Coming of Age at Gustavus. Coming Home to Gustavus.

From their first musical as first-years in 2007 to working with students today, these three friends found their way back to the Hill—and each other. 
Posted on February 10th, 2023 by

The cast and crew of Spring Awakening, running from Feb. 23-26 at the Anderson Theatre.

The year is 2011. Seniors and roommates Kimberley Braun, Lydia Francis, and Samuel Grace, who met as first-years in the campus production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, are preparing for the inevitable time when they must leave their beloved Gustavus community. Questions surrounding internships, graduate school, and the workforce loom over their heads, but they know they have each other during this major transition. 

Now, their friendship is about to have its own revival back here on the Hill.

Following graduation, Braun worked as an actor and later studied at the University of South Carolina Professional Actor Training Program. “I developed new skills that made me more confident as an actor and I wanted to share this through teaching and directing,” she said. 

Gustavus Class of ’11 alums Lydia Francis, Kimberly Braun, and Samuel Grace.

Francis slipped behind the scenes, interning at the Guthrie Theatre, then working there as a scenic artist. She then earned her MFA in Scenic Design from the University of Maryland. For the past seven years she’s been the scenic designer for Christmas in Christ Chapel.

Grace found success in choral music. In 2014, he earned his masters in music at the University of Minnesota,Twin Cities, and went on to work with several churches and ensembles throughout Minnesota. He will complete his doctorate (from the University of Indiana) this spring.

Now, twelve years after their departure, the three are working directly with students in the spring production of Spring Awakening, a coming-of-age rock musical about the intricacies of teenagers growing up. Braun is lead director, Grace is music director, and Francis is head set designer.   

Grace recalls the show’s original Broadway run back when he was a Gustavus student. “At the time, it was quite provocative in the way it tackled important social issues,” he said. “What’s fascinating is how discourse and action surrounding these issues has changed, and how we interpret them even 15 to 20 years after this show emerged.” 

Braun admires the cast’s maturity and grace when working with the subject material, which includes themes of abortion, abuse, and suicide. “The students are doing an excellent job balancing the demands of the text with their lives, and it is a delight to watch them grow as actors and fully embody these somewhat angsty roles without getting cranked up emotionally.” 

I think [today’s cast and crew] are smarter and more aware than I was,” Francis said. “I think our students care very deeply and really ask hard questions of themselves and of their professors.” 

Even though the musical contains difficult themes, the cast and crew bring joy and amusement to their rehearsals. “Kim, Lydia, and Sam create a comfortable atmosphere,” said stage manager Ainsley Cox ’24. “There is room to grow and to work hard. It really is a loving environment.” 

The camaraderie current students developed through creating the show reflects the affection this trio of alumni hold for their alma mater and each other. Braun remembers her training as a student with two of her best friends as formative. Now, “we couldn’t have imagined we would have the opportunity to come back and work at this artistic home again,” she said. “I am deeply grateful to be working with Sam and Lydia, and to be doing it at Gustavus.”

Spring Awakening performances are Thursday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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