Local girls make waves on the stage

LAKE ARTHUR SUN TIMES / Mike Rizzuto

POSE WITH THEIR LEADING MAN: Katrina Rizzuto, left, and Stephanie LePretre, right, are in costumes as they flank Walt Kiser, center, who played the lead role of “Elwood P. Dowd” in the Lake Charles Artists Civic Theatre and Studio, Inc.’s (ACTS) production of “Harvey” recently. Both girls are from Gueydan and attend McNeese State University.

Local girls make waves on the stage

By Mike Rizzuto

Sun Times Editor

Two local ladies attending their first year of college at McNeese State University in Lake Charles are making major waves this year as budding actresses in the city’s Artists Civic Theatre and Studio, Inc. (ACTS) Community Stage.

Stephanie Noel LePretre and Katrina Florence Marie Rizzuto, both of Gueydan, surprised themselves by first winning key supporting acting roles in the play, “Harvey,” and later attaining rave reviews for their performances from veteran actors appearing in the same presentation.

LePretre is the daughter of Steven and Kathy LePretre of Gueydan. Her maternal grandparents are Harold and Margaret Lachaussee of Mermentau. Her paternal grandparents are Delores and Ernie LePretre, Jr. of Gueydan.

Rizzuto is the daughter of Mike and Sharon Rizzuto of Gueydan. Her maternal grandparents are Doris and Edlore Feverjean of Lake Arthur and her paternal grandparents are Anthony Rizzuto of New Iberia and the late Florence Ellen Arpin Rizzuto of Gueydan.

“This wasn’t something we had planned to do before college,” LePretre stated.

It was something that just happened to us by circumstance.”

LePretre, an English major, and Rizzuto, an English Education major, room together at McNeese. When they found out that one of the requirements of their fall class, Theater 161 (taught by Mr. Charles McNeely) was to observe the ACTS play, “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” they immediately headed out to the ACTS Theatre to fulfill their class obligations.

While attending that production, they both noticed on the bottom of their play program that the roles for another play, “Harvey,” were open for auditions in a few weeks.

“Both of us had theater experience in high school,” said Rizzuto. “Stephanie was in two plays at Notre Dame in Crowley, ‘The Enchantment of Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ while I had the lead role in ‘Eden’s Echo’ my senior year at Lake Arthur High School. We thought it might be cool to try out for ‘Harvey’, but knew it would be a long shot to make the cast.”

The girls were vaguely familiar with “Harvey,” as they had seen the popular 1950 movie starring Jimmy Stewart as the irrepressible “Elwood P. Dowd,” who had a giant, six-foot-plus rabbit as an imaginary friend. They were so taken with the movie that they began seriously thinking about auditioning.

“In high school, I felt I needed to try acting to get over my shyness and gain self-esteem,” LePretre explained. “Thanks to Mr. Steve Fontenot, my Fine Arts Teacher at Notre Dame High School in Crowley, I learned a lot about the theatre and had a positive experience in acting.”

Rizzuto had a similar experience during her senior year at Lake Arthur High School in Lake Arthur.

“I was President of my Speech and Drama Club and learned a lot about acting from my Drama Teacher, Mrs. Laurie Duhon,” Rizzuto states. “She put together our school play for “A Block Off Broadway” Acting Competition for Jeff Davis Parish in Jennings. With her guidance, I was selected “Best Actress” in Jeff Davis Parish, and our Drama Club took home First Place Play Honors in Jeff Davis for 2007.”

So with that limited experience, the two McNeese freshmen decided they would attend tryouts. Less than a week later, LePretre received a call from the play’s producer, who told her that she had won the part of “Myrtle Mae.”

At about that same time, Rizzuto, who was working across town, received her good news from the producer, who told her she had been tabbed to play “Nurse Kelly” in the production.

Both girls were afraid that maybe the other had not been picked, and each kept a low profile when they were back at the dorms that night.

“We were astonished to find out that we were both picked!” exclaimed LePretre. “We felt happy, too. I mean, what were the odds that two amateurs from Gueydan would have beaten so many other ‘big-city’ girls with far more acting experience?”

Both girls gained valuable experience from the show’s star, Walt Kiser (Elwood), who had 35 years of acting experience and had performed all over the world. He helped refine their skills, teaching them the “little things” that are so essential and important in a major stage production.

After weeks of rehearsing, both girls were ready for their first “opening night.” Although a bit apprehensive, they waltzed through their first performance without a hitch, earning praise from the veterans, especially Kiser.

“I had absolutely no idea these kids would be that good,” Kiser told this reporter after the first program. “They didn’t flub one line, really connected with the other actors and the audience, and demonstrated great timing. I’m still shocked by their performances, and each will only get better with time.”

The two girls performed “Harvey” four more times, each time getting tighter with the rest of the cast.

“At times on stage, we had to bite our lips to keep from laughing out loud,” LePretre said. “I mean, it was even more fun as we got used to one another.”

Rizzuto agreed, as she had several exchanges with Kiser in the play.

“He’s so good that it’s amazing,” Rizzuto says. “We were having so much fun on stage that we couldn’t look in each other’s eyes for fear of ‘cracking up’. It was a real honor working with Mr. Kiser.”

Both girls are planning to try out for the next ACTS play, “Annie, the Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow,” a musical about the fictional “Little Orphan Annie.” Both will have to sing in that one, something neither has done, at least on stage.

“It’s just another challenge that we are looking forward to trying,” LePretre states. “We’re just going to do our best and have fun.”

Rizzuto agrees, and has this advice for incoming college freshmen.

“I know that acting is not for everyone, but if individuals would try the theater once, they could gain a lot of pleasure from it. The whole experience is just so positive,” she concluded.

It has been for this dynamic duo, anyway. For who would have ever thought two teenage girls from the little town of Gueydan would have the potential to “break a leg” their very first time at bat in the “big leagues?”

They certainly didn’t. And bigger and better parts on the big stage may be beckoning in the future!

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