July 14, 2016
By David Nordby The Brillion News
Will perform in Brillion with Kids from Wisconsin on July 22
BRILLION – Hope Klessig’s performance resume is more than what many could ask for in a lifetime, but in February the 18-year old thought her singing days had come to a screeching halt.
Klessig was sitting in her house when her voice suddenly disappeared.
“I was talking and all of a sudden my voice stopped working. It was like I had something in my throat,” Klessig said.
Klessig went to bed that night hoping that she’d have her voice in the morning, but it was nowhere to be heard.
Klessig looked up her symptoms online and self-diagnosed herself with something she wasn’t familiar with: a vocal fold hemorrhage.
“I had no clue about a vocal hemorrhage before. I had never even heard of it,” Klessig said. Her parents warned her not to believe everything she reads online, but Klessig found out she was correct after a doctor confirmed it.
A blood vessel had burst on her vocal fold. Her entire left fold was red from blood, as opposed to the white color it’s supposed to be.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for Klessig as she was preparing to wrap up her senior year of high school on a high note.
Her four month odyssey to recovery started by not talking for two weeks.
“It was very torturous because me not talking is very hard,” Klessig said laughing. “My friends and family were supportive. They put up with me miming things to them.”
After periods of r
More therapy awaited Klessig after surgery as she was forced to alter her plans for the end of the school year.
“This whole time I’m thinking ‘What if I’m not able to do Kids from Wisconsin? What if I’m not able to do my dream?’” Klessig said.
Klessig was named as a member of the elite touring group for this summer after trying out earlier this year. It’s something she’s dreamed about being part of since she was little.
That was all put into question thanks to the vocal hemorrhage. Klessig was very restricted on a tour of Puerto Rico with the Badger State Girl Choir in March and was forced to lip sync her show choir performances in May.
Klessig believes the hemorrhaging came from overuse of her vocal chords.
In addition to sending out performance tapes to colleges, she was also involved with two other productions at the time that she was forced to miss.
The most nerve-wracking moment for Klessig came on the fourth day of her recovery after surgery.
After being on strict vocal rest for three days, her voice was supposed to be back, but it wasn’t initially.
“That was the most scary thing for me, thinking maybe I’ll never have my voice or get back to normal again,” Klessig said.
The road to recovery was strenuous but Klessig did her best to remain positive, which her parents and doctors commended her for as her voice rehabilitated.
“I tried to remain positive and I prayed a lot,” Klessig said. “It was so scary, I couldn’t sing at all, I really couldn’t.”
It was scary enough for Klessig that she began pondering the idea of eventually moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting, while having to give up the singing part of her performances for good.
Eventually her voice made its comeback. Klessig began getting her strength and range back in her voice and was able to sing at the Brillion graduation at the end of May. She was officially cleared on June 3, days before leaving for training camp for her Kids from Wisconsin tour.
“It’s definitely a miracle and God definitely was with me the whole journey,” Klessig said. “I thank God that He healed me and that I’m okay to sing today.”
With her voice healed, Klessig immediately resumed doing what she loves.
Klessig is spending the summer performing nearly 60 times with Kids from Wisconsin, the touring group that goes around the state, including a performance in Brillion on July 22. Klessig spent last year as an alternate with the group.
“It was a good time and I learned a lot so coming to camp this year was a lot easier for me,” Klessig said.
During the middle of last summer a girl was having vocal problems of her own, so Klessig sang from backstage while the girl lip synced on stage during a show.
Klessig’s first on-stage appearance came in the most fitting place possible: The Endries Performing Arts Center at Brillion High School. The same girl who was having vocal problems before now had strep throat, and Klessig benefitted by performing in her hometown.
There are over 200 individuals who try out for the group and Klessig is just one of five Alto level singers in the cast.
“Last year I was very, very nervous. This year I knew a lot of the staff that was auditioning me so it was way different,” Klessig said. “I was much less nervous.”
Klessig’s not exaggerating when she says it’s been a lifelong dream to be one of the “kids.” She and her family made annual trips to the state fair, where the group performs each year, and she was completely enthralled when she was just a little girl.
“Being a part of it and being able to see kids in the audience that were like me is the coolest thing in the world,” Klessig said.
The performance, which Klessig describes as “a show choir on steroids,” is also a live history of music.
This year’s performances come from Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper, Elvis, today’s hip hop world, dance moves from Michael Jackson and a slew of other acts over the two hour show. “It reaches everyone in the audience, everyone will like something from the show,” Klessig said.
The group is in its 48th season and every year has been a different lineup, thus the reason for an intense 17-day camp that lead up to their first performance on June 22.
Klessig had just one week off between school and the camp, where the group learned the show inside and out.
Days of camp lasted from 7:45 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. and included over three hours of singing, four hours of dancing, combined rehearsals with the band and student-lead rehearsals.
Fatigue was a serious factor for everyone, both mentally and physically, especially while they practiced in a barn that approached 100 degree heat levels.
“It gets pretty exhausting,” Klessig said. “I was always the first to go to bed and the last to wake up.”
The days on tour aren’t any shorter either. The crew takes an hour before and after shows setting up the stage, has physical and vocal warm ups and road trips back to their housing in Milwaukee after performances.
Though Klessig thinks people underappreciate the mental and physical work that’s put into the performances, she wouldn’t change it for anything.
“We’re all very close … You almost have to be when you’re stuck together constantly,” Klessig jokes. “Sharing the same passion and love for music and dance is really what bonds us.”
The highlight of the tour for Klessig will come from August 4 through the 14, when the group performs at the Wisconsin State Fair, the same place she fell in love with the group years ago.
Those performances also feature solo performances and encores on smaller stages after the large group performances.
Klessig will return home on Friday, July 22 ,when the group takes the stage at Endries Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.
“I hope to have a sold out show … It’d be pretty awesome,” Klessig said. “It’s really cool to have a hometown show and I hope to see everyone there.”
The choreographer for the group, Cheryl Swift, grew up in Manitowoc and worked in performance in New York City, at Six Flags and Disney.
Klessig is humble as she thanks everyone who has helped her perform over the years from Swift, all the way back to Brillion’s Mrs. Rajkovich who casted her in the high school play of “Annie” when Klessig was only a third grader.
“I remember not being nervous and all the other girls being really nervous,” Klessig said, recalling her role as the third grade orphan. “Performing comes natural to me.”
Her performances have spanned the globe with various groups including stops in Paris, London and Puerto Rico, while also performing solo renditions of the national anthem at a Washington Nationals game and a Milwaukee Bucks game.
While a member of Lawrence Academy Girl Choir, from third to eighth grade, Klessig traveled to New York City and fell in love with the city and Broadway.
She’s performed twice at the famed Carnegie Hall, but passed on attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in the city, instead beginning college at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill. in the fall.
“I guess I just didn’t know if I wanted to go to New York right away,” Klessig said. AMDA is a conservatory, and despite her passions, Klessig still wants to expand her education to other avenues.
“Going to Millikin is going to give me a background with entrepreneurship, business, all of that plus the musical theatre so I really like that about the school,” Klessig said. She leaves for Millikin immediately after her summer tour with Kids is over.
At the end of her four years at Millikin, Klessig will put on a showcase through the school in New York City or Chicago with professional directors and producers, which she hopes will help guide her to her next step in life.
Klessig considers herself lucky to have found the passion that drives her.
“The privilege that I get to perform in Kids from Wisconsin, or that I get to be on stage with someone, is outstanding and I’m grateful for it,” Klessig said. “I have found something that I enjoy and I know that pursuing it is going to make me happy.”
Klessig might be a veteran of performing, but she’s still just a teenager with dreams and is leaving all of her options open.
She cites performing on Broadway, on cruise ships, at Disney and on national tours with different groups as things she envisions in her future.
“I guess I have a lot of dreams,” Klessig said chuckling.
The thing Klessig has for certain in her plans is the advice of her “Grandpa Wink,” and the same thing that got her through surgery – “Make the most of today and leave tomorrow to God.”
This story appeared in the July 14, 2016 edition of The Brillion News. Tickets for Kids from Wisconsin at the Endries Performing Arts Center on July 22 are available at endriespac.com and will also be available the night of the show.