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Claire Clauson's Formula for Success Led to National Award

Recent alumna will begin internship in July in Memphis, Tenn.

Diana Rojo-Garcia, Mankato Free Press, 5-26-2017

Claire Clauson has what she calls the “Claire three-step formula” for success.

So far, it seems to be working.

Clauson, a graduate and valedictorian of Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Department of Theatre and Dance, recently won first place in the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival.

Her three-step plan? 1. Do the best of what you do; 2. be confident; and most importantly, 3. have fun.

Clauson competed in Washington, D.C., in mid-April. KCACTF awards scholarships to theater students. The scholarship Clauson won is for the Open Jar Institute which is located in New York City. Students have the chance to have one-on-one workshops with seasoned Broadway stars and experts. Around 20,000 students participated in KCACTF, and in Clauson’s group, around 800. She competed in a category called Musical Theater Intensive.

If her victory sounds like a big deal, it’s because it is. Clauson, however, didn’t even know that she was going to be competing.

The Musical Theater Intensive section of the competition has only been in fruition for two years. She had some expectations for what judges were looking for, and she’d been practicing the song “Say the Word” from “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.”

But at a meeting the night before the regional competition she decided to change her song to “Life of the Party” from “The Wild Party,” a more challenging song. She admits it was definitely trying, especially early in the morning.

She has remained humble throughout all of her success, and understands the importance of “not being a diva” — no one likes to work with those who think they should only be cast in leading roles. She likes to take on any role she’s given and breathe the life into it that it deserves on stage.

Paul Hustoles, chair of the theater and dance department, has had the opportunity to not only work with Clauson on stage, but in classes as well. With 32 years of experience being the chair of the department, Hustoles holds weight when he states that Clauson “is a gift from the gods.” He mentions that she has a big personality, but that’s not what sets her apart.

“What sets her apart is her uniqueness of her personality,” Hustoles said.

Hustoles says Clauson is an actor who can take feedback or direction from a performance, and by the next time she performs, it’ll be stunning. Clauson is known in theater as a “triple threater,” someone who can dance, sing and act. He says Clauson has been able to achieve that because she is able to easily see or hear something, and mimic it.

Hustoles also said that the song Clauson performed would be impossible if she weren’t skilled.

He also credits her discipline. She has auditioned for about 20 shows at Minnesota State Mankato and has had to memorize and perform a new song each time.

“That is her discipline. How hard is it for a surgeon to perform surgery?” Hustoles said. “I don’t know, but you get really good at it. You do 100 brain surgeries, then it’s pretty easy, right? She’s a brain surgeon in the musical theater.”

Her introduction to theater began in fifth grade during church where they performed “A Christmas Pageant.” She had one line.

“Yeah Leon, what a commitment!”

“I was like, OK, I’m good with theater for a while,” Clauson said.

Her very first audition was for “Little Women” in seventh grade. She remembers looking back and not only seeing her progress, but also being able to laugh at herself.

“It was so bad!” she recalled. “I remember I used a southern dialect, which doesn’t make any sense at all. AT ALL. I went up there, memorized the lines and performed them very poorly.”

It wasn’t until ninth grade that Clauson had the chance to see her friend in the fall play “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

She was so moved by the performance and decided to give theater another chance. She decided sing “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz for her audition to her high school’s performance of “Grease,” which she admits has a lot of things wrong with that.

Ever since then, has performed in 50 productions. It wasn’t until her senior year in high school, however, that Clauson realized theater was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

“We did ‘Les Mis’ my senior year of high school and I got to play Eponine, which was a dream come true,” she said. “While I was up there singing on my own, that was the first time I really understood why people do theater for a living. You could be up there pouring out your heart and just really opening up in front of a lot of people and know that somebody in the audience is going to connect with you.”

For now, she’s playing the future by ear. However, starting in July and continuing through to next May, she will be in Memphis interning at Playhouse on the Square. She’ll work in the costume shop and perform in half the season.

After her internship, she’ll do an eight-week residency at the Open Jar Institute in New York, which is limited to 18 students.

She hopes to continue her education as well and maybe become a theater professor. Or, perhaps she’ll still be performing in theater. It all depends where her life sends her.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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