For Susanna Giancristofaro, the stage feels like a second home.
With a mother who is an actress, the Torino, Italy, native often found herself around studio sets.
As an exchange student at Seymour High School this semester, the 16-year-old hasn’t strayed away from her roots.
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Besides taking a theater class at school, she recently auditioned for the Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre production of “I Believe in Make Believe” and landed two roles.
The audition process was new territory, but she said she’s glad she chose to go for it.
“I was pretty nervous because I had never done it, so I had no idea how to do it, how it worked,” she said. “But I felt pretty good, actually, because I had my monologue memorized, and I was really prepared for it.”
Three days later, she was excited to learn she landed parts as the shoemaker’s wife in “The Elves and the Shoemaker” portion of the musical and the mother in “Simon Simpleton.”
“They said I got the parts, and I was really happy,” she said.
The musical will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday and again at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and 15, all at Royal-Off-the-Square Theatre in Brownstown.
Twenty-eight boys and girls ages 7 to 18 make up the cast, and three serve as the backstage crew and chorus members.
The 70-minute show is a musical version of five fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm — “The Princess Who Wouldn’t Laugh,” “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” “The Seven Soldiers,” “The Bremen Town Musicians” and “Simon Simpleton.”
In her home country, Giancristofaro said she has been a part of four onstage productions.
“My mom introduced me to this world when I was little, so I always liked it, and I would really like to do it as a career in the future,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to be an actress when I was like 12 or 13, so it’s something I’ve always liked. I don’t see me doing anything that is not this.”
At school in Italy, she doesn’t have the opportunity to participate in a drama or theater class. The only options are paying to be part of an after-school theater club or participating in community theater.
When she arrived in the United States for the first time, her host sisters of the Armes family in Seymour found out she was interested in theater and acting and told her about the local production.
She said she chose to go to the audition because she “didn’t have anything to lose.”
“Acting in English, I had never done it before, so it was a completely new experience, but I really liked it,” Giancristofaro said.
She had studied English from a young age and had visited England several times, but she encountered a different accent here.
“When I got here, I remember the first day, I couldn’t understand anything because people talk so fast, and the accent is completely different,” she said.
Giancristofaro found herself asking her host family and others to repeat things, but she was able to adjust to it.
“I’ve been here for almost two months now, and you get used to it,” she said. “You get used to everything because you start getting into the routine, you start having friends, and you start going to school.”
John Rohlfing, who is directing “I Believe in Make Believe” with his wife, Julie, said it has been interesting to see Giancristofaro go through the audition process and then rehearsals.
“It has been neat how she has just become a part of it. She has jumped right in and been a part of the whole group,” he said.
“She does add an accent that we didn’t have otherwise,” he said. “What’s interesting is I’ve had other kids who, as they read through their parts, especially ones who have multiple roles, have chosen a dialect or an accent to throw into their role that I didn’t ask for but they just put in there, and I was like, ‘Gee, that’s actually pretty good, and you’re doing a good job with it, so keep it.'”
As opening day of the show approaches, Giancristofaro said she has a few nerves.
“I’m scared that I will mess up the language and the pronunciation of something, so I’m pretty nervous about it,” she said.
But the group has had several rehearsals, and she said her castmates have helped her along the way.
“Everyone tries to make you feel like you are at home, so it’s really nice,” she said.
“I Believe in Make Believe” likely will be the only musical Giancristofaro gets to participate in during her time in America because she is only here for one semester.
“They have a Christmas play I thought about doing, but it takes a lot of time, and I also want to spend time with my friends and do other stuff if I get the chance,” she said.
At Seymour High School, she is taking a theater class. But that is more about analyzing scripts than being onstage.
This fall, she also ran cross-country and participated in about five meets. That was something new for her because Italy doesn’t have organized sports in schools. Those are only available as after-school clubs.
“It was really tough,” she said, smiling. “I had never done it before. For the races, we had to run for 3 miles. I thought I could have never done it, and actually, I did.”
What: “I Believe in Make Believe,” the Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre’s fall musical
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and 15
Where: Royal-Off-the-Square Theatre, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown
Cast: Bridget Bingham, Liza Stuckwisch, Katie Rohlfing, Paige McCammon, Claire Schepman, Therese Hauersperger, John Conner Ortman, Susanna Giancristofaro, Alana Jacobi, Erin Nelson, Clare Hauersperger, Ethan Ortman, Hannah McGill, Charisma Barnard, Addison Bumbleburg, Evan Rohlfing, Kalyn Ritz, Marco Valdivia, Ava Gerth, Ava Sunderman, Carmen Herzner, Dezi Klakamp, Kiandra Glaze, Krenzley Zumhingst, Max Maschino, Tyce Hardwick, Hannah Kerkhof, Stephanie Sunderman and Gillian Bumbleburg
Backstage crew and chorus members: Hannah Hackman, Lily Abdulbari and Lucy Horton
Directors: John Rohlfing and Julie Rohlfing
Assistant director: Kody Riddle
Tickets: $8; available online at jcct.org or calling 812-358-5228 and seats will be reserved for pickup at the door on show nights.
The Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre has presented several productions since its inception in 2015.
It is supported by a grant from the Seymour Kappa Kappa Kappa chapter.
The recent summer production, “A Walk in the Woods,” was presented after the free youth workshop. The summer workshop was supported by a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission called Arts in the Park, in partnership with Starve Hollow State Recreation Area.
Anyone interested in next summer’s workshop or future productions may contact Jackson County Community Theatre through jcct.org or by calling 812-358-5228.