Every once in a while, Cashelle Butler puts herself in the place of her 14-year-old self.
Taking that journey back to high school helps put things in perspective for the actress, singer and dancer, who's currently starring in the touring production of the Broadway musical "Mamma Mia!" In remembering her hopes and dreams as a student at Cherry Creek High School, Butler properly realizes the value of her current career.
"Even though it's my dream, it's still a job … It almost makes me cry when I think about 14-year-old me in the audience," Butler told the crowd of CCHS theater students who gathered in the school's auditorium on April 12 to hear her advice and insights. "I think, 'This is why I'm here. This is what I'm doing it for."
Butler visited Cherry Creek High as the touring company wrapped up its stint at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, returning to her former school to offer a class of directing and advanced acting students some valuable guidance. In addition to sharing her own experiences as a Cherry Creek School District alum (she attended Cherry Creek High School for two years, and finished at Cherokee Trail) and a professional performer, Butler led the group through choreography from the show.
Her message was both simple and inspiring: a career in the arts is possible. With hard work and a kind spirit, she insisted, it's possible to make a living by being creative.
"One of my favorite things … is to show people that this is totally doable," Butler said. "Being nice and working hard will get you far; it can never set you back."
Acting teacher Jimmy Miller echoed that message in addressing his students.
"This is an example of how this can be done," Miller said. "She's making a living. She went to high school here and went to college in Greeley. She's worked hard."
After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in theater, Butler starred in shows at theater companies across the Denver metro area. Following a full season at the Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, Butler discovered she'd secured an understudy role in the touring production of "Mamma Mia!" Following months' worth of hard work and constant travel, she moved up to a regular role as one of the Dynamos in the show.
"It was because I'd been with the company and I'd put in my time," Butler said. "Things happen, and I've very grateful for the opportunity. I'm so grateful that I got all of that time being an understudy."
The message of hard work and persistence seemed to resonate for the assembled students. Many of the seniors in the crowd eagerly raised their hands when Butler asked if any were considering majoring in arts at college. They paid close attention to her instructions as she led the group through choreography from the finale of the show. It was an attitude that reflected another important piece of advice, one that Butler considered one of the most important of her career.
"Don't take for granted the people who believe in you," she told the students. "You are responsible for how much you push yourself."