Humans of Harker: Empathetic, emotional and experimental

Katelyn Chen (12) conveys her creativity through the arts and cultivates a love for animals


Emily Tan

“On stage, it’s really fulfilling to act and get reactions from audiences, which is why live theater is so unique when compared to film acting. But I think the community that I’ve been a part of is what keeps me going back, because it’s the same people for every production but also, there are new people for different productions, so you get to meet new people and also spend time with old friends,” Katelyn Chen (12) said.

Her wavy, dark brown hair bouncing and her shimmering golden dress swirling, Katelyn Chen (12) flies from side to side, singing and dancing alongside her fellow members of upper school choral group Downbeat onstage at the annual holiday concert Big Assembly Day on Dec. 13. Kneeling to pose for the finale of the group’s performance of “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” by Mabel Scotthereyes, Katelyn’s eyes sparkle from stage lights and her face beams with excitement as she looks out into the sea of cheering students and faculty. 

Katelyn is no stranger to the stage; in addition to being a member of Downbeat, she has also participated in nearly all the main stage productions, including the fall play “Almost Maine” and the musical. While she filled her middle school years with speech rather than performing arts, she began her performing career in freshman year with a role in the Student Directed Showcase (SDS). From there, her involvement only grew. What keeps her coming back, though, is the people she works with in different productions.

“On stage, it’s really fulfilling to act and get reactions from audiences, which is why live theater is so unique when compared to film acting,” Katelyn said. “But I think the community that I’ve been a part of is what keeps me going back, because it’s the same people for every production but also, there are new people for different productions, so you get to meet new people and also spend time with old friends.”

Katelyn’s recent experience with “Almost Maine” was unlike any other; since the play is composed of many different scenes with only two people per scene, actors spend most of their time with their scene partners rather than the entire cast. On top of that, Katelyn’s scene further explored a deeply complex topic: love.

“[The play] challenged me as a performer in ways that I hadn’t been challenged before in terms of portraying romance in a realistic way,” Katelyn said. “On a stage, it’s harder to project your emotions because you’re so far away from people. They can’t really see your face, so you have to use your body.”

As a self-described emotional person and an ENFP personality type in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality inventory, emotions play a major role in her life, especially with her being an actress.

“I think a big part of performing arts is basically emotions,” Katelyn said. “So when you feel these emotions and you act with other people, you really get to know each other really well on a personal level because it’s very vulnerable, I’d say, to act.”

As one of the four directors in SDS, Katelyn spent her summer searching for the perfect play. While she originally strived for a comedy, she ended up choosing a drama instead because of its ability to move its audience. With her SDS production of Booby Trap, Katelyn strives to convey the same feelings she had when she first interacted with the script. 

“When I read it, I literally cried. I cried the next three times I read it also. It’s just really touching, and I feel like it’s a really good emotional release to see a piece of art like that and then cry because you really feel you’re emotional,” Katelyn said.

SDS teacher Laura Lang-Ree, who has known Katelyn since she came to Harker in sixth grade, reflects on not only her technical acting skills in conveying deep emotions and her “mesmerizing” voice, but also her growth in maturity over the years and her ability to stay grounded. From a young age, Lang-Ree has seen the light and energy that Katelyn has brought to her performances. 

“She’s quiet and commanding, and she doesn’t waste her time just talking to talk. She leads when it’s necessary, and people respect her for that and listen to her a whole lot more,” Lang-Ree said. “With her show, she knows it so well, and she’s so smart and so visionary with her play that she’s able to work with her actors in a really deep, wonderful, unique way.”

Even before she knew her well, Amanda Cheung (12), Katelyn’s friend since middle school, thought of her as someone with a bubbly personality, and she appreciated the positive energy radiated. In every conversation, Katelyn is always present and involved; Amanda describes her as a people-person. As the years went by, Amanda has only seen that extroverted nature grow.

“Moving into high school, [Katelyn is] really into meeting people in all the different grades and talking to everyone and making sure that she knows them on a personal level,” she said. “I think I’ve seen her try to form a personal connection that she didn’t used to, and that developed her into becoming very empathetic and being a very good person in general.”

Likewise, Amla Rashingkar (12), also Katelyn’s friend since middle school, admires her as someone who is easily approachable and who always has other people’s best interests in mind. Whenever she feels down or stressed, Katelyn talks her through tough times and brings her up. 

“She’s really funny. She’s one of the funniest people I know,” Amla said. “She approaches everything with this drive … I’m always so impressed with the energy that she uses to approach them with. She’s very grounded, she’s really realistic, she has a really good head on her shoulders, and she’s one of the most practical but also optimistic people I know.”

While performing arts is a way for Katelyn to emotionally express herself, the visual arts and fashion provide two other channels for her to create and convey a message. As a performer, Katelyn uses acting and singing to express her creativity, but with the visual arts, she can both de-stress and create a piece that is concrete and tangible. 

Fashion to Katelyn is like another form of art. Through peer-to-peer shopping apps like Depop, Katelyn snags unconventional, distinctive pieces. In her “fashion adventures,” Katelyn looks for pieces that pique her interest, like a pair of miniature plastic water bottle earrings. 

“I don’t mind people saying that they’re confused by my outfits,” Katelyn said. “I think it’s actually a great conversation starter. You can have that kind of debate about whether this piece of clothing is fashionable or just ugly.”

Her pets, in addition to her fashion choices, also deviate from the norms. Instead of the typical furry four-legged friends, Katelyn owns exotic animals, ranging from Blue the Blue Eyed Leucistic ball python to Ollie the green-cheeked conure to Harriet the turtle to Spike the catfish and Kylie the rubber-lipped pleco. 

“Exotic animals are really unique, I’d say,” Katelyn said. “A lot of people like dogs and cats and things, but they don’t know many things about exotic animals, and I feel like they’re just as good as dogs.”

From her pets stems her desire to work with animals in the future and to ultimately pursue a career as an exotic veterinarian. While most animal doctors handle cases involving household pets, exotic veterinarians work in the conservation of species and in the treatment of wildlife, which Katelyn highly values. 

“Conservation is definitely something I care about. I wish I did more volunteering for conservation, but I do track the status of a lot of species,” she said. “I think it’s really important for humans to take responsibility for what they’re doing to the planet and all these species that are being wiped out.”

“[Katelyn] really loves her pets and I remember before she actually got her snake, she was talking about how excited she was,” Amla said. “I was so impressed with the amount of research and care she [put] into getting the snake. I remember thinking, ‘[Dang], that’s going to be one really lucky snake because someone loves it as much as Katelyn loves it.’ She’s a really good animal mom for her pets.”