A former SLHS musician showcases talents in famed Windy City area dinner theater Tommy Gun's, drama group
Growing up in Storm Lake, Katie Stark knew she wanted to use her noteworthy talents in the fine arts arena to influence students and help enhance the musical skills of junior and senior high singers.
Those plans have taken a turn over the past year, as it is Stark who is now enhancing her own musical skills by planting her roots in the fertile soil of the Chicago musical performance scene.
Stark, 25, is fast emerging as one of the talented newcomers to hit the stage in the Windy City area, as she is performing at one of the more popular dinner theaters in the city and has netted the lead role in a suburban Chicago production of "A Chorus Line."
The daughter of Jeff Stark of Newell and Pegg Stark of Storm Lake, Katie has moved from the world of teaching junior high students into the world of learning new dancing and singing techniques in a short period of time, and said the last few months in Chicago have been extremely positive for her.
"I really love it here," Stark, a 1996 graduate of Storm Lake High School, said. "Chicago is a natural fit. New York City would have been a little too far away from home, and the theater here is great. It's really a great place to break into the business."
An all-state soprano for the Tornadoes, Stark also ran on the school's track and cross-country squads, and developed her dance skills by taking 12 years of lyrical ballet, jazz and tap lessons at Deborah's School of Dance in Storm Lake and participating on the SLHS Dance Squad.
After graduating from Luther College in Decorah in 2000 with a degree in music and K-12 education, Stark moved to Eau Claire, Wisc., where she taught choir at DeLong Middle School and helped with choreography for high school and middle school show choirs. She was also heavily involved in the local theater scene, as she held parts in five productions of the Chippewa Valley Theater Guild and was the lead dancer and choreographer in the Guild's performance of "The Music Man."
In addition, she toured with the Decatur Park Singers, a variety show troupe that traveled throughout Illinois during the summers, and was the lead singer of KitKat and the Sugar Babies, a blues and jazz band located in Eau Claire.
Her day job at DeLong was not what she had expected, however, as she found out she did not have the desire to teach at the middle school level.
"I realized that teaching wasn't what I want to do right now," Stark said. "I soon found out that teaching wasn't the right fit for me."
The involvement in the community theater increased her enthusiasm for musical performance, though, and Stark decided to travel down to Chicago to make her mark in that field last August. She soon secured a job at Tommy Gun's Garage Dinner Theater, where she now plays Lena, one of the chorus girls in a cabaret show filled with singing, dancing and comedy.
Set in the Roaring '20's, Stark works three shows each week in the dinner theater, and said she enjoys working in an upbeat and energetic environment with others who equally enjoy the performing life.
"It's a lot of fun," Stark said. "I work with a very diverse group of performers. Some are people who have appeared in national commercials and others are part-time moms and part-time performers. They're all very professional though, and I enjoy that. I really appreciate working with professional performers."
As part of her job at Tommy Gun's, Stark tends tables of patrons during the show, and said being able to interact with audience members can make the four hours fly by.
"You get a section of tables and those are your people for the night," Stark said. "You get to take care of your little section, and if you get some great people, then the night goes really fast and is a lot of fun."
The singer's schedule is in stark contrast to her former job at DeLong, however, as the majority of her hours spent in the dinner theater business and waitressing on the side are spent on nights and weekends.
"There are some very odd hours," Stark said. "It's exactly the opposite of the hours I worked when I was teaching."
To perfect her talents, Stark spends her days taking acting classes from the Chicago Actors Center, concentrating mostly on improving her Meisner Technique, which teaches actors how to become so in-tune with the character's feelings so that the actor is not faking emotions when he or she is on stage.
The classes and the new experience on stage have already reaped benefits for Stark, who said she has been able to organize a network of contacts throughout the city in a fairly short period of time.
"It's amazing how small a world Chicago is," Stark said. "Once you get to know certain people it seems like you know everyone else in the field."
Stark will be showcasing her musical and dancing skills in a different setting beginning next month, when she will be performing the lead role of Cassie in the famous musical "A Chorus Line." The play, organized by the Wheaton Drama, Inc., theater group in Wheaton, Ill., will begin May 9 and run Tuesday through Sunday nights for one month, and Stark said she is eager for the chance to perform the part.
"I'm really excited about doing that," Stark said. "I'm having to brush up on some stuff that I haven't used for a while, but I'm really looking forward to being a part of that."
Stark will soon be marrying Jason Crichton, a Chicago-based multimedia designer, this June, and said her new marriage will be one more reason to continue living in the Windy City.
"I'd like to stay in Chicago for a while," Stark said. "Right now I'm at the first step of where I want to be, and someday I can hopefully get into some major productions at some bigger dinner theaters."