KayCee Stroh, 24, appears in all three High School Musical movies as Martha Cox, a smart and shy student whose passion for hip-hop breaks the "brainiac" mold.
Stroh also appears in video clips for Simply Youth Ministries'
"Wildcats Weekend," a free youth group curriculum connected to High School Musical 3 that was designed by Saddleback Church's Kurt Johnston.
Like the character she plays,
Stroh, a devout Mormon, defies conventions, enjoying Hollywood success but eschewing Hollywood excess. CT Movies recently spoke with her by phone, just a day before the release of what is now the No. 1 movie in America. How did you land your role in the first High School Musical? KayCee Stroh: After I graduated high school, I started teaching dance to all ages of kids, and I heard about this little audition here in Salt Lake City for a Disney movie. It was untitled. They just needed a bunch of backup dancers. I knew the audition would be a great experience for my students, so I took them. And then I thought, "Why not? While I'm there, I'll take a shot at it." So I went to the audition and danced for [the director] Kenny [Ortega]. And Kenny pulled me aside afterwards and he said, "I love you. You just shine from the inside and you're so different. And I think that you could be the perfect Martha Cox. So I have this role I want you to audition for." About a month later I was picked from out of the 500 dancers that showed up to be Martha Cox. So I tell everyone I'm incredibly, incredibly blessed. Did you sense right away that you were working on a project that would be a hit? Stroh: Well, it was my first bigger movie. The only things I had previously were a few religious films. So I thought that every project was this wonderful. It wasn't until the finale of the first movie that Kenny got tears in his eyes and said, "You guys, I really think we have something special here. This is different." So by the end of the movie I think we knew we had something to be proud of. But none of us knew that it would be a global phenomenon. Why do you think it's been so successful? Stroh: Two things. First, I think it's because our characters are very relatable. Everyone, including adults, can look back on their high school experience and see themselves. And the kids can relate because they're going through it in real life, and they're relating to the emotions and situations that the characters are going through. The second part is the fact that this generation is on negative overload. Everything on TV is sex and drugs and violence, and that's what seems to sell right now. I think this generation was ready for something a little different. It's okay to be happy. It's okay to have that happy-go-lucky storyline and a little bit of cheesiness and positivity in our life. That's chiefly what we used to go to the movies for. Look at World War II. Things were bad, and everyone went to the movies because it was a way to escape and use their imaginations. But this generation hardly ever uses their imagination anymore. It's all just about [materialism]. I think [ High School Musical] shocked society because it proved that people are ready for good things and cleanliness and positivity. With three HSM movies in the past two years, you must have had a pretty short turn around time to make the third film. What was the schedule like? Stroh: We had three months. The first month was rehearsal. With our other movies we normally had two weeks, maybe two-and-a-half.? This time was bigger and better:? bigger dance numbers, more dancers, things like that. We really wanted to be prepared, so that when the cameras rolled we were ready. Then there were two months of intense filming, seven days a week. Sometimes we filmed from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., very odd hours. And sometimes it was 15 hours in heels, with blisters on your feet, doing dance numbers over and over and over. It's definitely great when you see that finished product and you realize that those moments when you could barely hold your eyes open or stand up were worth it. How did you get involved with the HSM3 curriculum that Simply Youth Ministry is offering youth groups? Stroh: Disney brought me the offer, and said, "This sounds right up your alley, KayCee." And I agreed immediately. I thought it was such a great opportunity to let youth know about the movie—that you can have fun together in your youth groups instead of going out with your friends to hang out at the mall or going to movies that probably won't benefit you. This was a better choice. So luckily the opportunity was afforded to me, and I accepted very quickly. You're pretty open about the fact that your faith is important to you. How does that affect you in the entertainment industry? Stroh: My faith definitely affects me in the entertainment industry. In the beginning I looked at it like such a challenge because I used to go to after-parties and there was always a lot of drinking and partying. I used to get very frustrated because people would ask, "Why don't you drink? Why don't you smoke? Why don't you do these things?" And it really made me feel like, "Oh, geez, I already don't fit in. I'm the girl from Utah. And then on top of that I have to explain to every single person who is repeatingly asking me to party it up with them that I don't do those things." And then I had this growing moment where I think I just matured and it switched over for me, and I realized that it was actually an opportunity for me to be a good example, and to set myself apart in a positive way. If you had to pick one idea you hope kids get from HSM3, what would it be? Stroh: If there was a message I could get out from all the High School Musicals, I would say, "Please, get the concept that it is okay to stand out and be different. Different is not bad. Different can be good. If you hold strong and if you decide who you're going to be and stick with it, people will respect you in the end, and they will love you for who you are." That's great. So what's next for you? Stroh: I'm getting married in January. As far as projects go, I have three things that I really want to conquer, whether it be this year or in my lifetime. One of those things is that I am co-writing some music right now, because I would love to do an album. The second thing would be that I would love to do Broadway. I think it's the ultimate challenge in being a performer to entertain a live audience. Plus it would be fun for me to go back to my roots where I was trained as an actress, and that's on stage. And third, I would love my next role to be something a little more dramatic. I feel like I've really shown people that I can do the quirky, funny girl kind of thing. I'd really like to show that I can do something different and be taken seriously as an actress. It sounds like we'll be seeing you lots in the future. In the meantime, maybe the most important question is: Will there be dancing at your wedding? Stroh: Absolutely! That is actually my one request to everyone. I always said growing up my whole life, as long as everybody dances at my wedding, it will be successful. Considering I'm inviting all the High School Musical cast and dancers, it should be good! © Christianity Today International. All rights reserved.
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