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At Keene State, A New Curtain Opens For Theatre Major Caroline Catino '26

Story By:
Paul Miller | Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations

It is hard for Caroline Catino ’26 to contain her smile these days.

It’s good to be back in a “happy space,” the Keene State theatre & dance major says.

“Before I got here, it was much different. I spent a year struggling to connect, to find where I could fit in, feel close to others, and feel safe. I never did.”

During her first year of college, Caroline experienced one semester at each of two large New England universities. That was her long-held plan, to attend a “University of” somewhere, she says. “But it all turned out to be intimidating and overwhelming. I woke up every day hoping it would change, but it didn’t. I never found a friend group at either school.”

Isolated and feeling defeated, she turned to her parents, who encouraged her to push forward but this time with a smaller school in mind. So, from their North Andover, Massachusetts, home, Caroline, Rick, and Caroline’s mother, Chrissy, went online and began another college search with a clean slate and a new focus.

After Caroline and Rick made an impromptu visit to campus last summer, Keene State caught their attention. Big time, one might say. It was all but a done deal before the trip home from that visit.

“I had to apply, of course, but once I got in it was a feeling of overwhelming relief. This is the place,” Caroline recalls telling her dad the day of the visit. “This is the place.”

Their visit included an encounter with an apron-clad chef in the College’s Student Center. That person noticed Caroline and her dad, went out of his way to pull them aside, and informally welcomed them. “Let me give you a tour,” Caroline recalls the ebullient chef saying.

A sense of kindness, the postcard-like campus, and “being blown away by the College’s positive social media presence that I was following, it just all added up,” Caroline says.

At Keene State, students are asked to bring only their true selves and a high spirit.

Caroline did just that, said Kirstin O’Brien, associate professor of theatre & dance.

“The way I look at it, we are blessed to have Caroline here. We are the ones who need to thank her for choosing to join our incredible family,” O’Brien said.

“The energy she brings into a scene … the other actors around her immediately respond, and the stakes are instantly heightened. She also asks the right questions. Her reasons as to why she exists within a piece are at the forefront of her mind. She makes everything she touches a little bit of ‘Caroline’ … and that is why she will work in this business.”

The College’s theatre & dance program blends creativity and artistic discipline to the foundation of a liberal arts education. Its students have as their learning and creative space the facilities of the multi-venue Redfern Arts Center on Brickyard Pond.

She makes everything she touches a little bit of ‘Caroline’ … and that is why she will work in this business. How I look at it, we are blessed to have Caroline here. We are the ones who need to thank her for choosing to join our incredible family. ”

– Kirstin O’Brien, associate professor of theatre & dance

Students participate in faculty-directed productions, attend master classes and workshops with visiting artists, and present work to community and scholarly audiences.

They and their professors meet, laugh, discuss, and fine-tune their craft or a production.

The student’s learning space is friendly and collaborative, Caroline says, recalling one funny moment. “During one play rehearsal, I had to do a dancing scene, and our director, Professor (Tyler) Keyes said to me, ‘Maybe dancing is the reason you had to transfer twice.’ ”

“We all had a good laugh,” she remembers. “It’s at this time that I am starting to make all these new friendships, with people who are cool and talented and into theater. From the beginning, I was made to feel equal, and that none of my ideas are stupid. It’s been everything I could have asked for.”

Back on stage, smiling, immersed in a community, Caroline is thriving.

Caroline Catino in The Metromaniacs
Caroline played Lisette in the Theatre & Dance Department’s production of The Metromaniacs. “She had a lot of layers,” Caroline said. “She was a maid with an unsuspecting side, had her nose in everyone’s business, and had a cool undertone, sort of gangster, to her.” (Photo by Celine Peron)

She had a prominent role in The Metromaniacs, the College’s take on an adaptation of Alexis Piron’s classic 1938 French farce, which is about a fight for true love that ensues amid mistaken identity and misplaced ardor. Caroline won the role of Lisette, a character that “had a lot of layers,” she said. “She was a maid with an unsuspecting side, had her nose in everyone’s business, and had a cool undertone, sort of gangster, to her. … So much fun.”

In the department’s upcoming production of Really, Really, (March 5-9 in Redfern’s Wright Theatre) Caroline is cast in the role of Haley. It is a mature-content play that explores sexual misconduct and gender politics in a campus setting. “It has an edge, as you’d expect,” Caroline says, “but some humor, too, to lessen that edge.”

O’Brien, who is co-directing the production, explains that Jake Odmark, the lead in the original show and who collaborated with the playwright every day to ensure the story was being told in his vision, is at Keene State working with the actors.

“It’s important that the work our students are about to present lives in the depths of honesty and why the play was written in the first place. At the end of each rehearsal, we also came up with the idea to ‘tap out’ and leave the work in the room so the intensity does not enter the everyday lives of the storytellers in the show.”

Beyond that, measures are being taken to see that channels of support are made available, for attendees, faculty, and cast and crew. Trigger warnings in the program, a pre-performance PSA, staff in the lobby during the show to assist those who may wish to leave early, and working closely with the college Wellness Center and Title IX office are some of the ways that this is being done.

“Caroline’s character has such a specific function and presence within the story and Caroline brings her to life so honestly. There is no one else I could think of to step into Haley’s shoes,” O’Brien says.

Caroline was seven years old when she attended a family friend’s mini-musical. “I want to be up there, I begged and begged my mom,” Caroline said, referring to the stage. “Can I do that thing?”

From that age until sixth grade Caroline performed in four musicals a year. “I loved, loved, loved it. I couldn’t get enough of rehearsals. It just never got old … it still hasn’t.”

In high school, she fell in love with being a part of an ensemble, calling those experiences some of her most fun times with theater.

“In one musical, the ensemble was singing about me, my role. In my senior year, I played Donna in Mama Mia. I was living out the dreams I had as a little girl. I’m so happy for all that I have again now.”

Learn more about the Keene State Theatre & Dance Department

For more information about Really, Really and to order tickets

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Keene, New Hampshire 03435