, “is incredibly musical. And she’s really good at getting kids to do things. She said, ‘You’re going to do this'” – “this” being singing, as part of a choir performance, “Adelaide’s Lament,” a song from Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls” that called for the actress to be dressed in a bathrobe with a towel around her head. “That was my breakthrough moment, when I realized, ‘OK, I actually like doing this.'”It was how I found my place, and where I belonged.”Lundin – which rhymes with “fun scene” – participated in numerous school plays and joined the debate team. She sought stage opportunities outside of school as well, participating in the Defiance Community Players’ productions of “Annie” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” In Defiance’s version of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” she had the lead role and got to perform with her mother.”I find that when I get up onstage, I find I’m a different part of me,” said Lundin. “I have no self-consciousness. It’s all or nothing.”

In a way, Lundin, now a 25-year-old Aspenite, is still working out her shyness issues. She describes herself as reserved, and she can seem to be near the extreme end of the quietness scale.Another take is that her shyness is just one aspect of her personality, and one she has made peace with. In the few years I’ve known her – mostly interacting with her in her position as the development and education coordinator for Jazz Aspen Snowmass – our conversations have been invariably brief. But in an interview for this story, she is self-assured and doesn’t hesitate to reflect on her history or personality.”I sometimes wonder if the part of me that’s reserved is me acting, and the one up onstage, that’s really me,” observed Lundin, who studied voice at the University of Colorado’s School of Music. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to be as quiet as I am. I have a lot of internal dialogue. And once I do get started talking, it’s hard for me to stop.”Whatever shyness she may have, it hasn’t prevented her from appearing in front of big crowds of people. Lundin appeared as Sister Margaretta – “the nice nun,” she says – in Aspen Community Theatre’s 2004 production of “The Sound of Music,” taking a lead part in the song, “Maria.” The following year, she was a member of the choir in ACT’s “Pippin,” a role that allowed her to work on her dancing, which she says is not her strongest suit. Last year, in ACT’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” Lundin appeared as the strong-willed second daughter, Hodel, taking a solo turn on “Far From the Home I Love,” and also adding to such central numbers as “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”

Lundin passed on auditioning for this year’s ACT production of “She Loves Me.” It was something of a tough call; as a child, coming to Aspen for dinner and the ACT musical was an annual event for Lundin, her sister and their mother, and ACT was one of the reasons she decided to live in Aspen. But she had a good reason for skipping ACT this year. She is appearing in the Thunder River Theatre Company’s staging of “The Fantasticks.” The show opened last week and has a matinee performance on Sunday, Oct. 21, and additional performances Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26-27, at the Thunder River Theatre in Carbondale. Lundin says part of the draw for “The Fantasticks” was being offered the part outright by Lon Winston, Thunder River’s founder and artistic director. Of particular appeal was collaborating with Winston, who is directing the current production, and with whom Lundin worked in a presentation of the Molière farce, “The Imaginary Invalid.” “He’s a different kind of director. He’s got a different style,” said Lundin. “It’s a learning experience, working with him.”The other attraction is the play itself. “The Fantasticks” is the longest-running play in history, opening off-Broadway in 1960 and not closing until the post-9/11 downturn in New York City. (It has since reopened in New York.) It’s a story of young romance: Lundin plays Luisa, a girl in love with the neighbor boy, Matt (Danny Pettit). What the two don’t know is that their fathers have conspired to encourage their courtship. Figuring that children will do just what their parents forbid, the fathers have concocted a family feud, instructed their offspring to have no contact with each other. Much of the plot involves the fathers orchestrating a resolution to their bogus quarrel, which means hiring a bandit, known as El Gallo (John Goss), to abduct Luisa.”The Fantasticks” is known for a surface simplicity in its structure, themes and sets – as well as for the song, “Try to Remember” – making it a favorite of community and student theater. But Thunder River’s production – the first musical in the group’s 13-year history – aims to plumb the deeper ideas that echo “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.””Doing it with Lon, we’re talking about the Beat influence from when it was first performed on Broadway,” said Lundin. “That’s interesting. There’s a lot of dimensions to it. We did a lot of studying of Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac, talking about the Beats, the 1950s, how not everything going on was ‘Father Knows Best.’ There was a lot going on underneath.”

Lundin has also fallen for portraying Luisa. “I think it’s a great role,” she said. “I think I can be crazy up there. She’s a 16-year-old girl, and she has no grasp on reality at all. I like doing that, that’s fun. And then she makes this big transition, finding out what things are really about.”Lundin has given some thought to graduate school in dramatic arts. Those thoughts usually come just after a production closes, and she is suffering stage withdrawal. For the moment, though, she can’t see giving up her steady job and the opportunities to perform locally. She has compiled a mental list of shows she’d like to appear in: “Les Mis,” “Carousel,” and anything by Stephen Sondheim on the musical side; “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and the works of Neil Simon on the dramatic and comedic end. And she’d love to stretch in terms of the sorts of characters she plays: “I’d love to play the evil person once – because I always get cast as the nice person.”Offstage, she still gets cast as the shy person. “People always say, ‘God, I had no idea you could do that.’ When I first started working at Jazz Aspen, they thought I meant that I just liked the idea of performing, that I just wanted to perform,” she said. “I think now they understand a little more who I am, what I’m about.”It’s a release for me. I love acting, figuring out a character. When I get up there, I feel like I’m not me up there. I try to become whoever it is, rather than me just playing somebody. This is what I do in the fall, and I don’t think I’d be nearly as fulfilled if I didn’t have the opportunity to perform now and then.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com