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First Figures winner chases her own fame

5/7/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Probably the farthest things from their minds were where they would be 16 years from now.

It's not such a far-fetched idea they still might be acting. After all, the winner of the first Hays Arts Council Famous Figures competition still is.

"That's why I went into theater," said Stefanie Stevens, who won the inaugural HAC Famous Figures event in 1997 and now is still performing on stage in the Kansas City area.

The 2013 winners of last Friday's competition for fifth-graders in Ellis County performed Monday for the Hays Rotary Club, one of the event's sponsors. It's probably a sure bet they weren't thinking of the year 2029.

But Stevens had fun over the weekend reminiscing about her introduction to acting 16 years ago.

The competition has stiffened over the years for Famous Figures, but the process remains the same.

Just like today in fifth-grade classrooms in elementary schools around the county, Stevens and her classmates at Lincoln Elementary School were given a class project to research a famous figure of their choice and then work on portraying that person in front of an audience.

Stevens, who had visited the Denver house of Molly Brown from the Titanic as a fourth-grader chose as her famous figure the Unsinkable Molly Brown.

"I rehearsed every day," Stevens said, and the extra practice obviously helped.

She was voted the number one contestant that year, and a star was born.

Stevens went on to participate in the musical all four years at Hays High School, as well as the spring play her last two years. She also participated in forensics, drama, the dance team and Chamber Singers, the school's select vocal and dance group, before graduating in 2004.

She then performed in numerous plays and musicals at Fort Hays State University and directed some student film festivals as well.

Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council, well remembers the winner of her first HAC Famous Figures event.

"She's a very talented actress and dancer," said Meder, who actually performed in some plays with Stevens at Fort Hays, then had her teach some summer dance and acting classes for the HAC.

"Full circle," Meder said.

Stevens said the Famous Figures project awoke something deep within her that she didn't know was there.

"It was the process of becoming another person," she said. "To talk like them, walk like them, know how they experienced things. I fell in love with it."

And still is.

Stevens is ready to start rehearsing for her roles in Egads Theatre Co.'s "The Rocky Horror Show" in Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo., this summer and in the Theater in the Park's "Damn Yankees" in Shawnee Mission in July.

Stevens credits her strong foundation in the arts in her hometown for the beginning of a successful career.

"I just realized a year ago that not all schools are as strong in the arts as they are in Hays," she said.

"I grew up in Hays and went through the school system, and there was such support for the arts. I thought that was normal," added Stevens, who teaches physical education and dance for children in the Kansas City area.

"I was really lucky to grow up in Hays," said Stevens, who added that Meder has a lot to do with the interest, and success, of the arts in the Hays area. "She's really a force in the community."