BRATTLEBORO—This month, local actor Kristina Meima returns to the same play on the same stage where she took her first steps as a performer.
Beginning Dec. 4 at New England Youth Theatre (NEYT), the 17-year-old Meima takes the role of governess Fräulein Maria in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound Of Music,” the musical based on the true story of the Trapp Family Singers in World War II-era Austria.
“It’ll be my last show around here,” she says.
In 2015, Meima graduates from Brattleboro Union High School. She has auditions lined up in January and February for her next stop: musical theater conservatory.
Meima played Gretl, the youngest character in “The Sound Of Music,” in 2005. She and her family had just reached Brattleboro from Sweden, and Meima’s mother sought a way for her daughter to connect with her new community.
She also wanted to find an outlet for Kristina’s vim and vigor.
“I was hyper at that age,” Meima says. “I had tons of energy and nowhere to put it.”
The theater was perfect for her, because, as she characterizes her fellow actors: “Everyone was crazy and weird.”
Even though during rehearsals “there was no goofing off,” Meima says that “once the director breaks, we all make faces at our friends."
Although Meima had never taken to the stage before her initial experience at NEYT, she needed little convincing to continue:
“I immediately knew I was going to be an actress. I never really thought about it; I just did it."
“When the play finished, I was devastated,” Meima continues. “I was so sad it was over."
Since then, Meima has honed her skills as a singer, actor, and dancer through intense instruction and multiple performances.
According to Elissa Bhanti, NEYT’s public relations coordinator, Meima has been a devoted NEYT actor over the years, having had many signifigant roles. She also was the lead in the BUHS musical “The Boyfriend” last year.
Meima’s education at BUHS provided the young actor with additional inspiration.
“The acting program at the high school goes to New York City twice a year, and we see three Broadway shows per trip,” she explains. On their most recent trip, the class saw “Sideshow,” “This Is Our Youth,” and “If/Then.”
The latter stars Idina Menzel, Meima’s idol.
Meima says her main inspiration is New England Youth Theatre, especially Stephen Stearns, Keely Eastley, Rebecca Waxman, and Peter Gould, each of whom has directed her.
She also credits singing coaches Kristen Carmichael-Bowers and Alisa Hauser and mentions her teacher, Patty Myers, who leads the BUHS Madrigals a capella singing group.
At Brattleboro School of Dance, Meima says she has enjoyed working with instructors Jennifer Moyse and Jamie Gehring: “They all saw my interest and helped give me opportunities.”
Another opportunity for instruction and mentoring — which led to a significant advancement for Meima — began on Martha’s Vineyard, where Meima participated in an acting workshop with Baayork Lee, one of the original performers from “A Chorus Line,” the Pulitzer Prize–winning musical written by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban.
After that experience, Meima’s mind was set: she wanted to perform in the upcoming Weston Playhouse performance of “A Chorus Line.”
“I emailed Steve Stettler at the Weston Playhouse and asked to be involved in any way, even as the water person,” Meima says.
Stettler, the Playhouse’s producing artistic director, initially said the play had enough female performers and only needed boys but changed his mind, Meima recalls.
Meima says she was in just the opening number: as one of the dancers who gets cut. She also helped with costumes in the after-hours cabaret shows, downstairs in the Weston Playhouse. Unlike the other actors, though, Meima’s reimbursement included no lodging, and the play was soon to begin.
“My parents worked so hard. There were three weeks of daily rehearsals and 28 shows,” she recalls. Meima’s parents drove her back and forth between Weston and Brattleboro — an hour each way — for the duration. “And we got a puppy then. And our cat had kittens.”
Meima seems unfazed by the challenges, focusing instead on what she received from the experience.
“I got points toward my Equity card,” she says, referring to the Actors’ Equity Union, the labor union representing live theatrical performers, which requires a certain number of weeks’ performance at a participating theater.
Meima also learned about the world of professional theater. “I was like the little sister of the cast. They gave me advice on my [upcoming] auditions. The production team and directors treated us all equally: both the leads and the small players. It was a supportive environment,” she says.
It was also fun.
“I was surprised by the professional actors,” Meima recalls. “They’re so goofy. During performances, they’re serious, but even during rehearsals they joke around."
During her participation in “A Chorus Line,” Meima further studied one of her dream roles: Maggie, a dancer who makes the initial cut, first played on Broadway by Kay Cole. “Maggie is similar to me in funny ways,” says Meima. “She’s a soprano, and she’s kind of sensitive.”
Since her first role as Gretl, Meima feels she has often been typecast as “the ingenue, the sensitive girl,” because “I’m a soprano, and I look younger."
Although she says she loves those “nice” roles “where you get to be in love and sing pretty ballads,” she claims as some of her favorite roles the bratty, spoiled Veruca Salt from “Willy Wonka,” and Amber Von Tussle, the snotty teen dance-show queen from John Waters’ “Hairspray.”
“[I like the] kind of mean roles. It’s fun to do, to act outside of your typecast. You can bring out other sides [of your personality] and not be judged,” Meima said. “Plus, you get to sing funny and sassy songs.”