RAHS grad onstage at Guthrie

Aeysha Kinnunen (submitted photo)

Aeysha Kinnunen to star in Guthrie’s “Pride and Prejudice”

From an early start in Roseville community and school theater, Aeysha Kinnunen has landed on the Guthrie Theater stage, as “Lydia” in “Pride and Prejudice.”

The “Pride and Prejudice” production, which runs through Aug. 31, stars Vincent Kartheiser from TV’s “Mad Men” as Mr. Darcy and Ashley Rose Montondo as the intelligent, spirited Elizabeth Bennett.

Under Joe Dowling’s direction, this “Pride and Prejudice” is definitely played for laughs, and Kinnunen, as Elizabeth’s twitter-pated and brazen younger sister, gets some of the biggest.

Kinnunen’s mother, Nadya El-Afandi of Roseville, recalls that Kinnunen moved from audience member to actor early -- and on her own initiative.

“She always knew she wanted to pursue theater. Her first role was Toto in “The Wizard of Oz” at age 7 for a weeklong summer camp with the Rosetown Theater. The original Toto was very noticeably shy. After the first day’s performance, Aeysha approached Margo Olson and asked if she could have the role if it were to become available.”

It did. From there, Kinnunen honed her craft and performed in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” as “Puck,” “Chicago” as the prison matron and “Pride and Prejudice” as “Mrs. Bennet” at RAHS before graduating in 2009  -- all key roles with comedic elements. She also placed nationally in forensics league speech competition and was noted as a “spotlight” actor by the Hennepin Musical Theatre Trust.

Looking forward, Kinnunen “only applied to the best programs she could think of” -- USC, DePaul, Julliard and the University of Minnesota. She had callbacks for Julliard and was accepted to both USC and the Minnesota program.

There, she faced another hurdle: being accepted to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the University of Minnesota’s Guthrie Theater Classical Actor Training Program. About 800 that auditioned that year, and the program accepts just 10 women and 10 men. (El-Afandi notes the program is only getting more challenging as its reputation spreads; this year, the applicants numbered 1,400.)

While at the U, Kinnunen performed on the university’s Centennial Showboat as “Mrs. Lovett” in “Daemon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Paulina” in a Globe Theatre production of Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale” while studying in London. She graduated in 2013 and immediately landed the “Lydia” role.

She admits she felt some butterflies reporting for rehearsals with the legendary Sally Wingert and audience favorite Kartheiser.

“I was definitely kind of nervous because they are really, really experienced actors that know their stuff. It made me want to work hard and do good work.”

But the welcome she found from the veterans boosted her confidence.

“Sally really believes in nurturing young actors. It has been a privilege to work with her. And (Kartheiser) has been great. He’s a sweet man and a generous actor.

“They have all been so kind and generous with their time and gifts.”

It’s plain to audience members that Kinnunen is having a blast capering onstage, and she confirms that’s the idea.

“Joe Dowling is a charming man and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with him and being part of a successful show. My job in this role is to laugh and be silly and have fun.”

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