Fritha Strand photo — Clinton resident Annika Hustad, 17, plays the young lover Luisa in “The Fantasticks” at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. Her father, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church pastor Mikkel Hustad, players Luisa’s father in the musical.

Playing father, daughter roles comes easy for this family duo

When Mikkel and Annika Hustad were cast as father and daughter respectively for Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ latest performance, the production crew knew the two would have on-stage chemistry.

The reason was simple: the two are acting out their real-life relationship.

“During rehearsal, we’ve gotten compliments like, ‘Wow, the chemistry between your character and her dad is really strong,’” Annika Hustad, 17, said. “They had no idea we’re actually related.”

The Hustads were cast as two of the lead characters in WICA’s opening production of the season, “The Fantasticks.” The musical, described by Annika Hustad as “a mix of Shakespeare and ‘Into the Woods,’” tells the story of a young boy and girl who fall in love while dealing with disapproving fathers who put up a wall to separate the two. Based loosely on Edmond Rostand’s “Les Romanesques,” the comedic drama is the longest-running play in American history.

Performances began this past Friday and run through Saturday, Oct. 21. Shows are performed at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday matinee performances at 2 p.m. Visit www.wicaonline.org/ for ticket information.

In the play, Annika Hustad’s character falls in love with her next-door neighbor. Their fathers are friends, but end up feuding and ultimately build a wall to keep their children apart. Luckily for Annika Hustad, she hasn’t had to deal with this sort of behavior in reality.

“It’s funny because he’s exactly the opposite,” Annika Hustad said. “I’m lucky I haven’t had to deal with that, because he’s always encouraged me to be my own person and make my own decisions. I think it’s fun for him to pretend, though.”

Pretend he does. As his daughter’s character is “a rather free spirit,” Hustad lightens up the room by regularly protesting some of his daughter’s lines during rehearsal. Pretending to be upset or anxious in the role comes a little easier for Hustad, as he’s able to pretend it’s Annika, rather than her character, who he’s protesting. The result is a natural dynamic between their characters.

“Through the play, I have the opportunity to examine the universal anxieties of parenthood,” Mikkel Hustad said. “It’s easier to pretend to be upset and anxious, but everybody knows it’s in good fun.”

Mikkel Hustad was actually roped into theater through his older daughter, Kari, about 10 years ago. Having never played a part in a theater production before, the Clinton pastor was asked to audition by a director while he picked up Kari from a Christmas carol rehearsal. He was “pleasantly surprised,” and saw this as a golden opportunity to be involved in his daughters’ activities in a “supportive and encouraging way.”

Then he had an idea. Perhaps local theater could turn into a family activity.

“Mikkel told me he felt it was really important to do theater together as a family as a way to spend time with them,” WICA Executive Director Stacie Burgua said. “He really valued that, and it was heartwarming to see. He and his two daughters have been in a number of productions since.”

According to Hustad, theater has provided a useful platform through which to have parental conversations with his daughters. Since theater addresses life situations with a perspective and commentary, he says, being involved with the play has naturally led to chances to discuss the themes. As his kids come to care deeply about certain aspects to any story, it gives the family a “touching point to talk about what’s important.”

“As a pastor, I’ve always looked for opportunities to use media, theater and literature to talk about soulful and theological issues,” he said. “It’s most helpful to do that with a project your children are interested in.”

However, this may be the last time Hustad can stand alongside his daughters on stage. Annika is set to graduate high school at the end of the year, which will likely bring to an end their familial theater experience. It’s bittersweet, but they’re grateful more than anything.

The chance for a father and daughter to play a father and daughter on stage doesn’t come around every day.

“To make this kind of opportunity available for people like me without professional training is a real treasure,” Mikkel Hustad said. “We take the opportunities as they come and appreciate them as we can, because who knows when they’ll come again.”

Fritha Strand photo — Mikkel Hustad and daughter Annika Hustad play out their real life roles on stage.

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