“I love performing for my home community,” Gruman said. “The community gets to see all of the talent from the Kids from Wisconsin.”
Kids from Wisconsin features 33 singers and dancers, ages 15 to 20, as well as 13 instrumentalists from throughout the state.
“We perform Broadway hits. We perform Americana. We perform songs from Elvis and the Eagles,” said Tina Weiss, Kids from Wisconsin executive director. “We perform MTV hits from the 1980s. There’s something for everybody to enjoy.”
Gruman has been involved with the Kids from Wisconsin for four years. She attended the group’s camp her first year and has been a principal performer the past three years.
“It’s really neat. We come together as a large family to put on a great show and inspire audiences across Wisconsin,” she said. “It’s a very professional organization. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I like about being a performer.”
Gruman receives $80 per week for performing with the Kids From Wisconsin, but the real reward is the experience, she said.
Gruman has performed in high school musicals and community theater and is currently studying music education at Viterbo University in La Crosse.
Since Gruman is 20 years old, this will be the final summer she will be able to perform with the Kids From Wisconsin. She plans to use what she has learned to become a professional performer.
“If not, I want to be a teacher,” Gruman said. “I want to help people get inspired to perform as well.”
Waiting in the wings
Two other local youth are involved with Kids From Wisconsin this summer. Nathan Huberty and Zoe Gatz, both 16, of Elkhorn, were chosen as camp alternates. The alternates serve as stand-ins in case a member of the traveling group is unable to perform. They attend camp just like the regular performers.
“They learn how to perform a full-scale production,” Weiss said. “They have to learn everything that the traveling performers know. If something happens to the performers, they are put in to take their place. They’re understudies.”
Attending camp and working with the performers is an honor and a learning experience, Huberty said.
“I usually don’t do a lot vocally. I’ve learned about warming up my voice and pushing my range,” Huberty said. “I’ve learned a lot of different styles of dance.”
Being selected as an alternate has given Gatz a taste of the work that goes into being a performer.
“There’s so much you have to learn. The one thing I’m learning is focus. You have to pay attention to not only the dances and the parts, but you have to know what’s going on with all the moves,” Gatz said. “You got to learn as much about what the principal performers do as possible.”
Huberty and Gatz hope to become principal performers for the group next year.
“I think that would be a cool experience,” Huberty said. “I want to do this professionally, and I think it would be cool to see what it would be like to be in a traveling group.”
“I’m going to audition again next year,” Gatz said. “I want to be involved no matter what.”
Huberty has studied ballet for about 10 years. He also has performed in high school musicals and with the Lakeland Players.
Huberty’s mother, Colleen, owns Toe to Toe Ballet School in Elkhorn, where Huberty and Gatz study dance.
Gatz has been performing since she was 2 years old, including community theater and high school musicals.
“I remember when I was 6 years old going to see the shows at Elkhorn Area High School and thinking, ‘That looks cool. I want to do that,’” Gatz said. “I decided I want to go onstage and make people happy.”
Her goal is to become a professional performer.
“I would love to perform professionally,” she said. “If I could do this the rest of my life, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Colleen Huberty is excited to have two students associated with Kids from Wisconsin.
“It’s an honor to have two students selected as camp alternates,” Colleen Huberty said. “It’s such a wonderful organization. ... They have showcased some premier talent in this area.”
Colleen Huberty said she hopes to obtain sponsors to bring the group to Elkhorn next year. Anyone interested in sponsoring a potential Kids From Wisconsin performance in Elkhorn can contact her at 262-723-1700.
“I think it would be neat to have the Kids From Wisconsin come to Elkhorn and do an outreach session and a show at the high school,” she said.
Huberty and Gatz will get a chance to work with the Kids from Wisconsin cast and with local children during an outreach session before the July 8 show in Burlington.
During the Realize Your Dream session, Kids From Wisconsin members work with local children ages 7 to 13 to help them learn dance techniques and what goes into putting on a performance.
“(The outreach sessions) usually are in places that are in need of instruction for the performing arts. We also do outreach programs for organizations like the Boys and Girls clubs,” Weiss said. “(The children) learn how to perform songs and dances. Not only do they learn a portion of the show, but they also learn how a microphone works and about sound and lighting. We give them a taste of the show ... “
Worth the work
Being a member of Kids From Wisconsin can be an honor, but it also can be a lot of hard work. Prospective members need letters of recommendation to even audition in February.
Those who are selected attend a camp for about 2 1/2 weeks, where they learn the performance for the summer. The group then travels throughout Wisconsin and surrounding states, giving about 60 performances at fairs, community events and fundraisers.
‘They perform every day from June 22 to Aug. 20 and twice daily during the Wisconsin State Fair,” Weiss said. “It’s a unique experience. We’re one of the few traveling performing arts organizations in Wisconsin.”
Performances usually are scheduled a year in advance.
“We are booked for the entire season by Jan. 1,” Weiss said. “We are booking shows now for next summer.”
The grueling schedule gives members a glimpse of what it’s like to be a professional performer.
“It’s a rigorous process,” Weiss said. “They need that experience if they want to decide if this is what they want to do.
“They’re already talented, but this gives them the opportunity to perform every night onstage and perform at a professional level.”
Many people who have been involved with Kids From Wisconsin have gone on to perform professionally, she said.
“We have one alumni who’s performed with Harry Connick Jr. We’ve had an alumni who’s performed with the Philadelphia orchestra. We’ve had some that have performed with The Rockettes,” Weiss said. “A lot of alumni have performed on Broadway. We have had alumni become newscasters, comedians, all sorts of things.
“It’s a stepping-stone to a professional performing career.”