Artist (Mom) Q&A: Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek
We always love when a touring Broadway show brings home a Wisconsin native! After the Post-Crescent ran this great story about Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek, who will play Gaston in this weekend’s Beauty and the Beast, we thought, I wonder how the family feels?
Jan Mirenda-Smith, Christiaan’s mom, sat down and talked touring family, encouraging talent and her favorite part of watching her son in the show.
1. Tell us what Christiaan was like growing up.
Christiaan was a child who was curious, engaging and imaginative. He loved books, cars, music, nature and animals. He enjoyed playing with a few good friends and he liked games. At two, he received toy musical instruments that he enjoyed playing and by 3 he was coordinating them with recordings.
He has always been fascinated with nature, loves the outdoors and is very comfortable mountain biking, snowboarding, whitewater kayaking or paddling a canoe solo, so he was in scouting from Tiger Cubs to Eagle. His Eagle project, interestingly, combined his interest in people with music, and worked with faculty at Neenah High School to organize an extensive diversity fair.
2.Was he always into theater and music?
Christiaan was exposed to music, even before birth. I am not musical, but I enjoy a broad variety of music. He listened to music and we would sing and dance. As I mentioned at 2 years old he received a toy guitar, at 3 he would arrange a drum set from pots and pans to play along with recordings (the Beatles Revolution was a favorite); by 4 he had a drum set.
3.What did you do to encourage his talent?
Since he seemed to enjoy music, he began piano lessons at 7. By 10 he wanted to play electric guitar and almost quit music lessons all together. His insightful teacher, Barbara Hoffman, realized he needed something further so she recommended another instructor. The change of music type was an important point to continue his interest. This eventually led to a garage band in middle school, and a few summers at the UW Green Bay Guitar Camp. He continued with a relatively popular band through Neenah High School and broadening involvement in Madrigal, Jazz Band, Jazz Choir, Solo Ensemble competitions, and the high school musicals. With this involvement, particularly his punk rock band, we suggested voice lessons to learn to sing properly, so he attended the LU Arts Academy studying with Phil Baruth, and continued guitar lessons.
4.Is it hard to have him away from home and travelling the country for long periods of time?
He is pursuing his dream and very fortunate to be doing so. As a child I tried to encourage travel as education, and he was a curious and cosmopolitan traveler. I believe this has contributed to growth and his success. As long as he remains in touch with family, remains the good natured person he is, we are proud to see him perform and love it.
5.What does it mean to you to have him so close to home so close to the holidays?
It is wonderful to have him close to home for any portion of time. This schedule is demanding with 5 performances in 3 days, so our time will be extremely limited. We have always taken the attitude of making the best of it and being proud to be included in this life.
6.Have you seen him in Beauty and the Beast before?
Yes, my husband and I attended the performance at the Blumenthal Theater in Charlotte, NC. We wanted to be supportive of the early part of the tour. It gave us a chance to meet a few cast members and see the audience impact, including those waiting for autographs at the stage door. It was fun to stand in the background and absorb. Throughout his developing career, it has been an honor to have a good seat and watch the plot unfold.
See Christiaan as Gaston this weekend in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast!