It runs in the family
Neighbors: Profiles of our community
When the curtain rises on the Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ production of “Into the Woods” on Aug. 24, two of its actors will share more than the stage that evening.
They also share the same genes.
Kirsten Otterson and her son, Kiegan, will play the characters of the Witch and Jack, respectively, in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Brothers Grimm-inspired musical. This is the first time mother and son will perform alongside one another in a full-scale production, but neither are strangers to the stage.
Far from it, in fact.
Kirsten made her live theater debut at the age of 15, albeit a bit hesitantly. A shy teenager who loved to sing, she reluctantly agreed to audition for a production of “Mary Poppins” at the urging of a teacher. To her astonishment, she was cast as Katie Nanna, the titular character’s disgruntled predecessor. It may not have been her breakout performance, but Kirsten says that’s when she fell madly, deeply in love with theater.
“I found a place where it was OK to step outside of my shell,” she said. “It was like coming home.” Not long after, she signed up for voice lessons and jumped at every opportunity to perform. At the age of 16, Kirsten landed her first starring role as Maria in a production of “The Sound of Music.”
After graduating from Maui High School, she headed to London to study musical theater and went on to perform throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand. She eventually moved home to Maui and picked up where she left off across the pond, racking up a number of starring and supporting roles in theatrical plays and musicals brought to life by MAPA, Maui OnStage, ProArts Playhouse and the Baldwin Theatre Guild.
“I’ve lost track of how many shows I’ve been in,” she said. “I guess I stopped counting at some point.” She’s taken on several behind-the-scenes roles, too, as a music and drama teacher and a vocal and musical director for MAPA, Maui OnStage, ProArts Playhouse, Seabury Hall, Emmanuel Lutheran School and Baldwin High School.
Like mother, like son: At the age of 4, Kiegan made his stage debut as “Toto” in a production of “The Wizard of Oz.” He may not have had any lines to memorize, but Kiegan, now 20, remembers the exhilarating feeling of being in front of an audience. Freshly bitten by the acting bug, he went on to land parts in a number of MAPA productions and school plays and musicals.
In 2016, the Baldwin High School graduate moved to California and acting took a back seat — but it was a short-lived break. While working on the set of a web series in Los Angeles, Kiegan says an old familiar feeling began to creep in. After a few months in L.A., he packed his things, flew back to Maui and quickly made his mark as a versatile performer in ProArts’ productions of “The Elephant Man,” “My Three Angels,” “The Trip to Bountiful” and “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and MAPA Live’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Earlier this year, when MAPA announced “Into the Woods” as its 2018 summer show, Kiegan says a lightbulb went on over his head. At the time, Kirsten was on a 15-year hiatus from acting; Kiegan says he was determined to get his mother back onstage. And it couldn’t have been more serendipitous: In her final stage show 15 years ago, Kirsten played the role of Jack’s Mother in a production of “Into the Woods.” (And it’s actually her third time as an “Into the Woods” cast member; she also graced the stage as Cinderella in an earlier production of the musical.) Kiegan convinced Kirsten to audition, and a few weeks later, she was cast as the Witch — a part she clearly relishes. “I get to sink my teeth into a meaty role,” she said.
The Ottersons have been rehearsing for several weeks now, and Kiegan, who was 5 years old when his mother took a break from acting, says he’s come to see Kirsten in a new light. “I’ve always known her as ‘Mom’ and now I know her as an actress,” he said. “I’ve heard so many stories about her performing and it’s really cool to see her come back.”
Kirsten, too, says she’s had no shortage of proud mom moments over the past few weeks. “I get know Kiegan as Kiegan, not just as my son,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful experience and I hope we have another opportunity to be onstage together.”
That being said, it’s a safe bet that Maui will be seeing more of the Ottersons after “Into the Woods” takes its final curtain call. “This is like coming home again,” Kirsten said. “And it’s good to be home.”
Directed by David Johnston and under the musical direction of Gary Leavitt, MAPA Live’s production of “Into the Woods” runs Aug. 24 through Sept. 2 in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows begin at 3 p.m. Parental guidance is suggested; some material may not be suitable for young children. Tickets are on sale now. To reserve your seat, call 242-SHOW or visit www.mauiarts.org.
* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.