November 13, 2014
By Ashli Gerdes
Three College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University graduates recently moved east together in hopes of finding success in the arts.
Katie Kenfield, Michael Rogers and Alex Engelsgjerd are all class of 2014 graduates who decided to follow their dreams and move to New Jersey together.
"It was such a comfort to know people who were going through the exact same thing," said Engelsgjerd, a theater major from Sartell, Minnesota.
Each graduate had a different reason for leaving home and making the trip east, but all three have three common connections — their Benedictine roots, theater and Kathy Hendrickson.
The students became friends their senior year while working on a CSB/SJU theater department production of "Clever Maids," directed by Hendrickson. "Katie was the stage manager," said Rogers, a communication major from Mankato, Minnesota. "Alex and I were actors in it."
Hendrickson is a 1987 CSB graduate who as CSB/SJU Theater Department guest artist last spring taught a couple of classes and directed the show.
Hendrickson, with the support of her husband Tad, a 1989 SJU alumnus, founded the Jersey City Children's Theater (JCCT) in New Jersey in March 2011. They were looking to hire interns and young professionals, and she invited the three friends to come to New Jersey.
"I took the job first," said Kenfield, a theater major from Edina, Minnesota. She said she was hoping the other two would follow.
Rogers and Engelsgjerd quickly jumped on board. "We graduated on May 19 and we flew out here the next morning," Engelsgjerd said.
Rogers, Engelsgjerd and Kenfield teach after-school theater classes at JCCT to kids ages 3-9. Kenfield also serves as the managing director of the company alongside Hendrickson.
They are halfway through rehearsals for a show that opens on Tuesday, Dec. 6, called "The Brave Little Tailor and Other Magical Myths." Rogers and Engelsgjerd were cast in the show while Kenfield has taken on the role of stage manager.
"Aside from JCCT, all three of us have been working to develop our careers directly in New York as well," Kenfield said.
Engelsgjerd has pursued acting training, Rogers has taken sketch writing classes and Kenfield has done freelance stage management work in New York City.
The three were inspired by Hendrickson's achievements in the arts and her personal connections to the industry. She was the assistant director of the Tony award-winning Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman" in 2012, one of her many accomplishments.
"Michael and I have had a lot of chats where we've said, 'We wouldn't have been able to make this move without each other,' " Engelsgjerd said. "Initially it was really hard and really scary coming to this giant city."
The three found comfort in knowing they had shared values and a support system.
"When we talk about CSB and SJU, we start to get on the topic of values and the moral compass of the campus," Kenfield said.
Kenfield said the Hendricksons' practice the Benedictine values on a daily basis. "Kathy has done everything from picking us up at the airport, to feeding us and giving us jobs. She has helped us pursue our dreams. She and her husband have been as hospitable and giving as anyone could be for a trio of college grads trying to make it in this business."
The former classmates have big dreams. Kenfield hopes to land a job as a stage manager on Broadway. Rogers is pursuing his goal of becoming a professional comedy sketch writer, and Engelsgjerd is chasing his dream of professional acting.
"What's fun is that we've gotten to share the first few steps in making our dreams come true together," Kenfield said. "Whether our paths turn out like we want them to or not, we had the opportunity to start in a school setting, take a risk and come out here together to become professionals, whatever that may look like."