2002 Graduate Touring with National Theater Production

Posted on December 29th, 2008 by

Misti Koop graduated from Gustavus in 2002.

Misti Koop graduated from Gustavus in 2002.

Story reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald

by Paulette Tobin

It’s been a long, interesting road for musical actor Misti Koop, who was
six when she first stepped on stage in community theater and today is
touring in the chorus of a national production of “Jesus Christ
Superstar” starring Ted Neeley.

A long, hard road. And a dream come true, she said during a series of
telephone interviews from the road in New Mexico and Colorado, where her
company has just begun its performances.

Koop, who grew up in East Grand Forks and Grand Forks, acting in school
shows and in summer and community theater, knows she’s lucky to have
steady work so soon after arriving in New York City on Sept. 8. Not that
she felt very lucky at the time she was trying to find a job.

“I did anywhere from 40 to 60 auditions in seven weeks,” Koop said. “I
got a few call-backs, but I got one gig out of 60 and that’s actually
pretty good.”

That’s show biz. And it also begs the question: How does an aspiring
actor get from regional theater in North Dakota to work in a national
show? And how on earth does anyone ever find the stomach to take that
much rejection?

The Grand Forks area probably is better known for producing world-class
hockey players than actors and entertainers. Still, the Grand Forks area
has quite a few natives working in the entertainment industry, and still
trying to make it to the “big show.” (See related story.)

Koop always loved acting, music and the theater. In her first role at
age 6, she played one of the River City kids in “The Music Man” in East
Grand Forks. That led to acting roles in dozens of productions in Summer
Performing Arts, Summer Arts Safari, Fire Hall Theatre and East Grand
Forks Public Schools shows.

After her junior year in high school, she transferred to Grand Forks Red
River High School and as a senior played the lead in “Hello, Dolly!” She
graduated from Red River in 1998, and got a music degree at Gustavus
Adolphus College
in St. Peter, Minn. She worked as a school band
director for a few years, primarily in Shakopee, Minn., and spent a few
summers working as a dancing bear at Valleyfair Amusement Park in

In 2006, she returned to Grand Forks to attend UND and do her graduate
work, where Kathleen McLennan, head of the UND theater department, was
her adviser. Koop took part in UND productions and in summer shows
produced by Crimson Creek Players in Grand Forks (“Sweet Charity” and
“Candide”), Fort Totten Little Theatre (“Annie Get Your Gun”); and Frost
Fire Theatre (“Les Miserables”).

She also was chosen for UND’s New York showcase group, a group of 12
actors and vocalists who spent weeks in workshops, studying and
practicing with Gaye Burgess of UND and Job Christenson, preparing to
travel to New York City to perform for casting agents there.

Then, in September, she moved to New York City. “I just knew I would
take whatever came my way,” Koop said. “I knew I needed to build my
resume with a New York base, with a professionally based touring

Her big break

Koop had auditioned for “Jesus Christ Superstar” but hadn’t gotten a
callback. Then, one day at work, she did. “It was a dream come true. I
got the call from one of the casting directors. And they said, ‘Do you
want to do it?’ and I said, ‘Ah, yeah.'” She was hired as a disciple
girl Oct. 24, the day before her birthday, and rehearsals began a few
days later.

Her showcase experience at UND had made her feel like New York City
wasn’t such a faraway, unreachable place, she said. At UND, she’d been
part of a group focused on theater, on trying and discarding dozens of
scenes and characters, “working to fail and learning in the process,”
she said. “Job and Gaye were wonderful for us and worked very hard, and
a lot went into it,” she said.

Christenson, the past director of the North Dakota Ballet Company, has
acted in and toured with Broadway shows himself. He became a friend as
well as a mentor, Koop said.

Strong roots

Perhaps those who grew up in this area, on either side of the Red River
of the North, do well in the entertainment business not despite their
connections to rural America but because of it.

“I think theatrically, I just learned to work hard and not to stop when
it’s good enough,” Koop said about growing up in Grand Forks and East
Grand Forks. Through the years, she had mentors and directors such as
Larry Damico in East Grand Forks, Sharyl Elshaug and Steve Saari with
Fire Hall Theatre and Brad Sherwood and Connie Sherwood with Red River
High School and Summer Performing Arts.

“If you step outside your state and start to look back again, you think,
‘Oh my gosh, I really had a good training program,'” Koop said.

After rehearsals in New York City, the cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar,”
produced by Troika Productions, headed for Spencer Theater in Alto,
N.M., to do tech work and more rehearsals.

“We do have Ted Neeley with us,” Koop said, speaking of the show’s title
character, an actor who has played that role in various productions
since the 1973 movie. “He said the first day, he’s done this role longer
than we’ve been alive.”

After Alto, they were off to Colorado Springs, Colo., where they had
their official opening Monday night at Pike’s Peak Theater. Tonight
through Sunday, they’ll be at the McAllum Theater in Palm Desert,
Calif., then it’s on to Portland, Ore., British Columbia, back to
California and all over the map through mid-May and perhaps longer. (To
see a complete schedule and cast list, go to www.thejcs-tour.com/.)

Listening to Koop talk about her experiences, the shows she’s done, the
doors that have been opened – and the ones that have been slammed – it’s
easy to think of a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk. It
gets stepped on but keeps springing back.

That’s not a bad description of what it’s like to audition time after
time, facing the big “no” but always bringing your best game, she said.

“Not to sound silly or dreamy,” she said, but “there’s something inside
that I’ve always had. I wouldn’t say I’m naturally always confident. I
don’t think anyone is. But there is some fire within me that I always
have had, and it pushes me through. Even sitting with 150 people waiting
to audition, for some reason I can just sit there and think about my
song and really put myself into it. By focusing on what I have, and my
past, too, it pushes me through. “I smile, and I’m proud of them looking
at my resume and going, “North Dakota? Wow!” she said. “And then I sing
and hope something will make them remember me.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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