An Ode to the Theatre: A Reflection from Drake Aasen

Drake Aasen performs as lead in the West Fargo High School production of Sweeney Todd

Renegade Photography

Drake Aasen performs as lead in the West Fargo High School production of “Sweeney Todd”

Drake Aasen, Guest Contributor

This year has been, if nothing else, a year of reflection for me. At least as far as theatre is concerned. From Adams Family to Sweeney Todd, my experience in West Fargo High School’s theatre program has been nothing short of memorable. Through the program I have met some of the most important people in my life, gained skills that will last me a lifetime, and most importantly, found my passion for this type of art.

For background’s sake, I have actually been doing theatre for much longer than just the four years that high school allowed me to. I started over a decade ago doing classes at the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre and Trollwood Performing Arts. My passion for the art only grew from there. This prompted me to participate in many community shows throughout my elementary school years, which then led me to audition for the middle school’s program. It is in Cheney’s Middle School theatre department where I met my now girlfriend, Mikayla Hjelden, who I have been with for the better part of the last five years. Through Mikayla, I got an early taste of what high school theatre was like, as she is two grade levels ahead of me. I followed her theatre journey at West Fargo High before mine even got started, and it is through her I was introduced to the amazing culture that we have here. Suffice to say, even before high school, theatre had made a huge impact on me.

My first show at West Fargo High School was The Addams Family. I was actually in 8th grade at the time, it just so happened that the director for the show was casting down into the middle school, so as to get a range of different heights and ages in the cast. At the time, I was starting to get fed up with middle school theatre because I felt like (and I know this is terribly cocky to say but I did feel it at the time), it was beneath me. I had just come off of playing Billy Elliot in the regional premiere of Billy Elliot the musical, and the middle school wasn’t giving me the level of professionalism that I had grown accustomed to (told you it’d sound cocky). The Addams Family was very important to me because it showed me that high school theatre can be just as professionally put on as any other show out there. Now this of course is dependent on the cast, director, and other factors, but it was exactly what I needed to get excited about theatre again. It was an easy way for me to be involved with the level of show I was used to at the time, and I could do it all year long because West Fargo offered a summer program too. Additionally, The Adams Family introduced me to some of my best friends and biggest inspirations when it comes to various aspects of theatre, and although you might not know these names, I want to give them the recognition they deserve. Ryan Schlepp became my inspiration for being a believable and emotional actor. Parker Degerness was my inspiration to be good at reading, interpreting, and properly singing music. And Andie Peterson became my inspiration to dream big and put myself out there. These three people would all graduate well before me, but their contribution to my growth as a performer, whether they know it or not, cannot be understated.

My freshman year we did the musical The Secret Garden. This year was an important one for me because it is the year I learned to respect my class, the class of 2022, for the force they are to be reckoned with. My ego was immediately humbled by their amazing passion and performances. I remember auditions for that show were particularly nerve-racking because I got to see people like Ethan Saari and Colton Rheume perform like I had never seen them do in middle school. Freshman year for me was the year I found out that my class was just as passionate about theatre as I was. This ushered in some serious competition between people for roles, but this competition fueled my passion for theatre and helped me hone my craft.

All good things must come to an end though. Sometimes an abrupt one. Sophomore year was the year of “The Crash” so-to-speak. By that point I had been doing theatre for around 8 or 9 years. Then, leading up to sophomore year, I had begun to do it nonstop, i.e. all year round with absolutely no breaks, occasionally doing two or more shows at the same time. I was burning myself out. Add that to the fact that I was now taking AP classes and loading up my schedule with no study hall, it was a recipe for disaster. It all culminated in a huge event which, for the sake of anonymity, I will not get into, but it lead to a huge distaste with the state of our high school theatre at the time, and thus, after the 2019 production of Damn Yankees, I took a break from high school theatre for a little bit.

I planned to come back for the One-Act Play competition that year, and I did end up getting into that show. It was meant to test the waters in a way, after my falling out, whether or not I would decide to come back. Things were looking decent, until a pandemic shut the world down mere days before we opened the show. 2020 was void of theatre for obvious reasons. I kept telling myself that I was fine with that fact, but I never really stopped. Even in quarantine I was involved with a virtual production at NDSU, and I think that in the back of my mind, I knew I had to come back eventually. Finally at the beginning of the school year last year, I was able to be a part of the production Anne Frank. I was happy to finally be back in theatre, but this unfortunately solidified the idea that I had somewhat feared might come to fruition; I could not keep doing theatre at West Fargo High School if the department remained the way it was. Thus, I again took a break from the department. My free time mainly consisted of working at this point, and though I was happy to be making money, I was so very unfulfilled that it led to a minor depression.

Things turned around in the summer of 2021. Prior to the pandemic, I had auditioned and subsequently gotten into Trollwood’s production of Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. They did not perform it in the summer of 2020 because it was still way too restricted at the time to be able to do a show of that caliber. However, when the summer of 2021 came around, we were able to perform again, and it turned out that Trollwood was able to invite the class of 2020 back, as they were not able to perform because of the pandemic. This meant that I was finally in a musical again, and not only that, I got to perform with some of the people who had inspired me in the past. Needless to say, I was reinvigorated. Coming off of performing Cinderella, I had finally found my passion for theatre again.

I was hesitant for this year’s school year to start, because I was still unsure about coming back to theatre. Turns out, over the summer, the things that were plaguing the high school theatre department before, were cleansed. Because of that, I was able to return to the department again without fear.

So that leads to this year’s musical. Sweeney Todd was a welcome challenge in many ways. For one thing, his character is not a character I’ve had the chance to play before (otherwise typically being type-casted as comedic relief). I had a lot of work ahead of me, but with some help from the director, some absolutely stellar castmates, and my newly reignited passion for the craft, I was able to put on the best show I have ever performed on West Fargo’s stage. This show was important to me because I truly needed to leave it all out there on our final performance. Sweeney Todd was my last main-stage production at West Fargo High School. I will not be doing the play. The One-Act is still up in the air, and it doesn’t even technically perform that on West Fargo’s stage. Sweeney Todd was the pinnacle of my high school theatre shows, as well as my last chance to perform with some of the best people I have ever had the privilege to know. Sweeney Todd was my goodbye to West Fargo High School theatre, and the people I have worked with all this time.

So it is looking back, after everything I have been through the last 5 years, that I voice my final thoughts, regrets, and advice.

My advice: do not take your passion for granted. Your time with your passion can be over as quick as it starts. The rug can be ripped out from under your feet at any moment, so enjoy every moment you have doing the thing you love.

My regrets: I was not able to do theatre at West Fargo for around a year. In that time, I missed a lot of bad stuff that I am thankful I didn’t have to deal with given my mental state at the time, but I also missed out on some awesome memories, shows, and welcoming of new theatre members. My regret is that I wasn’t able to be there then, but I did attempt to make up for it as much as I could during Sweeney Todd.

My final thoughts: Through good and bad, the people in this department have been with me through everything. Putting everything into words is terribly hard. Because of these people I was reunited with my passion and given purpose the time when I needed it most. I have made friendships that will last forever, and most importantly, found myself in all of it.

From the bottom of my heart, to the theatre department of West Fargo High School, to both alumni and yet to graduate, thank you.


“With every job when it’s complete, there is a sense of bitter-sweet”

-Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins 1964