While most local teens will be making a point to enjoy the early days of summer once the school year ends in early June, MHS Freshman Connor Stender will have a much different agenda ahead. Following auditions in February, Stender was informed he had been hand picked from over 300 auditioners, to be an understudy for the 50th annual “Kids From Wisconsin” showcase and tour this summer. The showcase is open to teens and young adults from across the state between 15-20 years of age.
“It only took about three days to hear back from them, so that was a surprise,” the 15-year-old dancer/vocalist explains. “I remember I was in class when I got the email and when class ended, I read it and found out they picked me. I was in shock I think at first, then I was just really excited!” he adds with a smile.
As an understudy, Connor will participate in two separate camps with the showcase. The first will be a two-day mini-camp next month, where he will meet the performers on the tour and have his first exposure to the music the tour will perform this summer. Then for two weeks, June 2-16, Stender will join the performers for two weeks of rehearsal camp in Milwaukee. During the camp, he will learn every detail of the Kids from Wisconsin performance. While the length of each day varies on content and matters to be covered, some days could include as much as 14 hours of instruction.
“I know there will be a lot of work involved but I’m ready, I’ve been hoping for this opportunity for a long time,” Connor said.
In fact, Connor and his parents, Ernie and Tammy Stender of Merrill, had their first interaction with Kids from Wisconsin two years ago when Connor discovered a workshop being conducted in Marshfield.
“It was something he was really interested in,” Ernie explains. “He first saw one of their shows a few years back and has been interested ever since. Connor has been dancing since he was five and we feel his ability is a real talent. He wanted to go to the workshop and see what it was all about and of course we were going to support him every step of the way.”
Despite being the only attendee from outside the Marshfield area, after that first workshop, it could be said the young Mr. Stender was hooked.
“The more I learned about them, the more I wanted to learn,” Connor explains. “If I could have, I would have audtioned right away with them. But the minimum age requirement is 15 years old, so I had to wait. I’ve been waiting two years for this and I’m very excited. It is my hope to become a professional performer some day as a career, and I think working with Kids from Wisconsin is a good start,” Connor adds. The Stenders have since attended four workshops, leading up to the auditions on Feb. 25 in Milwaukee.
Once Connor completes rehearsal camp, he will then be in an “on-call” position of sorts. Whereas, if any of the 22 singers and dancers or the traveling alternates is unable to finish the tour for any reason, Connor could be contacted to step in. In addition, he may have an opportunity to perform with the showcase on their home turf of the Wisconsin State Fair in mid-August.
In fact, as Kids from Wisconsin Executive Director Tina Weiss explains, the Wisconsin State Fair is where the showcase’s roots began back in the summer of 1968.
“Governor Warren Knowles created Kids from Wisconsin as an idea for a youth power project across the entire state. In that time period there was a lot of youth protests related to the Vietnam War and other issues, and youth overall weren’t exactly seen as respectful individuals,” Weiss said. “Governor Knowles wanted to highlight talented, bright and clean cut kids from around the state of Wisconsin. In its early years, Kids from Wisconsin performed strictly at Wisconsin State Fair. But as the years went by, the whole showcase just exploded with popularity. They would eventually open for some pretty big performers such as Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.”
The 50th anniversary tour of Kids from Wisconsin kicks off June 21 and will include 35 performances across the state, including a stop in Antigo on July 17 and a performance at the Wisconsin Valley Fair on July 31. The tour will wrap up on Aug. 18. This year’s theme is “Shine the Light.”