As the parents of young actors, Michael and Dawn Marie Hennes know the show must go on, even when it’s a school day. Dawn Marie says their daughters’ school, St. Gabriel Catholic School in Hubertus, keeps the busy family on cue during the many rehearsals and performances the girls’ acting roles require.
At their Hubertus home during a rehearsal-free evening earlier this year, then 9-year-old Meguire and 7-year-old KyLee perched on couches, eager to talk about their interest in acting and singing.
Meguire, now 10, portrayed Alice Cratchit in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s “A Christmas Carol” last December. She also starred in the First Stage Production “A Wrinkle in Time” in Milwaukee in January and February of this year. She is currently portraying Kathy Cratchit in “Scrooge The Musical” at The Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson through Dec. 23.
KyLee, now 8, is also starring in “Scrooge The Musical” at The Fireside. She is portraying Tiny Tim, whom she portrayed in “A Christmas Carol” presented by the Falls Patio Players in Menomonee Falls last December; her dad played the part of Bob Cratchit.
“KyLee even cut her hair for the role,” said Michael of her role in “A Christmas Carol.”
Even their younger sister, Olivia, then-age 5, auditioned for the children’s chorus and got her first part in the Falls Patio Players show, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” earlier this year.
The Henneses also have a 3-year-old daughter, Taressa, a foster child they adopted Feb. 1.
And what do these actresses like most about performing?
“I look forward to sharing the gift that God gave me with other people,” Meguire replied. “I like making friends and being with my dad and sister.”
“I like singing the most, and doing all the dances and getting new friends,” said KyLee.
Michael said there is some sibling rivalry, but the girls are proud of each other’s accomplishments.
With rehearsals and performances, music lessons, tae kwon do, swim club and dance classes, it’s a full calendar every week for the family. Michael, a teacher at Hartford Union High School, and Dawn Marie, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, consider St. Gabriel School to be their grounding point.
“The principal and teachers there are so supportive and wonderful,” said Dawn Marie. “It’s with God’s support and the school’s support that we can do all that we do.”
There also is a long family history with the school – Michael went there, although it was called St. Hubert then, as did his father and grandfather.
Girls enrolled in new school
Even though the family had positive experiences at St. Gabriel, the Henneses learned of opportunities at St. Mary Parish School in Menomonee Falls, and their daughters attended that school for the 2010/2011 school year.
“KyLee had been identified as gifted, and St. Mary’s had a special program for gifted students we were interested in,” Dawn Marie explained, “and the school puts on a musical every year.”
Michael added, “It’s like the prodigal son story; we went to explore other resources, and then returned.”
The couple says they were pleased with the education provided at St. Mary, but with the girls’ ties to friends in Hubertus, the family ties to St. Gabriel and a preference for a smaller school setting, they enrolled their daughters at St. Gabriel for the current school year.
Balancing acting and schoolwork
Because of her roles with the Milwaukee Rep and First Stage, Meguire missed about 20 days of school by January last year, Michael estimated. KyLee’sperformances also resulted in missed class time. Both girls have been missing about two days of school each week for their current roles in “Scrooge The Musical,” according to Dawn Marie.
“The school understands that it can’t replicate these experiences and they are willing to work with the schedules and nurture the girls’ talents,” said Michael.
Every show the girls do, they learn something new regarding directing, choreographing, lighting and sound effects, added Dawn Marie.
Judy Mortell, principal of St. Gabriel Catholic School, is proud to support the girls’ acting projects.
“It’s not often that kids can have these opportunities,” she said, “and the teachers are able to be flexible and work with their schedules. We want to help keep the experience positive, to help keep the balance.”
Meguire’s then-fourth-grade teacher Linda Markovich and KyLee’s then-third-grade teacher Chris Lesczynski said they made sure assignments were ready for the girls to take with them to rehearsals. “Both girls are hard workers, and they are friendly and well-liked by the students,” Lesczynski said.
When performances started, the teachers were delighted to see their students on stage.
“For 20-some years, it’s been a tradition for me to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Pabst Theater,” Markovich said, “and it was a big thrill to see one of my fourth-graders in the play.”
Lesczynski said a Patio Players’ performance was a field trip attended by St. Gabriel’s third- through eighth-graders, and afterward, KyLee was given a congratulations card signed by the students.
Singing for others
Meguire and KyLee started participating in community theater at age 5, and they began singing the national anthem at sporting events about two years after that.
“Singing comes from Michael’s side of the family,” Dawn Marie said. Michael was part of the Hennes Band, which included his siblings and later their spouses, and the group performed in the area until 2003. “We’d like to get a family band going again someday,” she said.
In the meantime, the family shares their musical talents with the parish. KyLee and Meguire cantor at Mass and sing in the youth choir, and Michael plays guitar for the youth choir.
“The whole family is active in the parish,” said Fr. Charles Hanel, St. Gabriel pastor, who also has an acting background (See Catholic Herald, Nov. 29). “As an actor myself, I am very impressed with what the girls have accomplished at such young ages. Also with their singing and leading the congregation as cantors, in so many beautiful ways, they are gifts to the parish.”
Foster children enrich family
The Henneses say they feel it is important to share their gifts with others. That is why Michael and Dawn Marie began foster parenting in 2005. They have cared for seven foster children, including Taressa and their adopted daughter Olivia, who was 5 weeks old when she came to their home.
“The girls are very adapting. They understand that the foster children will come and go, that God gives them to us for a little while,” said Dawn Marie. “It is sometimes sad to hear their stories, but God gives us the ability to care for them.”
Acknowledging that it can be challenging to keep track of the children’s different schedules, Dawn Marie said her trick is to keep thinking ahead and staying organized.
One thing the family puts a priority on is eating dinner together. When Meguire was required to be at the Pabst Theater for 12-hour days, the family spent three days in a Milwaukee hotel.
“It was crowded with all of us in one room, but we did it so we wouldn’t be separated and we could have dinners together,” Dawn Marie said. She currently spends nights during the week at a hotel in Fort Atkinson with Meguire and KyLee while they do shows, and the whole family travels there for the weekends.
Another family activity is learning tae kwon do. Dawn Marie is a second-degree black belt, Meguire is a first-degree black belt, KyLee is a junior black belt, and Olivia is a high green belt.
When Meguire was working to earn her black belt, she did a service project as part of the preparations.
“She noticed that when foster children came here, they would have their clothes in garbage bags. The kids didn’t have books or stuffed animals. So her idea was to collect pillows, stuffed animals, books and bedding, and big bags to hold each set,” said Dawn Marie. “Meguire collected 14 sets.”
Letting the children explore different interests is important, Michael believes, “because in trying things, you see what you enjoy and what your passion is. I want them to try things now, so they don’t regret not trying later in life.”
Dawn Marie added, “We don’t push it. God gave us incredible children, and we’re enjoying the ride.”