By Toni Gibbons
Last week, Karson Hatch, a 2017 graduate from Holbrook High School, started her dream job at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. While it took five months and five auditions before the magic happened for Hatch, she said, “I knew Disneyland was a career choice for me. I love to bring happiness to people and see the smiles on their faces.”
A family vacation to Disneyland when Hatch was six years old opened her heart to the world of theater and stage. Her mom, Loni Hatch, said Karson was mesmerized by the side shows and stage plays. “When Karson was 10, I took her to see Les Miserables, and she was totally entranced by the performance.”
But it was Holbrook High School’s elite choir, Swing Thing, led by Choir Director Kyle Gardner that became the changing point for Hatch. “My older sister, Mariah, was part of Swing Thing and I knew it was what I wanted to do when I got to high school,” said Hatch.
In spite of the tough competition, Hatch made it into Swing Thing as a freshman and continued to be a part of the choir through her senior year, when she became the president.
Every other year the choir would go on tour to Disneyland and spend three days performing on the open stages at the resort. On the off year, they would perform a musical at the George Gardner Performing Arts Center in Holbrook, which was named after Gardner’s father.
Hatch has a deep admiration for her choir teacher, “He is very big about passion and setting your mind to doing what you want. As his student, I could see his passion and love for the arts. He pushed me beyond things I didn’t think I could do.”
During her freshman year, the choir performed Fiddler on the Roof and in her junior year it was Mary Poppins. But it was the trips to Disneyland in her sophomore and senior years that made the magic come alive for Hatch. On one of those trips, Gardner said that Minnie Mouse actually came backstage and danced with Hatch.
While at Disneyland, the students also attended workshops that helped them understand the world of acting and entertainment. According to Gardner, the best workshop leader was Sjaan Trowbridge. “She had a way of connecting with the kids,” he said, “I would request for her to be our leader when we were there.”
The connection grew and a couple of years ago, Trowbridge actually came to Holbrook to spend some time with the choir students. “Karson and some of the other kids got a chance to really connect with her during that time,” said Gardner. He believes it made a difference for all of them.
After graduation, Hatch set her sights on Disneyland. Her mom said that Karson had her moments during the audition process where she wasn’t sure if it would happen this year but in the end, it wasn’t a surprise when she got the call. “This is what she always wanted to do,” her mom shared. “She had a lot of support from the community and especially Kyle Gardner. This is her passion. She loves performing and it makes her really happy.”
For Gardner, who started working with Holbrook School District seven years ago, seeing Karson succeed is proof that kids from a small town school have the same potential as kids from a big city school. “I want the Holbrook kids to know that they can be anything they want to be.”
Gardner was born and raised in Holbrook and is continuing the passion he saw in his father, George Gardner, who was a choir director at Holbrook High School and the original creator of Swing Thing.
For Hatch it’s about being able to create the magic. “I love to bring happiness to other people,” she said. “I can change lives through the smiles and the stories I tell in my acting. I want to stay with Disneyland and work my way up as a performer.”
Because Disneyland is a stage and all the workers are called cast members, Hatch cannot reveal anything about what she will be doing there, other than having the time of her life.
The biggest advice Hatch can give anyone who wants to live their dream is “to say yes to everything because you never know what will open up.”
When she gets lonely for home, Hatch takes a trip to Cars Land, which is based on the movie, Cars, and looks a lot like Holbrook. But for now, Holbrook is in Hatch’s rear view mirror, as she said, “Someday I want to be a director at Disneyland.”