Q&A: Kristin Stokes and “The Lightning Thief”

Bay Area Native Talks About Bringing the World of Mystical Gods and the Underworld to Children with Broadway’s Tour of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Broadway San Jose

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

Kristin Stokes is an actress and Bay Area native who is coming back with the child-friendly, but deep-thinking Broadway national tour of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” from May 10 – 12 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

Stokes has nearly always had the arts in her life. In fact, her mother, a long-time participant in theater, has her own theater company, StarStruck Theater, in Fremont. This allowed Stokes to see the ins and outs of what it took to bring a show to life.

Stokes recently talked in length of the ins and outs in her own experiences, not only playing a main character on her current touring show, but of how she helped it come to fruition from its first sparks of idea. As someone who likes to help brainstorm and create shows, she had a hand in the ideas and workshops for a Percy Jackson production years ago, which ultimately led to “The Lightning Thief” going to Broadway, and now setting off on a national tour where she plays the character of Annabeth Chase.

As someone that has been part of this particular show from the start, even a song, “Feeling Stoked”, is a callback to her last name.

The show is based on a series of books about a boy named Percy who, although having disabilities, learns there is much more to himself than these unfortunate circumstances. He is in fact, a demigod, and without saying too much, he must embark on a quest to save his mother and find himself along the way.

The following is a conversation with Stokes.

Thanks for the time Kristin. To start off, what was your inspiration in getting into the arts as a career?

We just always grew up, my mom she did theater when she was in high school [and] college, it was just something that was always [there]. We had musicals playing in the car, kind of like our upbringing. When I was around nine she decided that she wanted to get back into it again, because she stopped because she had her family, so, she found an audition for Ohlone College, they were doing “Working”, and she said, “I’m going to audition, but they have a kids part in there. I’m a little chicken to go back by myself. Just come with me!” I was just a very extroverted child and always liked dancing, so I was like, “Sure!”

So, I auditioned, and I got in, and I did my very first musical with her, and that was it. I was like, “Wow, this is awesome. It’s not just for kids, adults can do this too. Everyone seems to have such a fun time. That’s how I want to be as an adult, I don’t ever want to have to give that up, this sense of play and discovery.” I just had a great time. So, growing up [Mom] had founded her theater company, StarStruck so that was an opportunity to act more. I danced at Mission Dance Studio, which used to be in Fremont, and doing competition dance, and just kind of active in all the big theaters here in the Bay Area before I went off to college.

How was your experience going from college to the “big leagues” of Broadway shows?

I went to a theater conservatory called The Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA), and that’s in Santa Maria CA. they have a year-round conservatory theater program. It’s also associated with a professional theater house. So by day you’re taking all your acting and singing and dancing and all these different classes and at night you have to audition but if you’re in the main stage show then you’re performing and getting the experience necessary when you come out of college, so you’re kind of working nonstop. I did that for two year, then came back to the Bay Area, got my equity card, and started doing professional theater around the Bay Area, then I moved to New York.

I work on a lot of new musicals, that’s kind of my favorite thing. That gets started with a lot of workshops, and those lead to smaller productions outside of New York, then they get bought there. It’s kind of a longer process than jumping into a show that’s already established. It’s a longer road, but it’s worth it. Like “Lightning Thief”, if it gets picked up you originated this role and you’ve established yourself. I’ve done a couple off-Broadway shows and workshops that have gone on to Broadway, but I would say “Lightning Thief” is kind of my first time doing this tour. It’s gotten the farthest out of all the ones I’ve done.

So, you’ve worked with the crew of “Lightning Thief” from its inception? How was that experience as opposed to just jumping onto an already established show?

From the very beginning. It’s cool. I worked with the director before, on another new musical and he was tapped to work on this show. He thought of me and brought me in for auditions. I didn’t know what it was, I hadn’t read the books yet. I had no idea that it was a phenomenon. I worked on the very first two weeks, workshops and the very first characters, “How do you make a Minotaur? How do you make this guy have water superpowers?” So, I got to be a part of all this beginning imagination stuff and helped craft my character of Annabeth.

And how long was the process from those first brainstorming meetings until now, it being touring on stage?

Well we performed it a couple of times along the way, but from the very first workshop to now, it’s been five years. We’ve had smaller one-hour versions and then we did that and that was off-Broadway, and we then developed it into the two-hour Broadway version we have now. Now it’s the national tour – there’s many steps along the show.

Could you give me a rundown of this stage production of “Lightning Thief”?

It’s about this boy named Percy Jackson who has grown up with a single parent. He doesn’t know who his father is. He has a few disabilities, he’s dyslexic and has ADHD and finds that he’s always getting into trouble, but he feels that it’s never his fault. What he learns is that all these things that had been holding him back and getting into trouble are actually attributes that he is a demigod. He finds out that his father is Poseidon, and that he has all these special abilities. The way he learns about it is he has to go save his mom from the underworld, and he kind of loses his mom. Through that he discovers this whole gang of kids that are just like him, and it’s a show about family, chosen family, family you don’t really know, and also this boy’s quest to save his mother from the underworld.

How would you say it is similar or differs to the other versions, the original book and the film from 2013?

I actually haven’t seen the film! Just because once you kind of see someone’s interpretation of something it’s just so hard to get it out of your head. So, I just kind of stuck to the books, this [show] is based off the first book. I’ve read the full series twice and this main book three times. Of course with any book there’s so much in it that you can’t put into a movie or theater so the writers Rob Rokicki, he did the music and lyrics, and Joe Tracz, he did the book, are huge fans of the book so they wanted to make sure they kept the essence. The books don’t take themselves too seriously, so that kind of balances out the scary life or death situations that Percy and his friends find themselves in. so I think we really captured the humor and the adventure of it while maintaining the stakes and all of that kind of gets portrayed with the rock music, and the loud score. But then we have toilet paper guns, to kind of take the edge off. I think we’ve chosen different parts of the main story of the book. So, people who don’t know the books, I think they will follow it. For people that are obsessed, we put a couple nuggets in there.

Could you talk a bit about your character, Annabeth?

I play a girl named Annabeth Chase, and she is the daughter of Athena. She’s been at camp a long time; she doesn’t live with her parents. The kids that are demigods train at this camp called Camp Half-blood, and so Percy kind of finds himself there, that’s how he learns about his father and his identity. He meets all these other characters which is where I come in. Some kids stay just the summer, Annabeth stays there year-round, she ran away from home, so she’s a little guarded. She relies on her intelligence, her mother is the goddess of battle strategy, and war, and also creativity. She very much encompasses that courage and bravery and tactics. So, she joins Percy on his quest to the underworld. She’s a strong attribute for him, getting where he is, since he’s so new to everything.

What would you say is your favorite moment in the show if you had to pick?

Oh gosh, I would say that there’s so many of them. For me as Annabeth, I really love this song that I get in act II, called “My Grand Plan”, this whole time you’ve been following Percy’s story and you have this girl whose been helping him and strong, but you don’t kind of get her side of things until this song comes along. People may have opinions that maybe she’s too pushy, but whatever you think of her you suddenly get this feminist anthem in act II. it’s just a different way to think of things and it’s just a really great song to sing. Afterwards in the show you can see what  it means to everyone in the audience, not just the girls but the guys and getting to share this different perspective on what it means this day and age to be a strong female. So, she’s a great role model, and really brings it home.

Finally, why would you recommend “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” to people?

I think it’s a very special show and I think there’s a reason why it’s been going on for as long as it has, and why we get to do this tour. The music is rocking, it is so much fun. The soundtrack is just amazing, and it’s a story of family. Whether it’s your chosen family or family that might be estranged from you or your blood family, it’s about the community that you’re in or that you choose to make and these differences that everyone has, which turn out to be your strengths most of the time.

It’s that type of different outlook that we need in the world, we need people from different various backgrounds and types to have a new perspective on the world that we live in. And we kind of leave the show with saying, “it’s in your hands.” You make the world what you want. Don’t rely on the people who came before you, that they’re going to make it better. You have to see what you want and use your unique ability to make the world that you want to be in. So, I feel that’s something all can relate to and ultimately a powerful message in this really silly show.

It’s gonna be rocking. I know my mom’s whole theater group is going to be there so it’s going to be mayhem.

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