West Linn's Annie Kaiser directs new Broadway Rose show in Tigard

BARBARA SHERMAN - Director Annie Kaiser (right) shares a laugh with actress Audrey Voon as they work on staging a scene for 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at the Broadway Rose Theatre Company in Tigard.Annie Kaiser couldn’t settle on one career when she grew up, so she now works as a singer, actress, director, performing arts center coordinator, and high school teacher and advisor.

Her life in the Metro area is a far cry from her “Little House on the Prairie” childhood, growing up on an 800-acre sheep and timber ranch in Pedee, near Monmouth. Kaiser appeared in plays at both LaCreole Junior High and Dallas High School, remembering that “I was horrible in my first high school play, ‘The Curious Savage,’” but she redeemed herself playing Marty in “Grease” her junior year.

Kaiser took five years to graduate from high school because she spent one year in Chile as a foreign exchange student, calling the experience life-changing. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that year,” said Kaiser, who then went to the University of Washington in Seattle, planning to become a high school English teacher.

But a girl in the neighboring dorm room invited her to go along to an open audition, and Kaiser got called back multiple shows. During her first three summers in college she appeared in musicals at Western Oregon University.

Also, during her last three years in college, Kaiser participated with other college students from Oregon and Washington in productions at the Newport Theatre Festival. She graduated with bachelor of art degrees in drama and English but admitted, “I didn’t have a plan.”

Kaiser quit performing — except for a short stint singing backup in a rock band — and got a job as the audience services manager at Seattle Repertory Theatre, where she stayed for five years, interacting with all the departments and gaining valuable experience.

Moving back to Oregon, Kaiser performed in several shows at Pentacle Theatre in Salem while earning a master of arts degree in teaching at Oregon State University, with endorsements in English and drama for the elementary and middle school levels.

Her first teaching job was at her own junior high, where she worked with some of her former teachers. And Kaiser continued working at Pentacle Theatre until, in 2001, she auditioned for the Broadway Rose Theatre Company in Tigard and was cast in “Phantom” and “The Taffetas.”

“It was inspiring to work there and made me want to do more,” said Kaiser, who taught one more year at LaCreole and then resigned and moved to Portland. Kaiser worked on the Portland Spirit for a little over three years while substitute-teaching in eight school districts, and she ended up subbing a lot in her favorite, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

She was offered a job teaching freshman and sophomore English at West Linn High School for the 2004-05 school year, noting, “It was incredibly rewarding but also one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done.” At the end of her first year, she switched to teaching English and helping run the drama program, which she did for eight years.

After the Performing Arts Center, which seats almost 600 people and hosts a wide variety of performances, was built, Kaiser was asked to run it, noting, “They eased me out of teaching English to run the facility full-time.” A few years ago she went back into the classroom to teach speech and creative writing, as well.

“I direct a play every couple of years, and I am the co-director of our Thespian troupe. They (WHS students) compete in regional and state competitions and have been very successful,” Kaiser said.

In 2014, she took over the WHS Leadership program and became an ASB advisor, and if all that sounds like Kaiser is a busy person, she is, remembering once working 42 days in a row without a break.

“I guess I’m a workaholic,” she said. “My responsibilities at West Linn are many and varied, but my administrators have given me their total support to continue doing outside acting and directing.”

In addition to award-winning performances and directing several Broadway Rose shows, Kaiser has appeared in productions for Lakewood Theatre, Oregon Children’s Theatre and Magdelyn Theatre Company. Also at Broadway Rose, Kaiser has directed many of the children’s productions during the past six summers and coordinated the Triple Threat Teen Workshop series.

As if all that weren’t enough, Kaiser wrote the dialogue plus the music and lyrics for five songs for a 45-minute-long Broadway Rose children’s production of “Peter Pan in Neverland,” lamenting, “I wish I hadn’t quit taking piano lessons when my teacher wanted me to start studying theory.”

She shared a few secrets about how she did the show, including starting the story on the island so no flying was necessary and using Sibelius music-notation software.

“It was really daunting but also really fun,” Kaiser said. “I am so grateful to Broadway Rose for the opportunity and for trusting me to put together the script and show. The experience reinforced for me that we really are capable of doing almost anything.

“Sitting in the audience, seeing it for the first time was amazing. It was maybe the highlight of my career because it brought together everything I’ve done in my life.”

(According to Broadway Rose marketing director Alan Anderson, “Peter Pan in Neverland” sold the most tickets of any of its children’s productions.)

“Every good thing that has happened to me is due to the Broadway Rose, and now I get to open their 25th season,” said Kaiser.

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