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East Ridge students appear in Chanhassen play

East Ridge High School seniors Matt Thorsen and Pari Cariaga both had walk-on roles in the Feb. 7 performance of "Bye Bye Birdie" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres as part of the StarKids program.

East Ridge High School seniors Pari Cariaga and Matt Thorsen got a taste of the star treatment earlier this month.

Cariaga and Thorsen, both of Woodbury, The students appeared onstage during the Feb. 7 production.

The two students were given the opportunity through Chanhassen's StarKids program.

StarKids celebrates musical theatre talent in high schools by allowing students the opportunity to appear on stage alongside the cast.

Students are also assigned to an actor in the professional acting company and shadow them during their backstage and onstage experience. Students receive their own dressing rooms and have publicity photos taken.

"The whole point of StarKids is to take kids interested in theater and sort of recognize them for what they're doing in their community," Cariaga said.

This is the second year that East Ridge has participated in the StarKids program.

Cariaga and Thorsen have both been heavily involved in East Ridge's theater program in the past.

Earlier this fall, Cariaga and Thorsen played two of the lead roles in the school's production of "White Christmas."

Both Cariaga and Thorsen said they enjoy the bonding that comes along with high school theater.

"Both Matt and I are an only child," Cariaga said, "and through theater you become so close that you become that family - it really is a special thing.

"I kind of think of theater as the ultimate team sport because you build that bond and then trust in each other."

It was because of Cariaga's and Thorsen's dedication to the theater program that East Ridge theater director Amanda Hestwood decided to nominate the two students from the StarKids program.

"In addition to being talented performers, Pari and Matt are senior leaders in our theater program," Hestwood said. "Their selection is well deserved and they will be missed when they graduate this spring."

Cariaga and Thorsen said they were excited about the opportunity when Hestwood suggested it to them.

"It was just another great opportunity on top of all the other great things we were able to experience," Thorsen said. "It's the icing on the cake."

"It's another feather in the cap," Cariaga said.

For the StarKids program, Thorsen and Cariaga received a packet that included information about what scenes they would be appearing in and the lyrics to "We Love You Conrad," a musical number in the play that they would be performing with the cast.

Even though the students knew ahead of time what their walk-on roles would consist of, they weren't able to have any rehearsal time.

"It was all spontaneous," Cariaga said.

"They kind of threw us into the show," Thorsen said.

Cariaga said the lack of rehearsal gave her a few jitters.

"I was a little more nervous about the fact that it was all impromptu," she said, "but it was more excited anticipation."

About 45 minutes before the show started, Cariaga and Thorsen were fitted for costumes, took publicity shots and talked with the cast in the "green room" prior to the show.

"We got to talk to them about how they got where they are," Cariaga said. "Talking with the actors was a lot of fun because it was interesting to see what a working actor's life is like."

Both Cariaga and Thorsen said StarKids was a great experience, especially since it helped them realize just how fortunate they are to have the amount of time they do to put together a show.

Chanhassen turns around the show in only a couple weeks.

Both Cariaga and Thorsen said they hope to stay involved with theater.

"If God opens that door I'll walk through it," Cariaga said.

"If the opportunity comes knocking," Thorsen said, "I'll answer."

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.

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