Junior Ella Vakiner has been involved in the arts her entire life.
Junior Ella Vakiner has been involved in the arts her entire life.

Behind the Mic

Ella Vakiner ’25 shares her daily life as a student, singer and actor while reflecting on her accomplishments.

For Ella Vakiner ’25, a typical seven-period school day is not the norm. Acting and costume design replace classes like math and government, and rehearsing choreography substitutes memorizing the periodic table. Since dual-enrolling at West and the Iowa Conservatory (ICON), a new performing arts high school in Iowa City, Vakiner has been preparing to take stages across Iowa and the U.S. 

After her debut in “Alice in Wonderland” with Nolte Academy when she was six years old, Vakiner has continued her community theater career and participated in 30 shows. 

“I’ve always been a performer; when I was little, I used to choreograph dances, write plays and sing,” Vakiner said. “I’ve just always had a passion for it. It’s always connected with me; I’ve always enjoyed it.”

Vakiner’s mother, Jamie Beedle-Vakiner, explains that Ella was a dramatic child who loved to perform, so her decision to pursue theater as a career was no surprise. 

“I’ve always expected that theater is what she would do. If she chose something different, I would be surprised,” Beedle-Vakiner said. “I’ve always felt like this was her path and she would go where her passion is.” 

Vakiner joined Theater West her freshman year and has since landed multiple leading roles, such as Tsarina Alexandra in “Anastasia,” Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” and Rose in “Secret Garden.” 

“I started Theatre West my freshman year with ‘Footloose,’ which was the fall show, and immediately, I really loved it,” Vakiner said. “Theater West is a community; we all support each other.”  

Vakiner’s talents don’t stop at acting and singing; she is also involved in several backstage crews at Theater West. 

“It’s fun to not only be actually performing, but I also like the backstage stuff,” Vakiner said. “I love costuming and hair and makeup. [During the] last school musical, I was on Sound Crew, so it was really cool to see the backstage parts of [theater]. I just love all of it.”

In addition to theater, dancing and crew, Vakiner has competed in singing competitions statewide and nationally for four years. 

“I started singing competitively because my coach thought it could help expand my opportunities. It sounded fun to be able to show off my work, and I really enjoy [competitions],” Vakiner said.

While working with vocal coach Mia Gimenez, Vakiner competed in the American Protege Vocal Competition. After winning second place in the Musical Theater category, Vakiner received the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall.

“When I found out [about performing at Carnegie Hall], I was in shock,” Vakiner said. “I wasn’t nervous, weirdly enough. I was just so excited that it took everything else away.” 

Although Vakiner planned to perform in New York Nov. 2021, COVID-19 restrictions pushed the performance to Nov. 2022. 

“It was weird; with most things, you audition and practice. But with Carnegie Hall, we just dropped Ella off,” Beedle-Vakiner said. “There was no practicing, she just walked out on the stage and sang. Even for an adult, that would be intimidating.”

Vakiner performed “The Wizard and I” from the show “Wicked” at Carnegie Hall. Her performance pushed her to continue singing professionally.

“I was so nervous, but before I went on, this fog went over my vision — like a filter. I remember walking on stage and being so happy to be there,” Vakiner said. “I don’t remember what I sounded like or if I said the right words, but I was just so happy to be there.” 

In addition to working with vocal and acting coaches, Vakiner dual-enrolled at West and ICON her junior year. ICON is a performing arts school that offers courses like costume design, dance  and acting classes. 

“I’m excited for ICON and to have it in our community, and the opportunities that it allows other students to have moving forward,” Beedle-Vakiner said. 

Vakiner splits her time between West and ICON, taking five classes at West in the mornings and spending her afternoons at ICON. Vakiner sat down with her counselor to ensure she met graduation requirements while enrolled at both schools.

“I fulfilled a lot of my mandatory classes my freshman and sophomore year. This made it possible for me to take less classes as a junior and senior and participate in ICON,” Vakiner said. 

Established and currently directed by Leslie Nolte, ICON began at Nolte Academy in 2020. It has since expanded to three buildings in downtown Iowa City, including dance and acting studios as well as dorms for out-of-state students. 

“ICON is a really amazing place. I love it so much,” Vakiner said. “I’ve never really liked traditional school, so ICON is a really good place for me.”

Vakiner attends ICON to help her build her dancing and vocal skills and receive more training before she begins auditioning for Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs and professional theater. 

“I don’t really like traditional school, so I thought this would be a really good outlet for me to do something I enjoy while also learning, developing more skills and getting more credits to help my future career,” Vakiner said.

BFA programs are highly competitive, with top universities like New York University, Michigan University and Yale University only accepting a few students into their theater programs each year. Students who apply must go through several rounds of auditions and callbacks and receive an academic acceptance to participate in BFA programs. 

“It’s a really scary process. It takes lots of time to get comfortable and used to people sitting there judging you, even though they want what’s best for you,” Vakiner said.

Beedle-Vakiner believes that theater has shaped her daughter’s life and pushes her to accomplish new things.

“You get a lot of feedback from a young age, lots of redirection and rejection. You learn to take corrective feedback and criticism, and you figure out what to do with it without being defeated,” Vakiner-Beedle said. “Sometimes when you’re a little kid, it feels like rejection, but it helps you grow and become a better performer and human.”

After high school graduation, Vakiner hopes to attend school in the New York area and begin her career in professional theater after college. 

“The dream is, obviously, to get on Broadway,” Vakiner said. “It’d be amazing if I was in an original cast or a workshop of a new musical.” 

For anyone considering a professional career in theater or even just auditioning for a school production, Vakiner urges them to try it out. 

“It’s such a great learning experience; it’s a very vulnerable activity. There’s a place for everyone; you can do hair, costumes or set. I’ve met so many amazing people and tried new things,” Vakiner said. “The arts are important, and you make so many new connections. There’s a place for everyone.” 

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About the Contributors
Grace Bartlett, Reporter
(She/her) Grace Bartlett is a Junior at West High. This is her first year on staff, and she is a reporter. Outside of the newsroom, she enjoys cheerleading, reading, and hanging out with friends!
Maddy Cook, Reporter
(She/her) Maddy is a sophomore and this is her first year on staff as a reporter. She dances at the National Dance Academy and is on the West High Dance Team. In her free time, she likes to read, listen to music and hang out with friends and family.
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