Rising star: Paige Harken ’18

Paige Harken '18 talks about her growing theater career and the opportunities that her experience has recently opened up.

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Pareen Mhatre

"I figured out that [theater] is what I want to do with my life when I went to Cherubs [at Northwestern] because I did theater all day every day for five weeks straight and I did not get sick of it one bit. I loved every second of it, and I was like ‘Wait it’s over? I could still go for more.’ It was incredible and I think that really showed me that yes, this is what I want to do with my life, and this is something that is so important to me that I have to pursue it, otherwise I will be very sad.” -Paige Harken '18

The Little Mermaid. Peter and the Starcatcher. Les Misérables. The Customer is Always Wrong. Fiddler on the Roof. If you saw these productions this past year, chances are you saw Paige Harken ’18 perform.

“My first play was when I was in seventh grade and it was with community theater. I didn’t start school theater until SPIT my freshman year, and I’ve done SPIT all four years,” Harken said.

Despite starting theater in seventh grade, later than some of the other actors in town, she’s been able to participate in theater frequently.

“I just had all of these opportunities since there is so much community theater in Iowa City and Coralville, and it’s awesome. It’s amazing,” said Harken.

This past summer Harken had the opportunity to go to a very selective, five week theater intensive camp at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, called Cherubs. There, she had class from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and rehearsals from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. or later. Harken got to act in one play, an adaptation of “Polaroid Stories,” and learned how to manage lighting for tech for two other shows.

“She was already in a great place going into the camp, but I think she’s definitely improved further since then,” Harken’s brother, Sean Harken ’21, said.

“I did theater all day every day for five weeks straight and I did not get sick of it one bit. I loved every second of it, and I was like ‘Wait, it’s over? I could still go for more,’” said Harken.

In addition to the Cherub program, Harken was cast as the lead role, Molly, in Peter and the Starcatcher through City Circle this summer.

“I’ve never really had a super huge role like that before so it was super exciting, and really fun. That was a huge learning experience too,” said Harken.

Another learning experience Harken has faced is the transition from actor to director. West High’s SPIT club, or Student Produced Innovative Theater, performs one drama and one comedy play each winter. Harken has been a part of SPIT since her freshman year as part of the comedy cast. This year, however, she was chosen to be a director for the drama production.

“At first I was a little surprised because I had acted in the comedy for so many years that I had just kind of assumed that if I was going to be chosen as a director I would be chosen for comedy,” said Harken. “But I actually am totally loving being one of the drama directors. It has been so much fun, and it’s a really cool opportunity.”

Harken will be directing the play “Tracks” by Peter Tarsi alongside fellow senior actor Callie Dains ’18.

“[“Tracks” is] a little edgy and pushes the boundaries a little bit, but I think in a good way. It’s super interesting and has a twist ending, so you’ll have to come to the show to see what that is!” said Harken when asked to elaborate.

Harken was also cast in the upcoming Theatre West fall production “12 Angry Jurors” as Juror 12.

She was sick as a god, could barely sing a note, but she showed up, wanted direction, and stayed forward. I thought, ‘This is a kid I want to work with’ and I haven’t been disappointed since. That was four years ago.”

— Patrick du Laney

Harken’s talent has gotten her far in the theater community, but that’s not all it takes to thrive in the theater world.

Patrick du Laney, Harken’s acting mentor, believes her personality adds a quality that opens up these opportunities and makes her a great actor. “I first got to know Paige when she came to audition for “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” a musical I was directing. She was sick as a god, could barely sing a note, but she showed up, wanted direction, and stayed forward. I thought, ‘This is a kid I want to work with’ and I haven’t been disappointed since. That was four years ago.”

Harken agrees that it’s all about the attitude on and off stage.

“It’s hard because when you think about it it’s like ‘OMG I’m gonna be on stage in front of so many people’ but it’s just a play. It’s just a musical. It’s not the end of the world, and I honestly think that it is something that is so fun for everyone to do or at least try. If you don’t want to be on stage, there’s always tech. There are so many opportunities for tech, and it’s so important because actors would have no show without the tech people there. All aspects of theater are super important, so I think even if you aren’t sure about acting try tech and if you’re like ‘okay, maybe I want to try acting’ then make that step.”

Harken’s work ethic and ability to step into the leadership role also helps her become a better actor on stage.

“Depending on who’s putting on the show and what role you play, you might usually be at rehearsals for roughly 15 or more hours a week. Paige does not struggle with this time commitment. She has an amazing work ethic and will remarkably find a way to balance everything she has going on in her life while doing theater” said Sean Harken ’21.

It’s impossible to succeed without practice or without improvement. Harken has spent years on stage, and her practice is shown through her work.

Her understanding has deepened. Part of that comes with the experience of growing up, of course, but it also comes with the discipline of learned technique”

— Patrick du Laney

“Her understanding has deepened. Part of that comes with the experience of growing up, of course, but it also comes with the discipline of learned technique […] I also watched her gain confidence and poise, and I’ve watched her lead the room as well as follow. I am utterly convinced Paige is going to be a great director at some point,” said du Laney.

Harken’s growing theater career and opportunities this past year is only the beginning. Harken said she is considering many midwest acting schools, including the University of Iowa, Drake University and Depaul University’s Theater School in Chicago.

“I think [Cherubs] really showed me that yes, this is what I want to do with my life, and this is something that is so important to me that I have to pursue it, otherwise I will be very sad.”