Coming Full Circle with the Youth Musical

Karen Scribano   -  

The Circle of Life – that’s the name of one of the songs in this year’s youth musical, Disney’s The Lion King Jr. How appropriate those words are for Christopher Ortiz, who has come full circle with his involvement in that ministry since his first experience with it in 6th grade.  

“I was technically too young to be in it, but Deb Paul reached out to me because she needed another boy to be a brother in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never done a musical before and didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I was also the youngest cast member and thought the older kids would look down on me. But I remember going up to Luther’s Loft to watch the movie with everyone, and it was such a great group of people! Brody Russell was a good “brother” who got me through the process of learning how to be onstage, since he had been part of Valley [High School] drama. During my first performance, I remember liking the feeling of being onstage a lot! We had to share wireless handheld mics and just pass them around. I had one line of solo in one song – it was “Let no tear be shed” – and with my little 6th grade voice and my facial expressions, I remember that the audience loved it!”

After that, Christopher said “yes” to the musical every year. “There was no year that I thought I wouldn’t do it. I was hooked! I loved being onstage with an audience, and I always really liked the group of people I was with. Not only were they nice, but they worked well together. We had a blast both onstage and off. Being in the shows was a great outlet for me to just be myself.”

By his freshman year, three others from his grade level were part of the show, and the four classmates stayed together in the musicals through the next four shows: Into the Woods, Guys & Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Music Man. “We really bonded through the musicals. To this day, we are all still friends and get together whenever we can. Working together was always such an amazing time. We have such great memories together!”

His favorite moment in the spotlight? “It has to be my senior year. I had the lead in The Music Man, and at the very end of the show, my character takes a big bow toward the audience. I remember feeling a rush of emotion during that moment of gratefulness to St. Mark – having been a member my whole life and being part of this ministry that had helped give me so much confidence. As I bowed, I remember trying to savor that moment and how special it was.”

Graduating and going to college did not end Chris’s involvement with the shows. He majored in Communication and minored in Theater at Graceland University in Lamoni, just an hour south of Des Moines. Despite being busy with school and helping to manage the college radio station, he was able to come back for performances, and even helped run a spotlight one year. After college, he ended up back in Des Moines, first at Des Moines Radio Group, and then at Pulse 101.7, where he still works. During the pandemic, he brought his media skills to St. Mark and took on a part-time position as a media director. He started coming to Sunday musical rehearsals just to help out with the tech and in whatever other way he was needed, which included a cameo role one year when there weren’t enough guys for every girl to have a waltz partner in Cinderella!

Eventually, his skills with electronics and media equipment made him invaluable in this area, especially as the sound equipment was upgraded and expanded through the years. He became responsible for helping with sound, microphones, and projection images. His unique skill set has landed him in a leadership role as he now teaches high school students how to work the sound and digital aspects of producing the show. And he is still sometimes called upon to use his acting experience to guide cast members through specific scenes. “It’s kind of strange to think of myself as one of the adult leaders now. I have such joy at helping, giving tips, working with the mics, whatever it is. These are the blessings and gifts I have been given, and that’s what God asks us to do – to give up our gifts and talents. Plus, I am hooked on being part of it!”

As one of the adult leaders, Chris now has a new perspective on seeing the impact the show has on those who are involved. “I love seeing the growth the kids have from the time they audition in the fall until the time they perform in the spring. And it’s amazing to hear their own comments about feeling accepted and loved when we make a group circle and talk before our opening show. One of the beautiful things about theater is that it distracts us from the world. But it also boosts self-esteem and builds relationships that we can take out into the world so that we can fulfill St. Mark’s mission of growing in faith, sharing Jesus Christ, and serving others.”

As he has come full circle from student to leader, Chris is very grateful for this ministry and the role he gets to play within it.