Kristin Stokes reveals why she loves playing a kid in The Lightning Thief

Kristin Stokes
Photo by Jessica Osber

Kristin Stokes has an infectious smile and bubbly personality that is apparent from the moment you meet her. In contrast, her character Annabeth in The Lighting Thief comes across as tough go-getter that won’t back down from a fight. Based on the popular Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, the new off Broadway musical follows a group of misfit teens that go on a quest to prevent a war between the Greek gods. With an electrifying score and some epic battle choreography, the show is a delight for both kids and adults. We spoke to Kristin about the similarities she has to Annabeth and how she taps into her inner child to tackle this role.

Serena: Congratulations on your show opening this week. How did it go?
Kristin: It was so exciting. We have had two weeks of previews plus rehearsals. We have been working really hard, changing stuff, literally every day. So for us, we were ready to do this. It was fun and the house was great and it was a blast.

Were you familiar with the Percy Jackson book series beforehand? What made you want to audition for this show?
I have been with this project since the very first two‐week little workshop where it was just the one‐hour version, when they were just kind of dipping their toe into this. I had worked with the director Stephen Brackett before and he told Theatreworks about me, so I got a call from them to come audition and I was like “The Lightning what? I don’t know what it is, but yes, sure whatever.” Luckily I didn’t blow it and they were like “yes, we will take her on.” Since then, I have read the first book twice and I have read the entire series, so now it’s in me and I am such a huge fan. I read the last three books in two days. I was just like, “I can’t stop, I can’t stop reading them.” So now I am the total nerd.

The Cast of The Lightning Thief. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Do you think you learned a lot about Greek mythology just from being part of The Lightning Thief?
Yes, I think so. I think I retained a lot of the Greek mythology when we talked about it in school. I always found it really fascinating and honestly when I was a kid Athena was my favorite goddess. She is so cool. She is smart, obviously with battle strategy but also all these amazing things. So it was fun to not only do this show, but then go through all the books and I just love how he (Rick Riordan) ties it all into the Greek mythology.

Do you have a favorite song from the show?
Gosh. That’s a hard question because they are all really fun and catchy. I love singing “Drive.” That one is really fun. And the finale is just like – we talk about this backstage but all our inner musical theater nerd high school selves are like, “yes, I am singing this finale right now with the drums.” It’s so cool. And then obviously “My Grand Plan” is really cool.

Do you have a favorite line or scene that you get to perform?
Yes. Let’s see. I think because the scenes are so short, any time I get to sit in a scene I am happy about it. I feel like I am an actor first and oh, yes, I sing and do all this other stuff, but it’s all about what’s happening, what are people saying? Joe Tracz, the book writer has written Annabeth so true, I don’t even know if I can have a favorite line because they are all just zingers and she doesn’t let anything get past her.

Annabeth is very sharp and on the ball.
Yes and she is like, “I don’t care if you think I am cool or not.” Like this is a fact and you should know it, which I love about her.

Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell and George Salazar. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Annabeth has to face a lot of scary monsters in the show, but she always seems up for the challenge. Do you think you can relate to her in that way? Do you have anything in common with the character?
Absolutely. I am someone who always feels like well, something is scary. Let’s do it. Let’s get it over with. If I were to fight a monster, I would probably be just like Annabeth where I am scared, but that’s part of it. And we need to go through this because if you wait on something you are going to have to come up against that challenge at some point eventually. So it’s about just going through it.

This story is about a group of kids who don’t fit in with their peers and can’t find a place to belong. Did you ever experience that when you were younger?
Yes, definitely. I think when I was growing up, whether it was my upbringing – I mean it obviously has to do with my parents and they are the bomb. But I just always have felt comfortable in my own skin and so I was probably the person who would notice someone who was on the outside and try to bring them in. I am not one to stand for someone being bullied. I don’t care who you are. I wasn’t part of the popular people, but nor did I really care to be. I was just like whatever, I am doing my own thing and I have my own friends and wherever I am in this status that other people have created, that’s fine because I am cool with where I am at.

How do you think fans of the book have been reacting to this show? Have you been getting positive feedback?
Oh, my God. Such good feedback and I am so happy. We are so happy. It’s so much pressure, you guys!

Kristen Stokes, Chris McCarrell and George Salazar. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Especially since kids are the toughest critics.
They are so tough! You will never beat the book and that just has to be known. The book will always be the best source material. As long as we are paying homage and being like, this thing is awesome and let us try to create something as cool, but we are not trying to say we are the thing. That’s all we can do and I think they are really getting that and the feedback has just been incredible. I can’t even tell you. Just today on Twitter someone gave me an Oscar for being a babe and I am like, “you guys, I will just hang out with you all the time.” It’s so much positive reinforcement. So that’s been really good. On the other hand, if they are like, “you are not Annabeth,” I would be very upset. I would be really sad. So all the feedback I have gotten – I can’t even tell you how much it means.

What kind of reactions have you been getting from adults who may not be familiar with the books and are just there with their kids?
I think they are blown away, not only by how much they enjoyed it, but that they got it. I mean, there is so much adult humor in it. This started out as a one‐hour show for kids, but we have tried to not only age it up, but put in so much stuff for the adults. It’s like when you go see Pixar. There are other lessons and things that we are saying and little winks that we are constantly making towards adults. I also think kids are freaking smart and you can’t play down to them and so you should play up to an adult level. Then it’s universal.

The Cast of The Lightning Thief. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

This is actually the second time you have played a kid role. (Kristin was previously in Junie B. Jones.) How do you tap into that inner child, and relate to your characters?
I think it kind of has to do with what I just said, which is I never feel like, “okay I have to play a kid so now I am going to be like mee, mee.” First of all, I think kids are awesome. I have worked with a lot of them throughout my life. It’s really about your energy and your sense of wonder. As people move into adulthood, most times they get either jaded or they are like, “I know this lesson already.” Kids, they throw themselves into it. They are like, “do I know this? No, let me find out.” So it’s all about fresh discovery and it’s such a fun place to live in. That’s what it means to play a kid, I have nothing inhibiting me right now. Junie B., is 7, which is really little. She was like, “I have all these ideas and I am just going to do them.” Annabeth, she has some of that but she is trying to be a little more mature and tough so that ages her up a different way. And you know, kids are people too…

This is also the second show you’re in which is based off a popular kids book series. Do you have any favorite books from when you were a kid that you think would be a great musical?
You guys, now I am going back to my childhood. I mean, my favorite books – Sideway Stories From Wayside School. I love those books. They are so nutty. I mean, that would be a good one hour or episodic because they are such crazy little short stories. Other than that, I was really into science fiction and Ender’s Game. Stuff like that. I was also a big fan of The Giver. There have been a couple of people trying to make that into a musical which would be cool. I would like to see The Giver happen. Especially if it could start out as a play and then music comes into it, just like color comes into it.

That’s a great concept.
You guys, I have a lot of ideas.

Under specials skills on your resume you list Puppetry – where did you learn that and have you have had an opportunity to use it in a performance?
I got into puppetry in college when I did Fiddler on the Roof. We did the nightmare and we wanted to make Fruma Sarah larger than life so she was a three‐person operated giant puppet. I was one of the hands and we all had to breathe together and I just loved how it was this inanimate object that could come to life with literally just breath. And I have always been a huge fan of Sesame Street and Muppets and anything Jim Henson. Such an influence on my life. Then when I came to New York, I needed a job and I met someone who was like, “I work in a puppet show. I do birthday parties, you are a performer, we will just hire you.” I did that for a long time and it was great. I love it and I used to do it with babies and it’s the same thing, the wonder. Even though this is on my hand, the adults too, they are just like, “what?” It’s just you.

Do you have any other hidden quirky talents that we don’t know about?
Let’s see. I also put on my resume (but it’s because of this show) combat belting because of “Put You in Your Place” clearly. It’s high hair metal belting plus combat skills.

The fight scenes in this show are pretty fun to watch.
Yes and they are intense.

James Hadyen Roderiguez, Kristin Stokes, George Salazar, and Chris McCarrell. Photo by Jeremy Daniels
James Hadyen Roderiguez, Kristin Stokes, George Salazar, and Chris McCarrell. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

How hard was that to learn?
We spent a lot of time on that. It’s very tedious because it’s not just doing normal stage combat in a show without music. It’s usually done in plays and so there you take your cues and your rhythm off of your opponent and how you are feeling. Because this is all set to music there is a tempo and if you are off, you can’t just stop and reboot and do it. You have to be like, “okay, I just missed three moves, where am I now?” So it was hard. It was tedious.

Have you had any injuries?
Yes. I definitely got my pinky smashed by Sarah Beth [Pfeifer] and the sword but she feels really bad about it. You know, things happen. But the good news is, everyone is so aware of each other that if you skip a move – this is another Sarah Beth story. She is going to kill me. One of the previews she forgot what the next move was and that messed her up for the whole thing. She was fighting James [Hayden Rodriguez] who plays Luke and just started swinging her swords at him and going “wah, wah, wah, wah” because she was lost in the choreography. And he just looked at her and walked away. So funny.

Did you have any favorite musicals growing up? Were you a big fan of musical theater?
Oh, my God, yes. My whole family, they are big into musicals except my dad. He appreciates them. My mom has her own children/teen theater company back in California that she still runs. She has been doing that for a long time and she was a huge fan of musicals, so that’s where I got it. I did my first musical with her when I was in fourth grade. We were both in this junior college production of Working and then that was it. I did them ever since. So I would say growing up I was a huge fan of Sunday in the Park with George. Oh and in high school we were all big fans of Bat Boy. It’s like this cult off‐Broadway musical.

Do you have any dream Broadway roles?
I would love to play Dot in Sunday. Honestly, I have been more on the track of originating roles which is really cool. It takes a long time though. You are in a show for a number of years if you are lucky enough that they keep you. But it’s really fun to just live and be in a character that you are co‐creating with the whole staff. Creative writing team.

Put your own stamp on it.
Yes, exactly. And they are like, “I like how you do that, let me write this whole new line for you,” or “your voice sounds like this, let me write this song for you.” It’s super cool.

What’s your favorite thing about living and working in New York City?
It’s just awesome. It’s a hard place to live, but it’s also truly magical. I love as an actor, you’ve just put on a show or seen actors on stage and then they walk out the stage door and they are like a person again. You are just swallowed up back into the monster machine that is New York City. Or let me get from one end of the island to the other. I can hop on the subway at any time. It’s a really cool place to live in. And culture and theater and everything is right here.

The Lightning Thief; The Percy Jackson Musical is currently playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Click here for more info and tickets.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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