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Life

Q&A with High School Musical's Lucas Grabeel

Springfield's Hollywood star Lucas Grabeel looks back at how his time with Springfield Little Theatre shaped his career and helped him land a lead role in High School Musical.

By Ettie Berneking

Nov 01 2020 at 8 a.m.

A Kickapoo High School graduate, Lucas Grabeel has found success on the big screen with roles in High School Musical, Family Guy and more.
Courtesy Springfield Little TheatreA Kickapoo High School graduate, Lucas Grabeel has found success on the big screen with roles in High School Musical, Family Guy and more.

417 Magazine: How did you get introduced to Springfield Little Theatre?
Lucas Grabeel: When I was in middle school, Beth Domann came to my school to talk about acting for career day. She was so funny and engaging—I was instantly hooked. I immediately signed up for improv and acting classes at the theater and shortly thereafter was selected to be in Y.E.S. Troupe.

417: Had you ever danced before this?
LG: No! I walked into the first day of rehearsals coming straight from football practice, and I still had my pads on. Everyone was doing a big Grease dance medley and seemed to know what they were doing. I was a fish out of water, but I loved every minute of it. It was a big turning point in my life. 

417: What changed for you after that?
LG: Performing at The Landers introduced me to a whole new world of creativity, culture and the discipline of many arts. I was embraced by a family of like-minded people where I felt safe to be myself and learn from others. Mick Denniston and Beth Domann were integral in my personal journey and education, and played a huge role in where I am today. 

417: What role did they play in your life on stage?
LG: The biggest thing is the trust they had in us at such a young age. They said, “You decide how you want to learn and how you want to utilize this space.” As a kid, it’s hard to get respect and trust from adults. We learned patience, collaboration and leadership. 

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Springfield Little Theatre in Springfield MO


417: That must have been exciting but also scary as a kid to have that kind of responsibility.
LG: Yes, it was often scary for sure, like when Y.E.S. Troupe would perform at Cider Days or Artsfest. We made hideous animal balloons, painted faces on screaming or crying children, and then performed improv on a portable truck bed stage to a fleeting audience just strolling by. If that doesn't teach you humor, humility and projection, I don't know what does.

417: What were Beth and Mick like as leaders?
LG: Beth was the fun, kooky leader, and Mick was a little scary and mysterious. I saw some people make him mad by not being professional. That instilled in me a desire to have a strong work ethic. He pulled me aside at the end of doing Oliver! and told me he’d seen a lot of kids come through the theater, and he thought I had it. No one had ever told me that before besides my parents, but you never believe your parents. That was such a needed boost of confidence. As time passed, I got to know his hilarious wit and extremely kind heart. 

417: Do you feel like SLT prepared you for a career as an actor?
LG: I remember as kids, we would scoff at Beth when she would say “Here’s the kicker. This isn’t just about theater—it’s about life.” She was right. In my time at SLT, I learned discipline, dedication and, of course, technique that I’ll use forever on and off the set. I arrive on time, prepared, knowing my lines, ready to put in the long hours, I understand what the other crew member’s jobs entail because I’ve asked and I respect all that goes into making a movie or TV show. And, at the end of the day, I hang up my wardrobe in the trailer because if we didn’t do that at Landers, we wouldn’t have a costume to wear the next performance. People always pull me aside and tell me that I’m one of the very few that does that.

417: You also learned how to produce your own shows, which you did while with Y.E.S. Troupe. 
LG: Troupe used to do this ‘Kraft Show’—it was sponsored by Kraft Foods and was an educational show about nutrition we’d perform for kids. Many shows made for kids about nutrition aren’t the most entertaining or much fun to perform for that matter so, one night, Doug Weidner and I decided to write our own musical and called it The Food Fighters. We took our keyboard to Kraft, and performed the show for them in the conference room, and they gave us $5,000 to transport all of the second-graders in town to the theater for the show. Stuff like that is what makes community theater so great. Where else would you find a space that’s welcoming to that kind of creative initiative? This was the first time many of them had stepped foot into a theatre, and most of them were ecstatic.

417: Was there ever a moment when you felt you had failed on stage?
LG: I’m not sure if this was my fault per say, but one night I had a nosebleed during one of my solos in Starmites. I was literally cupping the blood in one hand as I was trying to sing and keep it off my costume.

417: Most people know you from High School Musical, but your resume actually includes several appearances in popular comedies including several voices on Family Guy. Is comedy a big part of your focus?
LG: I was actually pursuing writing/performing stand-up comedy right before the COVID-19 pandemic. As I was writing and preparing, many memories of bombing onstage with Y.E.S. Troupe in our Cider Days improv shows came flooding back. I think I’m ready for anything. 

417: How do you develop a voice for a character you’re playing?
LG: I’ve always made silly voices and sound effects, but since getting into voiceover work, I’ve learned a lot of ways to sharpen my skills and strengthen my technique. Sometimes, you have a lot of time to develop a character, like when voicing Pinky Malinky on Netflix. We had a lot of time in the studio to shape him and make him lovable and funny, but I also play many other characters on the show as well. Sometimes I’ll be in a session and they will just ask me to try something out for a new character. So, on the spot I’ll just wing it and hope it works out. Being put in those kinds of situations as a child where I was trusted to create and play and do things I was uncomfortable doing prepared me for this. It’s incredible really, and Springfield Little Theatre will always hold a special place in my heart for giving me the space to gain experience and learn.

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