Reyn Hodgson has played a small town bad boy. He personified a trickster spider from African folklore living in modern, urban times. And for his latest theatrical venture, Hodgson will be "One of the Nicest Kids in Town," dancing and singing in "Hairspray" this summer.
Graduating from Lincoln Alternative High School tonight, Hodgson is confident about which path to choose into the future.
"That's where I want to be," Hodgson said about being on stage and performing.
"I like stepping out of my own shoes and seeing what it's like being other people," he said, explaining what acting has meant to him.
Hodgson came to Lincoln his sophomore year, when problems with diabetes hospitalized him on separate occasions and kept him out of Walla Walla High School for weeks.
"That was when my blood sugar, my diabetes, was out of control," he explained.
At Lincoln, Hodgson began to make up the credits needed to graduate. But he didn't enroll at the school without feeling some uneasiness.
"I thought it was a bad school at first," he said. "People always talk bad stuff about it, like it's the equivalent of a jail."
In the last few years, Lincoln has undergone a leadership change and cultural shift that has helped shed that image. It now offers more activities and academics, and has instilled school pride in its students.
By Hodgson's junior year, Lincoln programs were still changing and growing. The school's 21st Century Community Learning Center, an after-school program called The Lift, experimented with putting on a school play under the guidance of program director Jeremy Gradwohl.
A small group of students put on "Anon(ymous)," a play by Naomi Iizuka and directed by Jessica Barkl, who teaches theater at Walla Walla Community College.
The experience opened up a calling that Hodgson didn't realize had been there. Last summer he auditioned for the college's summer musical "Footloose," also directed by Barkl. Because it was a musical, Hodgson had to show he could sing and dance.
"I have never acted before, never danced, never sang," he said about his experiences last school year.
"The first time I sang in front of anybody was in front of the (Footloose) judges."
When Hodgson auditioned for "Footloose," he confessed to not knowing how to sing or dance -- then surprised everyone when he confidently performed a song.
"I said, you didn't tell me you could do that," Barkl said. "And he said, 'I didn't know.'"
Through the play, Hodgson got a more realistic feel for the demands of acting: from memorizing lines, songs and dances, to the tremendous time commitment of daily rehearsals.
Barkl said Hodgson is in his element performing.
"It's something he should be doing," she said. "I think he just had never been given the opportunity. His family is very supportive, but he's moved a lot as a kid."
Hodgson was born in Colville, and moved around the region, including a couple of years spent living in Coeur d'Alene. But Walla Walla is where he's most at home.
When his mom and sister moved to Arkansas last year, Hodgson made plans to stay in Walla Walla with an aunt and uncle. His father, who he has seen off and on through the years, lives in Colville.
"I don't really keep in touch with him," he said.
Now 18, Hodgson has kept busy lately between school, dance lessons through Substance Dance Center and "Hairspray" rehearsals most days. Hodgson also tries to dedicate an afternoon a month volunteering at the Christian Aid Center, and to make time for his 12-year-old cousin by getting a treat downtown, playing Legos or heading to a movie.
I'm trying to show him something I didn't have when I was little," he said.
Staying locally, and at Lincoln, has proved good for Hodgson. As a senior, he got to enroll in the school's first theater elective, offered through an English class. The class also gave interested students the opportunity to compete as a debate team, along with Wa-Hi's debaters. To prepare for college, Hodgson tried the Running Start program and took the SAT.
After high school, Hodgson wants to enroll at Walla Walla Community College, and transfer to Eastern Washington University as a theater major and psychology minor.
If theater should not be in his future, he hopes a psychology degree can help him seek work with youth.
"It'd be cool to be a psychologist, go back to a school and work with kids. Help them out with a lot of their stuff, personal obstacles. Stuff like that," he said.
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317.
FOR YOUR INFO
About 43 seniors will be presented with diplomas during Lincoln Alternative High School's graduation ceremony today at 6 p.m. at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds.