Many have encountered a small-town community theater actor who says they’re destined to perform on the world stage, but it’s not every day those dreams become reality.
Former Tenino teen Serean Kim, 15, has made it to the world stage. If you spend as much as five minutes speaking with her, however, you’d discover she probably didn’t go around touting her potential future star power before catching her big break.
After an Olympia librarian suggested she audition for “The Quest,” a hybrid competition that features reality and scripted fantasy drama streaming on Disney+ on May 11, Serean thought she’d give it a try.
To her pleasure and surprise, Serean was contacted by Disney+ about a week before the March 2020 pandemic shutdowns after showrunners reviewed a questionnaire and audition video she’d sent in.
In that week, Serean had a virtual interview, a phone interview and sent Disney another audition tape.
“Then there was virtual silence until about July, and then I found out I got the part in November of 2020,” Serean told The Chronicle. “It filmed from February to March in 2021.”
The show is set in the fictional world of Everealm, a land Disney touts as unrivaled in beauty and magic. The plot kicks off when the realm is targeted for conquest by an evil sorceress.
To combat the threat, the nobles in Everealm summon teens from our world, Paladins, to fight on the side of good.
In her audition tapes, Serean told Disney about herself, her interests, her bubbly personality and her empathy. She also detailed her approach to interpersonal relationships, since the chosen teens would be tasked with working together through a series of plot twists and reality-competition-like challenges to thwart the evil in Everealm.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a leader in situations,” Serean said. “I’m more of a mediator. I want to help people achieve their goals to help them stay grounded, so I think I talked a lot about that, which seemed really different when I was on the show because people there had, like, an ‘I am the leader’ mindset. So I think that’s (a) reason why I got cast.”
She said in the group situations the show threw at her and the other seven teens, there were tense moments where the Paladins had to decide together what to do. She reported she was pleased that her approach to team-building added to the “well-rounded” teamwork the group displays in the show.
“We all got to use our teamwork skills, our communication skills, together,” Serean said.
And teamwork was a must because the chosen teens were filmed responding to the show’s scripted plot twists and surprises as though they really had been dropped into a fantasy world.
“One hundred percent, reactions were all in real-time,” Serean said. “We were left completely in the dark. We knew nothing about what would happen on the set that day until we walked on and the cameras started rolling, which I think was really interesting. It’s going to be really interesting to watch that, to know that it’s 100% genuine, completely.”
The teens did perform scripted, pickup shoots of certain interactions that happened among themselves between the times when cameras were rolling. They had to reshoot aspects of some of the challenges that happened too quickly or were not caught perfectly on film.
Serean said the challenges were a combination of physical, mental, puzzle and strength competitions.
“We had no idea what the challenge would be, and every time it would be something different, so that’s what was so exciting about it,” she said.
Joyful and reflective, Serean detailed a bit about her experience coming up against certain plot elements.
“There’s a lot at stake,” she said. “There’s this sorceress who’s trying to conquer the kingdom and she’s sent out all these creatures, like infiltrating, and there’s a lot of stuff going on. And there’s a lot of dark and unfortunate stuff that happens to the kingdom that we had to react to. So like, for example, if sh– … Oh wait, no, that’s a spoiler. Oops.”
For Serean, the most challenging part was getting used to all the cameras and not looking at them, but she said the set and costumes were so well-crafted that it became a breeze looking at the quality production elements rather than the multitude of cameras following her every move.
It was a far cry from her time acting at Tenino Young at Heart Theatre when she was a pre-teen, but the glitz and glamor of the Disney production haven’t dampened her memories of Tenino’s smaller affairs in any way.
At Tenino Young at Heart Theatre, Serean played a few ensemble roles in productions such as “Oliver” and “Just So.”
“They build all of the sets,” Serean said of Tenino Young at Heart Theatre. “And they do it all out of the Tenino High School so they just bring everything in. They have all the lights. They have a live orchestra. It was a really great experience. I was really glad I got to be part of it.”
Isaac McKenzieSullivan, artistic director of Tenino Young at Heart Theatre, told The Chronicle he wasn’t surprised to hear of his former actor’s success at Disney.
“She is a pleasure to work with, willing to try anything a director asks her to, willing to help out in any way. She’s a real team player, a real go-getter and a real pleasure to work with,” McKenzieSullivan said.
He recalled her gumption and joy when learning she could perform even the smallest of ensemble tasks that were asked of her, doing them with a kind of unassuming spark.
“The most recent show I worked with her on was ‘Just So,’ and she didn’t have a named part. She was just part of the ensemble, but the ensemble has little lines that need to be said,” McKenzieSullivan said. “And there was one line where she was just in the right place to say the line. It didn’t really matter who said it, and I chose Serean, and she just completely lit up. She was just joyful at having another thing to do.”
Bob McKenzieSullivan, the founder of Tenino Young at Heart Theatre, put it this way: “As a member of an ensemble, she’s dynamic. She’s committed to making it look good, feel good, sound good. I mean, she’s there to create art. That’s my experience. Whenever we’re working with her, she’s making art. And she brings other people into that with her energy as well.”
Serean will be watching the show for the first time with everyone else as it streams on Disney+. In the meantime, she’s taking acting lessons to set herself up for success in Hollywood since her family recently moved to Los Angeles.
“I feel like acting is one of those things where you can never be like, ‘Oh, I’m so good, I don’t even need to learn anything,’” Serean said. “You can always learn something. … You can learn so many different types of things if you put the commitment in.”
As a result of the whole experience with “The Quest,” Serean told The Chronicle she learned how to believe in herself a little bit more.
“There are a lot of moments on the show where you could see personal growth because we’re all growing. We all overcome challenges, but I think my self-confidence going into that was definitely a big struggle for me. But I think you can see on the show me overcoming some of those fears,” she said.
For Serean, her time on “The Quest,” was the first step in her own happily ever after.
“It was really a dream for me,” she said.