Profile: Pioneer’s Annie Chen Finds A “Big, Crazy Family” In Theatre

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Annie Chen is moving to the head of the class. The Pioneer sophomore is playing Miss Sherman, the English/ homeroom teacher who loves her students but can sometimes cross the line when pushing them to be their best, in the Pioneer Theatre Guild’s presentation of FAME, The Musical (April 27-May 5).

One of the things Miss Sherman does on the wrong side of the line is hitting one her students. That is a scene Chen admits she’s having a challenging time with as they continue to rehearse

“For me, the scene where I slap Tyrone, a dancer who has been struggling in my class, is a challenge for me,” she says. “It’s such an emotional scene, and it’s tough to tap into all the feelings I have to show, especially the humiliation and shame I feel after the slap, as all my other students are looking at me in shock. “

Chen is confident however that she will be ready when the curtain goes up April 27. She’s also confident that this “terrific” cast will be ready to deliver the type of show PTG has been known for over the years.

“Rehearsals have been pretty great,” says Chen. “I’m new to the cast, but I think all the rehearsals have been pretty productive. There’s nothing cooler than watching a show get put together, and hanging out with other cast members is pretty sweet.”

Chen admits she’s biased but she can’t say enough good things about the actors and actresses picked to play in such a demanding show.

“They did a really good job casting this show,” she says. “The best casts are ones where roles are a great mix of relatability and challenge for the actors and actresses, and I think they hit the mark for this show. On top of that, not only are those playing named characters incredibly talented, the ensemble is filled with incredible actors, singers, and dancers, who really give the performance that extra dimension and life.”

Then there is the crew. Before FAME, Chen was on sound and props crew, so she has seen the show from both sides of the curtain.

“And though the cast members generally get the spotlight, without crew, there would be no spotlight,” she says. “Or any lights, or sound, or sets, or anything really. Without crew, the show would be a bunch of frantically moving silhouettes in the dark on an empty stage. So, obviously crew is an integral part of the performance.”

Chen also is familiar with FAME. She was in a production of the play when she was in middle school. She also was in Beauty and the Beast with YPT.

“I’ve done crew for all PTG shows up to this point, which would be “High School Musical,” “Future Stars 2018,” “The Crucible,” “In the Heights,” “Stud Pros 2018 (she also acted in that one),” “Willy Wonka,” “Future Stars 2019,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Chen loves the “storytelling, collaboration, hard work and amazing payoff, seeing the audience go ‘oh my God this is incredible,’ the people and the creativity of theatre.”

“I can’t really pick one thing and to be honest, there really aren’t any things I don’t like about theatre,” she says. “Even the five-hour long rehearsals, sweaty actors, and culty practices (don’t ask, I’ll never tell) make theatre such a unique experience that I wouldn’t change for the world.”

Last year, Chen’s birthday happened to fall on a show date for “In the Heights.”

“I remember showing up and unlocking the sound booth, as I was running the board for that show, and my fellow sound member Berkely hands me a card and a bag of Sour Patch Kids (which he had probably figured out I liked by the ridiculous amounts I had stolen from him),” Chen says. “Then my fellow propian Bella gave me some more candy, and a fantastic glittery sticker to go on my nose. Other props members ambushed me with hugs, and my birthday twin on paint and I exchanged gifts. I think that moment really made me realize that I had found a big, crazy family in theatre, and I felt the most appreciated I think I ever have.”

Annie, the daughter of Wenwei (or Wendy) and Xuequn (or George), has a 3.8 GPA and also is in symphony orchestra.

“At the moment, I have big fantastical dreams of going to film school to become a director, convert a school bus, move to LA, adopt a pit-bull, and make it big in Hollywood,” Chen says. “Not necessarily in that order.”

Sounds like she has the present – and future – all figured out.

By Terry Jacoby