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Theater buddies walk memory lane in Spokane Valley

The buddies

Kasey RT Graham, 30, music director/conductor with national touring theater productions, and Lacey Bohnet, 28, a legal assistant and Spokane Civic Theatre actor, were best buddies in high school.

They remain best friends to this day, keeping in touch by texting, Facebook, talking on the phone and seeing one another in person, as they did Jan. 19.

Graham (the RT stands for his middle names, Ryan Thomas) was in Spokane for one day with the Broadway musical “Spring Awakening” at the INB Performing Arts Center. He met up with Bohnet the morning before his evening performance.

The neighborhood

Graham grew up in the 18000 block of East Fourth Avenue in Spokane Valley, just south of the Barker Road exit off Interstate 90. Bohnet grew up closer to Central Valley High School.

The two buddies walked the neighborhood at Graham’s house – his parents, John and Linda Graham, still live there – because it was in the Graham home that their imaginations soared long ago, leading directly to their creative endeavors today.

Graham has been gone from Spokane since 2003. New York City is home now, though he’s been on the road with “Spring Awakening” since October and will remain on the road until May.

How they met

He and Bohnet took vocal lessons at April Vogel Studio, when she was an eighth-grader at Evergreen Middle School and he was a freshman at Central Valley High School.

“We have identical senses of humor,” Graham said.

Bohnet added: “We can still look at each other and have a whole conversation in a look.”

Both were active in children’s theater groups. They were cast in the Civic Theatre’s “Wizard of Oz” in 1997 and again in “Meet Me in St. Louis” a year later.

Life in the ’hood

Graham moved to the neighborhood as a fifth-grader in 1990. The family’s two acres in the back of the house stirred his imagination.

“I wanted my parents to have an animal preserve when we first moved here. Giraffes and baby elephants,” he said.

He then suggested a raspberry farm. Next, a miniature golf course.

But not an outdoor theater: “Too cold,” he said.

After Graham met best friend Bohnet, their neighborhood activities shifted indoors.

He played the piano. She sang. They arranged new harmonies, changing the words to Broadway standards to reflect their young lives.

They wrote scripts for musical extravaganzas and daydreamed about renting out the Met, as the Bing Crosby Theater was then called.

They snacked on “marshetzlecorn” – their invention of caramel corn and pretzels covered in marshmallows.

How the neighborhood has changed

Graham’s and Bohnet’s families settled in unincorporated Spokane County in the Valley with the hope of raising animals.

His parents tried.

“We had a cow named T-Bone at one point,” Graham said. “We had seven sheep at one point, but it has to be your thing.”

Bohnet remembers that instead of animals, her folks attempted huge gardens.

“Like 500 strawberry plants and 500 tomato plants,” she said. “That was fun for a couple of summers.”

Now, though a limited number of large and small animals of all kinds – excluding pigs – are still allowed in Graham’s childhood neighborhood, you don’t see many horses, mules, alpacas or cows along his block anymore.

Graham grew up in a place everyone called “Greenacres.” Many folks still call it that, but the Greenacres neighborhood, along with other unincorporated neighborhoods in the county, were blended into the new city of Spokane Valley in 2003.

The housing boom then struck Greenacres, turning the neighborhood less rural, more suburban.

Life after the ’hood

Graham graduated from CV in 1999. Bohnet graduated in 2000.

Graham also graduated from Whitworth University with a theater major, music minor. He worked summer stock in upstate New York and then moved to New York City.

He’s been the music director on several touring shows, including “Oklahoma!” and “The Producers.”

Bohnet planned to leave Spokane for college, but came down with a spinal fluid condition that resulted in killer headaches. She kept close to home to recover and once she did, she decided to stay.

She’s close to her family and “you can talk to any person standing behind you in the checkout line,” she said.

Bohnet works days in a paralegal firm. After hours, she does theater.

Her latest is the Civic Theatre production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which opened Friday. She plays Olive, a sweet, shy contestant.

It takes a village

Both artists credit adults – in their families, neighborhoods and schools – for encouraging their creative sides.

Bohnet, oldest of four children, remembered: “My mom (Denise Shuster) took me to see the ‘Secret Garden’ at the Opera House and I said, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do.’ I said, ‘Mom, we need to do voice lessons. I want to do auditions.’

“She was like, ‘You’re 10 years old and you don’t know what you’re doing, but I’ll take you to your auditions and you can try it.’ ”

At Greenacres Elementary School, Graham’s fifth-grade teacher, Jill Moll, spotted his talent and tapped him to direct “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Graham, second oldest of four children, said his parents’ home still bears the “scars” of his creative endeavors, as he worked on projects such as building props. He drilled through the kitchen’s butcher block, accidentally sanded down the dining room table and spray-painted sheets against cedar basement paneling, indelibly staining the cedar.

Graham and Bohnet credit several teachers for encouraging them in their artistic endeavors, as well as mentors at the Civic Theatre.

Both believe young people can pursue artistic dreams whether you remain in Spokane, as Bohnet has, or live in a mainstream theater city, as Graham does.

“There’s a huge, huge corner of our community carved out for arts and the theater,” Bohnet said. “I’ve lived at the Spokane Civic Theatre most of my life. I love that I can experience that in my own hometown.”

Said Graham: “I’d love to say you should go to school and train, but half the kids on ‘Spring Awakening’ have either left school to do the show or grew up in performing arts high schools.

“Everyone has a different path.”

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