Four-year scholarship sets the stage for senior

Hillsboro High School senior Vance Klassen has accepted a four-year scholarship to join the prestigious musical theater program at Oklahoma Christian University this fall in Oklahoma City. “It’s a relief knowing where you’re going for the next four years,” he said, “but there’s definitely some challenging and exciting things coming up, for sure.”After years of developing and sharing his skills in singing, acting and dancing, Hillsboro High School senior Vance Klassen has received a significant opportunity for his immediate future.

Klassen recently signed a four-year “substantive” scholarship to attend Okla­homa Christian Univer­sity in Oklahoma City this fall.

“It’s a relief knowing where you’re going for the next four years,” he said, “but there’s definitely some challenging and exciting things coming up, for sure.”

Klassen said he sensed a pull toward the performing arts even as a youngster.

“I was probably in the fifth grade when I did my first audition for a Tabor musical, ‘Children of Eden,’ and was super thrilled with what Judy Harder did and how she worked with the kids,” Klassen said of the now retired college theater director.

“I had one of the roles in her show, and it kind of opened my eyes to what’s really possible, but it wasn’t necessarily until later in school that I had decided to kind of get serious about what you’re thinking about doing.”

Whether Klassen was singing in the church kids choir or performing on a local stage, he began receiving a lot of affirmation for his efforts.

“People had always told me when I was young, you should try something in music,” he said. “The encouragement of others really helped along the way.”

Help along the way

Klassen is quick to express appreciation for the people who have helped him develop his performing skills, including voice teachers Lynn Just at HHS and Jen Stephenson at Tabor College.

Klassen said he was ready to participate in almost any performance opportunity that came his way during his school years, and particularly in high school.

“Actors are always told to be in everything, even if you don’t like it—so that’s what I did,” Klassen said. “I was in everything. To this day, I think everything has combined to help make me the person I am—with student council and leadership, FFA positions and offices held, in musical and lead roles.

“I think people are tired of hearing my name,” he added with a smile. “But it’s one of those things where I’ve always done everything. The skills that you use from all those activities has kind of helped form your career success later on. I was doing a lot of things on my own.”

Talent tour

One of the memorable things Klassen did on his own—with the encouragement of his mother, Stacy Baker, and father, Kyle Klassen—was a trip to Orlando, Fla., for a talent tryout tour in 2013.

“That was my freshman year, when I was internationally talent scouted by Kim Myers,” Klassen said.

He and several other fellow recruits spent a week auditioning their talents in a variety of settings.

“We had auditions for the major casting companies at Disney and a lot of Broad­way shows,” he said. “They always referred to the ‘buffet of casting agents’ because there’s a little bit of everybody, and a wide variety.

“I ended up getting four callbacks for commercial agencies,” he added. “I got one from Disney just to kind of help everything to go along with that.

“To get callbacks was exciting. They kind of helped me figure out what I should be doing in my career. They always encouraged me to audition, but to wait until I was a little bit older to tap into the talent later.”

Finding a college

With his scholarship to OCU, “later” is becoming “sooner.”

Klassen said he wasn’t familiar with the school until he searched the Internet for a college in the Midwest that offered a musical theater degree program.

“A lot of those colleges are on the east and west coasts,” he discovered. “I wasn’t necessarily looking for something so far away.

“When (OCU) popped up on the top 10 list in the nation in musical theater degree programs—in Oklahoma City of all places—it was described in a couple of articles as being like one of the ‘hidden gems’ of the Midwest.”

He also discovered that OCU’s program had some notable alumni, including Tony Award winner Kristin Chenowith and Broadway singer-actor Kelli O’Hare to name two.

“I took a (campus) visit when I was a junior because I was not going to wait for my senior year to do it,” Klassen said. “When you go there, you just feel immediately in place. You’re always involved and you feel like it’s part of your home.”

Klassen said he was ready to apply, but then he was told how selective the theater program is.

“OCU has about 400 people auditioning on a given year, and that’s spread out over a course of six audition days,” he said.

Due to space and the availability of professors, Klassen was told the school could accept only the number of graduating seniors who would be moving on.

“They were looking for about 20 guys for the musical theater degree program,” Klassen said. “To be selected, it’s a blessing. God opened plenty of doors for me to be able to attend in the degree I wanted. To be one of 20 people in that is something I’m not necessarily grasping yet.”

In the meantime, Klassen will be active in music and drama during his final year at HHS, and he is finding other outlets for learning his craft of choice.

“I did a stage-manager apprenticeship at Music Theater of Wichita this past summer,” he said. “I helped move the set and learned the process of managing an entire cast and crew.

“It was super fun, and actually I’m waiting to hear back about the paid internship that will be this next summer. That will be something to look forward to.”

Klassen said the advice he keeps hearing from those in the entertainment business is to make himself the most diverse performer possible.

“They want actors that can mend their own costumes, so I’m doing costuming along the way,” he said.

Strong support

As he looks toward his future, Klassen also is cognizant of his roots.

“I appreciate the people who have been there for me, and I’m really thankful that God has opened these doors—he’s been able to help me along the way,” Klassen said.

“Ultimately, I would just have to say thank-you to Hillsboro for being an environment that I was able to grew up well in, and be exposed to what life has to offer, and also to venture out and be encouraged to make the bigger moves.”

And his parents?

“My parents are very supportive of my role in the arts,” he said. “I’m sure they’re equally as scared because it’s not the most secure career path.

“They understand, and I think that they share a similar passion to what I have—especially my mom, who really encouraged me to start singing and everything.

“They understand that it means a lot to me, so they’re there 100 percent of the time to make sure that I’m taking lessons or getting any help I need with what I’m doing.”

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