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Woodbury resident Aleks Knezevich stars as Ralph Rackstraw in the Guthrie Theater's production of "H.M.S. Pinafore," which runs now through Aug. 28.

Taking the lead

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Taking the lead
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Woodbury resident Aleks Knezevich was on his way to medical school in Iowa this summer when he got what he considered the opportunity of a lifetime -- a chance to perform at the Guthrie Theater.

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Knezevich was offered the role as a swing character -- essentially an understudy for the chorus -- in the Guthrie's current production of "H.M.S. Pinafore." Knezevich decided to follow his heart and defer medical school so he could appear in the show.

"It's actually a pretty daunting task," he said. "But I chose to do that knowing that I might never perform and sit on the sidelines."

It was three weeks into rehearsal and one week before opening night when Knezevich was called into the director's office. The director wanted to offer Knezevich the romantic lead role of Ralph Rackstraw.

"I started shaking and my jaw dropped," he said. "I just said, 'Holy crap' because that's the only thing I could think to say at that moment."

"H.M.S. Pinafore," written by Gilbert and Sullivan, takes place aboard the British ship H.M.S. Pinafore. The captain's daughter, Josephine, is in love with a lower-class sailor, Ralph Rackstraw, although her father intends her to marry another man. Josephin and Ralph declare their love for each other and eventually plan to elope, but the captain eventually discovers their plan.

"The show is so silly, it's absolutely ridiculous," Knezevich said. "The Guthrie took a dead show and really revived it, really brought it to life."

"H.M.S. Pinafore" runs now through Aug. 28.

Extraordinary path to acting

There has been nothing ordinary about Knezevich's path to the stage.

When Knezevich was a senior in high school he was an athlete and heavily involved with music.

It was happenstance that Knezevich auditioned for a role in the fall musical that year: "Joseph and Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Once Knezevich reached college he only did one show before letting his love of theater drop by the wayside while he studied biochemistry.

It was four years before Knezevich would appear in his next show.

In 2008, after graduating from college, Knezevich intended to take a year off before attending medical school. To kill the time he decided to audition for the Phipps Center for Performing Arts' production of "Grease."

Knezevich got the lead role.

From there, he just kept being offered show after show.

"The whole thing just kind of took off from there," he said. " I never really expected it to go this far because I was doing it just for fun, but one year has turned into three."

Knezevich said his favorite part about acting is exploring characters and exploring who he is.

"You get to really learn about yourself through the process," he said.

From swing to lead

When Knezevich received the news that he was being promoted from swing to romantic lead in "H.M.S. Pinafore," he said it was very overwhelming.

"It was crazy," he said. "One part of me was so nervous that I couldn't sleep or barely eat for the next two or three days because I was constantly running lines and going through scenes in my head."

However, Knezevich received some solace in the fact that he had been at rehearsals every day, so he had some understanding of the character and the lines.

"I decided to just do my best to get in there and do what I know how to do," he said. "Acting is what I do."

Knezevich called Ralph Rackstraw a relatable character.

"What I do like about Ralph is that amidst all the craziness he's one of the most real characters," he said. "He's someone the audience can relate to on a real level -- he's kind of the common man."

A memory for a lifetime

Performing at the Guthrie Theater has been such an amazing experience, Knezevich, said.

"I would work there forever if I could," he said. "It hasn't even sunk in yet, I think it's going to hit me in a couple months."

Knezevich said he would never trade his experiences at the Guthrie Theater, or all of the experiences he's had with theater over the past four years.

"I'm probably never going to have this opportunity again," he said. "It's something I will cherish for the rest of my life -- it's absolutely the biggest blessing."

The next stop for Knezevich is medical school next fall, but not before appearing in "Ragtime" at the Park Square Theater in St. Paul.

"If Broadway comes calling by any weird chance I may need to rethink what I'm doing," he said. "But I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to."

Guthrie Theater's production of "H.M.S. Pinafore" runs through Aug. 28. For show and ticket information visit www.guthrietheater.org.

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
(651) 702-0976
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