Jennifer Walder: She’s living out a childhood dream on stage
Portrait 2011 — Volume 3: Up-and-Comers
When Jennifer Walder grew up, she knew she wanted to be a pilot, a princess or, maybe, European.
It didn’t matter that she lived in Longmont. Walder knew she could be everything she ever wanted. All she had to do was act.
Walder, 21, is fulfilling her childhood dream. Her blue eyes dance when she talks about taking that final bow after a show.
“You feel like you are alive,” Walder said.
From her first role as Ruth in “Pirates of Penzance” as a 12-year-old at Jesters Dinner Theatre in Longmont to her latest role as Laurey Williams in Mesa State College’s musical “Oklahoma!,” Walder’s love of performance has only grown stronger.
On target to graduate in Spring 2012, Walder, a musical theater major, plans to move to New York City after school. Once there, she will audition for “anything,” she said.
One person close to Walder believes the leading lady has what it takes to be successful.
“She has the talent and the work ethic to make a career of this,” said Jeremy Franklin, lecturer of musical theater at Mesa State and, most recently, Walder’s director in “Oklahoma!”
“A lot of people don’t have both.”
It is difficult, however, to get Walder to admit she has talent.
Coached from a young age to be humble, Walder believes strongly that she is not entitled to anything, although she has proven her ability on the college stage.
When Walder lands the role she wants, she won’t show excitement. The way she sees it, if she is happy, another young lady is disappointed.
“She is miraculously un-diva-like,” Franklin said.
The older Walder has gotten, the more she has learned how to research characters and dive into not only the words a character says or sings, but how a character would look doing them. Walder admittedly did not do as much character development when she was younger, but her desire to make acting a career has forced her into being more professional.
Walder called her most recent role as Laurey in “Oklahoma!” as her “transition into a professional performance” where she learned more about who Laurey Williams was as an independent, 1900s farm girl in Oklahoma.
In all, Walder has appeared in nearly half a dozen main stage shows since enrolling at Mesa State three years ago.
She’ll remember her freshman year as the one where she auditioned four times the first semester and didn’t get into any shows before landing the role of Papagena in “The Magic Flute” second semester.
Walder will remember her sophomore year for being Janet in “The Rocky Horror Show” and Ulla in “The Producers.”
She’ll remember her junior year for changing her life.
In addition to landing the role in “Oklahoma!,” Walder also starred as Alice in the fall 2010 show “Alice in Wonderland,” which marked Walder’s introduction into the power theater can have on others.
After one of her performances, she received a letter written in crayon from a 4-year-old named Ethan. The letter read:
I really liked watching you tonight. I love you so much.
Ethan even included $2 so Walder could send him back a photograph of Alice. Walder remembered having the same life-altering feeling years ago when she first saw “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.
The feeling she got from being Alice left such an impression that, if New York doesn’t work out, Walder could see herself becoming a Disney princess “to have those little kids come up and hug you for the costume. You are wearing the character.”
With long blond hair and striking blue eyes, Walder could be Cinderella.
Like Franklin, Peter Ivanov, a theater professor at Mesa State, does not question Walder’s on-stage potential. Blessed with the singing talent to succeed and a mature look to grace a stage, Walder has the tools to act anywhere, he said.
When Walder came three years ago to tour Mesa State’s campus as a shy and quiet senior from Silver Creek High School, Franklin and Ivanov were convinced she would be a welcome addition to the college’s theater department. Nothing has changed their minds.
“She can do whatever she wants,” Ivanov said.
“She’s got it.”