In Natalie Tran’s world, being on stage is as routine as a day at school. At 5-years-old, Tran was cast, along with her sister, in her first role – one of the royal children in a performance of The King and I at Bloomington Civic Theatre.
“She did the entire run, and after the run was over she was very upset,” recalls her mother Michelle Kmiecik-Tran. “She kept asking me to go on the internet and look for a role for a little girl.”
Now at the age of 12, Tran remains a working actor. While she’s just getting started, Tran has enough roles to fill an entire resume page. Suffice to say, Tran doesn’t take the work for granted, putting in the time to live her dream. “If there’s a play I want to audition for, I first look it up on the internet and find out as much as possible,” Tran says of her preparation process for roles. “I try to find the script and if it’s a musical I try to learn the music.”
Her hard work has paid off. She’s played prominent roles in Children’s Theatre Company productions of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the lead in Dr. Seuss’s The Sneeches. This season, Tran is taking the stage in two different roles, albeit one in the same production.
Earlier this fall, Tran played Tracy, a hockey-playing sister in Children Theatre Company’s original Minnesota hockey musical The Abominables. Tran described the role as a great opportunity to try something new.
“It’s really fun to be in the world premiere because you’re the first person originating the role,” Tran says of the performance. Tran rollerbladed to recreate ice skating on stage.
The physicality that roles have to offer is one of Tran’s favorite parts of the job. As Max, the dog companion opposite the titular role in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Tran looked forward to the chance to play a talking animal for the first time. “It’s a very physical role and I don’t think it has been played by a 12-year-old girl before,” Tran says.
The show’s two-month run began this month; Tran can be seen in the role until January. By opening night, she’ll have gone through months of preparation and long hours in technical rehearsals. Even after all the work she’s put in the role, she’s cognizant of the fleeting nature of live theater.
“For a lot of people it’s their first or only time seeing the show, so you have to give your best performance,” says Tran.
One of her favorite parts of the job, Tran says, is “telling the story and seeing the audience react to it.”
“It’s so satisfying when people laugh. I draw a lot of energy from that,” says Tran. She’s also made great friends with fellow cast members and she’s a hit with directors.
“Natalie has wonderful comedic instincts, but real emotional aspects,” Children’s Theatre Company’s artistic director Peter Brosius shares. “Fear, loss, embarrassment, she can take herself there, and I’ve worked with her for years so watching her grow is very moving.”
Brosius has directed Tran in almost all of her roles to date, including a previous production of Grinch. Recalling her role as Cindy Lou Who, Brosius commends Tran’s ability to play major roles. “We show this man that’s isolated and alone and she has to be that force to change a heart,” says Brosius.
Tran has tackled both dramatic and comedic roles, but prefers comedy, which she personally enjoys watching. “It’s more fun and I get to hear audiences react.” The show she’s enjoyed being in the audience of the most recently? Matilda.
For an actor not even in high school, juggling everything between school and the theater remains a logistic struggle, but Tran keeps a normal schedule when she’s not on stage, attending public school and maintaining good grades. “Luckily all of my teachers are really supportive,” Tran adds.
While it’s a little premature to ask her about career aspirations, Tran seems to understand what’s needed to acheive success like she understands a role. Tran’s mother recalls her daughter’s appetite for acting work, “She did show after show and we got her an agent. As long as it’s a positive thing and she keeps growing, I’m happy,” Kmiecik-Tran says.
These positive things have taken the form of stage work, commercials and even a couple of roles in local films. Still, Tran’s favorite place to act will always be the stage.
“I’m perfectly happy being on stage in the Twin Cities, but I would love to be on Broadway,” Tran says of the future.
Natalie’s advice for aspiring young actors
Take a class.
Natalie recommends dancing, singing and improv. “In improv, you work as a team. Everyone will learn from everyone else.” Improv also teaches you to think on the spot, an important skill for actors at any age.
Learn an instrument.
“It’s really helpful to learn an instrument because you can learn how to read sheet music.” For roles in musicals, actors have to read sheet music like they do lines.
Find opportunities to shine.
To dip your toes into acting, Tran suggests trying out for the school musical and talent show. Or, like Tran, look for a local production that’s casting kids’ roles.
Go for it!
Tran says being a part of a production a lot of fun, and that it’s always good to learn to be in front of other people, regardless of what you’re career will be.