Arts leader empowers youth through musical theater
By Savannah Butcher, Reporter
Marita Ericksen has been following her passion for singing since she could hum, and has been dedicating her time to Vashon’s youth since 1988. Ericksen founded the Musical Theater program at the Vashon Center for the Arts and also sings for Vashon Island Chorale, where she is currently the Co-Assistant Director.
For as long as Ericksen can remember, singing has been a central point in her life.
“My mother said I sang before I could talk,” Ericksen said.
From a young age, Ericksen knew that her passion and love for singing would ultimately become a career.
“In third grade, I had to sing ‘Silent Night’ in Norwegian in front of the whole school and their parents for a Christmas program,” Ericksen said. “My dad said he could see my knees knocking. But I knew then, in third grade, that this is what I’m probably going to do.”
Ericksen’s work with Vashon Center for the Arts (VCA) started with the Vashon Island Youth Chorus. In 2002, she took over the program, changing its focus to musical theater.
Ericksen’s work with the young singers began with performing scenes from musicals such as “The Music Man” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” However, as the students enacted the scenes, Ericksen realized what the kids really wanted to do: perform full-length musicals. “Little Women” was the first full musical the youth chorus performed, and it kicked off VCA’s musical theater program.
As the program grew, so did Ericksen’s involvement with the theater group. Now, she holds the position of Musical Director, contributing to three musicals every year.
“Marita is talented, caring, enthusiastic, and hardworking,” Wendy Finkleman, Director of Arts Education at the VCA, said. “She has a big presence [at the VCA] and she’s full of life and zest and she really cares about the students that she works with.”
Over the years, Ericksen has worked to leave a significant impact on Vashon’s youth.
“When adults give kids opportunities, I think it’s life-affirming, and it’s a chance for them to come out of themselves and be something other than their day-to-day self,” Ericksen said.
It is clear to her colleagues that Ericksen pours herself into every play and performance. She is credited with making every aspect of the performances as good as they can be.
“There is no play without Marita,” Finkleman said.
Although Ericksen has accomplished a great deal at the VCA, she has also excelled in other aspects of her career.
Ericksen started singing with Vashon Island Chorale in 1990, and has also assisted conductor Dr. Gary Cannon multiple times. The chorale has provided many opportunities for Ericksen, including a solo at Benaroya Hall.
“I’d known the director because I was working at the same church as him, and he said to me one day, ‘How would you like to be the soloist for this concert we have coming up [at Benaroya]?’” she said.
Ericksen leapt at the chance, and now regards the experience of soloing at Benaroya as a highlight of her time with the chorale.
Ericksen has pursued her passion for singing in other ways as well. Ericksen has written original songs in the past, but most of them have never been released. In 2003 she recorded a CD titled “Marita Ericksen, Family and Friends” with her brothers, sisters, and friends. The initial inspiration for the CD came from her brother, who passed away in November, 2003. The CD is comprised of various sacred songs, and has been distributed to Ericksen’s close friends and family.
Another highlight for Ericksen was starring in “Guys and Dolls” in 1990. She played Sarah Brown alongside her late husband, John Ericksen, who played Sky Masterson.
Ericksen is looking forward to the upcoming youth musicals at VCA. The VCA’s July Musical theater camp will be performing “Frozen,” and in the fall “Footloose” will premiere. In the winter Ericksen will be co-directing “A 1940’s Radio Christmas Carol” with her daughter Elise.
The New Katherine L. White Hall has greatly impacted Ericksen and the Musical Theater Program.
“[The new building] has raised the bar from that little tiny theater,” Ericksen said. “We loved putting on the shows, but the kids were tripping over each other and stepping on each other’s toes. Now it’s like this sense of awe when they walk into the theater.”
Ericksen doesn’t have any plans to retire, and plans to continue empowering Vashon youth through the Musical Theater department for years to come.
“I do believe that art and music [saves] lives,” Ericksen said. “I love it when the kids grow up, have families of their own, and [then] I run into them, and they remind me of something that they did [when they were younger] with me.”