By Christine Sampson
East End theatergoers will recall the name “Dakota Quackenbush” as the young star of recent Bay Street Theater productions of “Grey Gardens” and “The Scarlet Letter” and, at Guild Hall in East Hampton, the shows “Our Spectacular Christmas Carol,” “Neverlanded,” and “How Scrooge Stole Christmas.”
Dakota’s is a name theater lovers should probably get used to hearing. The cheerful 11-year-old from East Hampton is a rising star: She has landed a contract to play the role of Brigitta in the official national tour of “The Sound of Music.” She departed Monday for Iowa City, where she will spend two weeks rehearsing before jumping into the cast for eight performances per week for the next six months.
“On a scale of one to ten, I’m at nine-and-three-quarters excited,” she said in an interview this week. “The other quarter is nerves.”
She leaves behind her fifth-grade classmates at John M. Marshall Elementary and her fellow dancers in DanceHampton’s Tap Army competition team, at least for a little while. The thought made her a little sad until she realized she will have the chance to make some new friends in the show while on tour, see many new cities across the U.S., and eat take-out food like pizza and Chinese food a little more frequently.
Dakota knows it will be hard work. In addition to full schedules of rehearsals and performances, she’ll have school three hours each day.
“The schedule’s pretty intense,” she said.
John Sullivan, Bay Street’s associate producer and company manager, raved about Dakota’s potential as an up-and-coming theatrical performer. He first saw her perform in “Our Spectacular Christmas Carol,” and when he was looking for children to audition for “Grey Gardens,” he recalled the gifted young lady and sought her agent’s contact information.
“She’s terrific,” Mr. Sullivan said. “She’s a very natural performer and extremely talented.”
Dakota got her start dancing first, then tried singing lessons later. It wasn’t until she had the chance to do “Grey Gardens” that she had to take up acting lessons.
“That was difficult but fun,” she said. “I had to cry on purpose. That was hard. I had to think of everything that makes me sad. Right now, if I tried to do it on purpose, it would take me 20 minutes,” she said, because of how happy she is right now.
Taking a break from packing Dakota’s belongings – which included snow boots, regular boots, Uggs, dress shoes, sneakers, and dance shoes, in addition to her clothes – her mother, Danielle Quackenbush, reflected for a moment on the family effort it’s taking to make the trip. She and her husband James own Quackenbush Cesspools, and she will be working remotely while Dakota is busy rehearsing and studying.
“I’m this stage mom-manager-agent that’s learning as she goes and just figuring it out and juggling running a business and taking care of a 4-year-old at the same time,” Ms. Quackenbush said as her younger daughter, Sage, played with a plush unicorn nearby.
As for Dakota, when asked if she’d like to add any closing thoughts during her interview, her immediate response was to “say hi to everyone I know!”
She is also living in the moment and keeping her success in perspective.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I might not get another tour role or a Broadway role, but I want to do local shows out here. All I want to do is enjoy the tour. … My future’s an open book.”