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Holiday musical role features two student actors

December 9, 2012
By ADELLE WHITEFOOT - Journal Ishpeming Bureau ( , The Mining Journal

GWINN - Usually we think a lead role in a play or musical is played by one person - with an understudy available if needed. But Gwinn High School's production of "The Christmas Schooner," features two students who share the female lead role of Alma.

Erica Sanford and Laura Thompson are both seniors at GHS and both share the role of Alma and a minor role of Cousin Martha. According to Dave Dagenais, the director, the girls have really been helpful to each over the course of rehearsals.

"The auditions were just too close to call so we decided to have both of them play Alma," Dagenais said.

Article Photos

The chorus for Gwinn High School’s production of “The Christmas Schooner” performs during a dress rehearsal on Wednesday. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)

Dagenais said the girls played the lead every other night and will each get to perform in Manistique for a special performance giving the girls three times each in the role of Alma.

Both Sanford and Thompson have their own views on sharing the lead and how it helps them, but both said that it's a unique experience.

"It's a very different experience and it's very challenging experience," Dagenais said. "It's a really different experience for all of us. Both (Erica and me) and the rest of the actors on stage as well because they have to adapt as well as us to the different roles every night."

Thompson said she finds it enlightening to embody two characters in the same play as opposed to just one because she has to devote her time and energy to two characters and take on the different personalities of each of them.

"It's been, I think, a really worthwhile experience," Thompson said.

Thompson said she thinks the most challenging part of playing two characters in the same play is portraying the different aspects of the characters on stage.

"You have to make sure that you're thinking about that character and not other things or about the other character and what the other actor is doing," Thompson said. "You have to think about you and what you need to get done."

Sanford said she finds sharing the lead of Alma has helped her become a stronger person and actor.

"Being able to observe another person who is a very different actor and who takes a very different approach to the role has both been inspiring for me to develop my own way and a way for me to kind of learn more about the character," Sanford said.

"The Christmas Schooner" is Sanford's favorite play. She said the play is what inspired her to stick with theater and to strive to become the actress she wants to be someday, though there has been some difficulties when it comes to sharing two roles.

"It's interesting and difficult to see the role I've developed to my own tastes to be played in such a different way. We're not at all alike in our portrayals," Sanford said. "But this challenge has helped me grow."

Sanford said playing the two roles that have two very different personalities and aspects has been the most challenging part for her as well.

"They are such different characters -Alma being the tired, broken down housewife and Martha, in essence, the damsel in distress - having to play such different roles with such different personalities is difficult, but has definitely been a good learning experience," Sanford said.

Both girls have plans to continue their involvement with theater after they graduate.

"The Christmas Schooner" is a historical musical about a Great Lakes ship that carries Christmas trees from the Upper Peninsula to Chicago. The musical is based on the story of a real schooner named the Rouse Simmons. The Rouse Simmons sunk in 1912 in Lake Michigan after getting caught in a violent storm.

The cast performed "The Christmas Schooner" this weekend but will be doing further performances in Manistique on Dec. 15.

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is



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