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Carlton teen uses online school to expand extracurricular activities

Abrianna Schmidt has been attending an online school for five years, before COVID-19 was even a thing, so she could have more flexibility with her musical theater activities. Now she’s starring in “Annie” at the Duluth Playhouse, doing 20 shows over three weeks.

Abrianna Schmidt plays a Boyan sister and A Star To Be in the Duluth Playhouse's production of “Annie.” Contributed / Joe Olivieri of Wherehouse Productions
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Abrianna Schmidt, 15, fell in love with the performing arts at a young age.

She started with competitive dance and as the years went on she started to get more into musical theater. It started at the age of 9 when her dance teacher Matthew Wagner encouraged her to sing and gave her a singing dance solo.

“That’s when I really fell in love with musical theater,” Abrianna, a sophomore in Carlton, said.

Wagner encouraged Abrianna to audition for a part for “Into the Woods” at the Duluth Playhouse.

“I got in and it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” she said. “It was truly magical, so I wanted to stick with it.”


Abrianna Schmidt

Abrianna and her parents quickly learned that "sticking with it" was going to be harder than they thought while Abrianna was attending a traditional public school.

“Up here in northern Minnesota it can be hard to find voice teachers or lessons because a lot of them fill up if it’s for after-school class and on the weekend,” said Kym Schmidt, Abrianna’s mother. “So we had to figure out something that was going to work for her.”

That’s when they found Minnesota Connections Academy, an online public school, that offered Abrianna the flexibility she needed. Kym said they switched to online schooling five years ago after Abrianna had a very busy year.

“The year before she switched, Abrianna was in the (University of Minnesota Duluth) production of ‘The Little Mermaid' and rehearsals did go late,” Kym said. “So it was hard when you would watch your fifth grader come home from school, go to rehearsal until 10 o’clock at night, sometimes later, and then come home and still have to do homework just to get up and go to school again the next day.”

Kym said switching to online school has allowed Abrianna to have a lot more flexibility in her schedule, and has allowed her to get more sleep and stay up on her studies.

“Education is very important to us and we figured we would give it a try and it has worked well ever since,” Kym said.


Abrianna is one of five kids in her family and the only one that attends an online public school. So when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and all schools were forced into distance learning, she was able to help her younger sister and family navigate the switch.

Abrianna said her schooling wasn’t impacted by the pandemic, but her performances were.

“It was really hard not to be on stage for 18 months because I would only be at home doing online school,” Abrianna said, adding that her sister helped keep her occupied. “There were also virtual voice lessons, which was really nice to work around my schedule, too, with school.”


After an 18-month hiatus from the stage, Abrianna is back in the Duluth Playhouse production of “Annie.” She plays two adult parts, a Boylan sister and A Star To Be. This year the Duluth Playhouse decided to have two sets of orphans and two different Annies to help the younger kids and cut down the number of shows they have to perform in. So while the younger kids perform in 10 shows, the adult parts, such as Abrianna’s, are in 20 shows over three weeks. Abrianna said she wouldn’t be able to do that without the flexibility of online school.
“I appreciate all of the support from all the areas of my life,” Abrianna said. “Everybody has truly been supportive and flexible with me doing competitive dance, voice lessons, rehearsals and performances.”

As for the future, Abrianna said there are a lot of different aspects that she wants to explore within performing as a career, including Broadway, films or even writing and singing songs.

If you go to “Annie”

  • What: Duluth Playhouse production of "Annie"

  • When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, Nov. 20-Dec. 19

  • Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St., Duluth

  • Tickets: duluthplayhouse.org

Adelle Whitefoot covers K-12 education in northeast Minnesota for the Duluth News Tribune. She has been covering education in Minnesota since 2014.
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