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Bond of friendship ties two teen ‘Rising Stars’

 Annie Jr., The Musical
Pictured in their first performance together in “Annie Jr., The Musical,” from left, Gracie Howard, then 7, who played the role of Molly, and Audrey Deubig, then 11, who played Annie.
(Melissa Howard)

When Audrey Deubig, 18, and Gracie Howard, 13, sang “Anything You Can Do,” it brought them back to their first performance together seven years ago in Annie -- Audrey played the role of Annie and Gracie played her youngest orphan sister, Molly; the roles stuck in real life and the two have become like sisters ever since

 Rising Stars showcase  California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
From left, Audrey Deubig, 18, and Gracie Howard, 13, sing “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun” at the ninth annual Rising Stars showcase held outside in the Lyric Court of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
(Karli Cadel Photography)


In a recent Rising Stars event at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, some 100 people gathered each night over two days outside in the center’s Lyric Court to hear 20 up and coming young artists who were selected out of 250 auditioning youths to perform in the ninth annual Rising Stars showcase. For many it was their first in-person performance in more than year because of the pandemic.

It was especially meaningful for two teens who became friends seven years ago onstage and now as newly named Artists of the Year were doing a duet at the same venue where they had first performed together.

When Audrey Deubig, 18, of Escondido, this year’s Rising Stars host, and Gracie Howard, 13, of Encinitas, sang their duet, “Anything You Can Do,” it brought back memories of their first performance together in “Annie Jr., The Musical.” Audrey, then 11, played the role of Annie, and Gracie, then 7, played her youngest orphan sister, Molly. The roles stuck in real life and the two have become like sisters ever since.

Since then they’ve performed together off and on throughout the years in both community and professional theater venues throughout San Diego County.

Both girls recently won top awards from the National Youth Arts — ArtsDig, formerly known as National Youth Theatre, and were chosen as this year’s Artist of the Year and Junior Artist of the Year for San Diego/North County in their age categories. They were selected from hundreds of San Diego-area performers through nominations by a panel of more than 50 judges and reviewers.

Audrey was chosen for her performances as Miss Honey in Ovation Theatre’s “Matilda The Musical," Torrey in Moonlight Youth Theatre’s “Freaky Friday" and Kristine in Off Broadway Theater Company’s “A Chorus Line."

Audrey Deubig, at a Rising Stars event-- California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
Audrey Deubig, Rising Stars host, sings “Should I be Sweet” from “Take a Chance” at the ninth annual Rising Stars event in April at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
(Karli Cadel Photography)

Gracie was chosen for her roles as the title character in “Matilda” and Flounder in “The Little Mermaid” at Star Repertory Theatre and for being an National Youth Arts Video Showcase National Finalist for her performance of “Killer Instinct” from “Bring it On.”

Gracie Howard Rising Stars California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
Gracie Howard sings “All I Want” by Olivia Rodrigo, while accompanying herself on the piano at the Rising Stars event in April at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
(Karli Cadel Photography)

“It was wonderful to see someone I started this theater journey with get recognition at the same time,” said Audrey, a senior at Escondido High School.

They both have a long list of performing arts awards and credits. Audrey has performed in a number of theater productions in the San Diego area. Gracie has credits in theater, film and TV. She is also a two-time top contestant on Fox’s “MasterChef Junior.”

The teens like to talk about how their journey in the theater world has brought them together as friends. “We clicked,” Audrey said. “The big sister role stuck.”

“When Gracie was auditioning for Annie I remember her coming onstage and all eyes were on her — I thought,she is going to be incredible, which turned out to be true,” Audrey said.

Gracie, who attends The Rhoades School in Encinitas, is headed to Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego in the fall and Audrey is headed to San Diego State University to pursue a double major in theater arts and educational science.

“I think that we are a lot alike in many ways. We laugh a lot when we’re together. I love being around Audrey and she’s always been so supportive of me,” Gracie said. “I definitely see her as a mentor and like an older sister.

“She is always so positive and I look up to her because of that. Everyone needs positive people in their life and whenever we’ve been together, she’s has always been that person for me,” Gracie said.

Although they both like being cast in serious roles, each of them says that they tend to really like the comedic and silly side of things.

“It feels like a natural part of our personalities,” Gracie said. “The comedic song we sang for Rising Stars shows our chemistry onstage,” Audrey said.

Both plan on continuing in the performing arts in some form or another and they’re betting they will meet onstage again down the road.

“One of the best things about performing are the lasting friendships you make,” Audrey said.

— Linda McIntosh is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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