There’s a big question that Katie Maupin struggles to answer, a huge question.
As a 12-year-old seventh grader in Foster City, is she a super annoying middle schooler or a hecka cool one?
Katie hesitates before her response, perplexed even as she ponders the fallout from her answer.
Finally, she states with a hint of hesitation – “I think I’m pretty cool.”
Katie is actually very cool, and with her latest production, very responsible. She is playing a principal role, the orphan Mary Lennox in 42nd Street Moon’s “The Secret Garden,” a holiday show running through Dec. 24th.
The show focuses on Mary, who was born in India, orphaned and then moves to England to live with her Uncle Archibald, whom she has never met. Bitter from not being wanted by her parents who passed away from a cholera epidemic, she arrives to England embittered and distant from others. Yet when she finds an ally in the form of a maid who teaches her about a secret garden, she begins to soften and explore life’s possibilities.
Katie, whose last name is pronounced “moppin” plays Mary in the show, and cannot be more excited. For Katie, performing in the show is fun but also comes with real responsibility as a lead actor in a professional theatre company.
With Katie at the cusp of this new challenge in her young theatre career, is she excited or nervous?
“It’s a little bit of both,” said Katie. “The environment is so professional and they are so good about everything. I’m still nervous, but I’m also confident.”
Katie didn’t follow a common path for a young professional theatre artist, but more of a common path for kids trying new things. She got involved in sports in her earlier years, soccer and softball, and participated in summer camps at Hillbarn Theatre in her hometown, where she had that initial taste of theatre life. Her first show was “Willy Wonka, Jr,” playing the Candyman when she was nine.
For Katie, the stage felt natural.
“I was really nervous, but once I went on stage, all my worries went away,” said Katie. “I always had a want to do it, but once I got the opportunity to do my first show, that’s when I really fell in love with theatre. And once I did a show, I got really interested in seeing more things.”
It didn’t take terribly long for Katie to move into a new realm of the business of theatre. With a professional contract comes plenty of responsibility – one night singing at a Christmas tree lighting, another day has an interview scheduled at a San Francisco television station, phone interviews in between all of it. And to top it off, Katie is receiving credits through this show toward Actors Equity Association, the professional union of theatre actors. It’s all quite the whirlwind.
With a role as intense as Mary, anything less than full on commitment just isn’t possible. It’s not simply the singing, which she is confident about. And it’s really not about dancing, because there isn’t much of it with this role. But really delving deeply into a character that has to take on a wide-ranging journey has its challenges.
“One of the most challenging parts of this show is the growth she goes through. We are different in the sense that she is very held back. I don’t really know what she’s going through in the sense that she’s had so much loss in her life and confused with her surroundings, and I’ve never really gone through those kinds of circumstances. I’m very blessed for that.”
Director Dyan McBride is constantly blown away by Katie’s precociousness yet wasn’t sure if Katie fit her vision for the show after auditions were complete. But 42nd Street Moon’s executive director Daren A.C. Carollo knew right away that McBride didn’t need to look any further than Katie.
“I thought I might want someone flashier, but that would have been a serious mistake,” said McBride. “I would have messed up the whole play if I’d gone that route.
“Katie has no part of her that is false or phony. In auditions she was quiet, kind and serious. She is the anchor of our show and the cast knows it. She came in off-book at the first rehearsal and our veteran actors took note. She set the bar. How amazing is that?”
After McBride’s initial reticence, she quickly found herself all in on Katie. She now places her on the pantheon of great talents she has taught, directed and acted with, including Broadway stars Erika Henningsen (Mean Girls), Zell Morrow (Fun Home) and Darren Criss (Hedwig and the Angry Inch/Glee).
“She is amazingly poised, instinctive and has a tremendous sense of narrative,” said McBride. “She naturally took this play on its emotional journey without much help from me. I just kept saying, ‘That’s correct, keep doing that.’”
While Katie has certainly committed herself to doing everything she needs in order to make the most of this opportunity, there are still plenty of other things she loves that keep her busy. She enjoys having dinners with family and friends, spends about eight hours a week training in four styles of dancing, and has school to focus on.
“The little time I do have, I like to teach myself new things on the piano and guitar.”
Just keep playing it cool, Katie, you got some high times ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
42nd Street Moon presents “The Secret Garden”
Book & Lyrics by Marsha Norman
Music by Lucy Simon
Based on the Novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Directed by Dyan McBride
Through Dec. 24th
The Gateway Theatre (Formerly the Eureka)
215 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
Tickets range from $25 – $76
For tickets, call (415) 255-8207 or visit 42ndstreetmoon.org