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Gracie Keener is 'coping' with ending her time with Caryl Crane Youth Theatre

Cary Ashby • Apr 24, 2018 at 4:00 AM

Gracie Keener is about to make her curtain call in her last season with the Caryl Crane Youth Theatre. 

“It’s really rough,” said the 18-year-old Wakeman girl, who plays the mother, the lead role, in the upcoming musical “Blood Brothers.”

Keener knows there will plenty of tears after her final performance with the program.

“We get stuff done, but have tons and tons of fun doing it. … They have been a second family for so long. I’m coping, but I’m denying it,” said the daughter of Christopher and Jennifer.

The Caryl Crane cast has been rehearsing for several weeks for “Blood Brothers.” Directed by Brian Marshall, the musical closes out the season Thursday through Saturday at the McBride Auditorium at BGSU Firelands.

Keener is playing the mother of twin brothers, played by Jack Kaple, of Norwalk, and Sandusky resident Josh Eastlake. The pair grow up separately not knowing the other brother exists, but they later bond and become best friends. Kaple and Eastlake portray the brothers over various ages — from 7 to about 21.

“They’re best friends too,” said Keener, who has been impressed with their acting range. “It’s helped a lot. Throughout the show, they don’t know they’re brothers, but they become best friends.”

What’s also been a benefit is that Eastlake is Keener’s real-life boyfriend. Eastlake played the Ugly Duckling in “Honk!” when — you guessed it — Keener was cast as Ida, the mother.

“It’s my second time playing my boyfriend’s mother with a British accent,” she said with a laugh. 

Calling “Blood Brothers” gritty and slightly depressing, Keener said “it’s not like anything we’ve done before.” 

“It’s not our usual happy-go-lucky fantastical show; it’s more real,” she added.

Mrs. Johnstone is an extremely poor woman with seven children when she becomes pregnant with the twins. Her wealthy boss convinces her to give her one of the twins. Knowing Mrs. Johnstone is superstitious, the woman convinces the mother if either of the boys discover they are brothers that she will die.

“Her husband leaves her two months before the (first act),” Keener said about Mrs. Johnstone. “The circumstances are surreal, but unlike anything I’ve encountered.”

Playing Rafiki in the Caryl Crane production of “Disney’s The Lion King” also pushed the teenager to think outside of the box and go out of her comfort zone. After all, she was portraying what she calls a “spiritual baboon.”

To find her inner Rafiki, Keener said she had to find similarities and that meant being “cheeky” and mischeivious.”

“She likes messing with people and having jokes that way,” she added.

For the role, the iTheatrics’ Junior Theatre Festival awarded Keener the best actress award. It was the second year in a row for the accolade; she received her first award from the same festival for playing Ida in “Honk!” (2017).

Keener remains modest about her acting accomplishments.

“I was very pleasantly surprised,” she said, referring to the second best-actress award. “I don’t need awards for validation, but it was welcome.” 

In 2011, Keener joined the Caryl Crane program. She admitted she was taking a bit of a chance and needed to find to find a hobby — especially since her older sister Emily had learned to play guitar and started writing original music. Lately, Emily Keener, who competed on “The Voice,” has been touring and performing at area venues.

After seven years with Caryl Crane, Gracie Keener knows she has matured — both as an actress and a person. She said she has attempted to maintain the philosophy of “always evolving from one character to another character.”

Being an actress “helped me grow up and be fully who I am without any inhibition,” Keener added.

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