In Her Zone
For teen musician, composer, singer and actor Elena Rogers, performance is everything.
There are plenty of exceptionally gifted teens in our area who have found a niche in the performing arts. But how about one who is a quintuple talent? At just 16 years old, Elena Rogers is a singer, actor, dancer, musician and composer.
A Boiling Spring Lakes resident and up-and-coming senior at South Brunswick High School, Rogers has performed in more than 20 productions, plays four instruments — three are self-taught — and has written and composed her own music since the age of 10. She also landed a plum role as Gertrude Lang in award-winning actor BD Wong’s upcoming stage production of the 1995 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus at the Wilson Center in Wilmington.
This young prodigy comes by her talents naturally. Both of her parents are professional musicians. Her dad, Albert Rogers, plays bass and sings with The Weight Band and has toured the world. He has performed with Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and many others. Her mother, Christine Martinez Rogers, is an actor and singer-songwriter-guitarist who fronts her own band, The Christine Martinez Band, which includes Albert’s brother, Kevin, on guitar. In 2016 Christine was named Southport’s Musician of the Year, and in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the band was named favorite live band by Southport Magazine.
“I’ve been surrounded by music and performing since I was born,” Rogers says. “My mom and dad sang to me in the womb! Both sides of my family are musically inclined, and I’m proud to be part of that.”
You could say Rogers’ career began at age 4 when she entered On My Toes dance studio. At age 7, she began piano lessons with Cathy Furpless and studied until she was 12. Her acting debut was at the age of 10 when she played Tigger in the production of Winnie the Pooh at Brunswick Little Theater. It was when she began writing lyrics, composing music and filming her own kid-centric videos at the age of 13 that she had an epiphany of what she might want to do when she grows up: create her own original kids’ show.
During this time, Rogers began churning out songs based on random topics that interested her and other kids her age or just gave herself permission to be silly. Whether she was happy with the song or not did not matter. It was just about making music.
“Music is a really important part of my life,” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to the music in kids’ television programs. Sure, I remember the characters in the shows, but what really sticks in my mind is the music from the shows. I’d like to be part of something that not just educates but makes people happy.”
Rogers musical tastes are heavily influenced by Danny Elfman, a composer, singer, songwriter, record producer, actor and voice actor who has written more than 100 feature film scores, including 16 films directed by Tim Burton. “Danny Elfman was also in the 1980s band Oingo Boingo,” Rogers says. “I’m drawn to weird and out-there music, that’s what I like.”
As much as she likes unusual music, Rogers is also inspired by songs that lift the spirit. While isolating from the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been performing on social media, alongside her dad, uncle and grandmother, upbeat music like Chet Atkins’ “Nashtown Ville.” She yodels and strums the ukulele in one video and plays a melodica — a free-reed instrument similar to a pump organ and harmonica — in another. “We like to keep it happy,” she says. “I enjoy being able to make a big difference in someone’s day.”
Her parents have shared not only their artistic prowess, but also their advice. Through them, Rogers has learned about the music as well as everything that goes on behind the scenes, such as the prep work and the processes, whether its acting or singing on stage.
Last summer, when BD Wong announced he would be bringing his vision of Mr. Holland’s Opus: A New Musical to Wilmington and using local actors, musicians and members of Wilmington’s deaf community, Rogers auditioned and won the part of Gertrude Lang. Ironically, the character is one of Mr. Opus’s most musically challenged students. She is also “insecure and fidgety, so I feel like I can definitely relate to her,” Rogers says.
While rehearsing for the show, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters were on the set to teach the actors how to correctly communicate. Rogers became instantly intrigued, so much so that she founded the ASL club at her school to help raise awareness of the deaf community.
“I think everyone should be able communicate with everyone,” she says. “The response was overwhelming. I was so proud to see kids get out of their comfort zone and try something new.”
Mr. Holland’s Opus: A New Musical was scheduled for an April debut but has been postponed. At the time of publication, a new date has not been set.
In addition to Opus, Rogers can be seen in the upcoming Red Hot & Cole, a Ghostlight Series production that spans the life of composer and songwriter Cole Porter.
When reflecting on the guidance she has had growing up, Rogers says her parents recognize and encourage her interest in performing but never pressure her.
“I appreciate that,” Rogers says, adding that she believes everybody has a talent to be nurtured if they wish. “My brother, Dylan, is a talented musician, but he’s decided basketball is his thing. He’s good at and he loves it.”
As for her future, Rogers, with all the insight of an experienced adult, says, “I can’t see myself doing anything else in life but performing in some way, whether it is making music, singing, dancing or composing. I would love to do a combination of all of them.”
I started out in newspaper world, shooting the NBA, NCAA and MLB in the Midwest. Those were awesome experiences that paved the way for my style of photography today. I started shooting weddings in 2002, and now I average around 50 weddings a year, along with about 150 family photo sessions a year. With McGraw Photo Consulting, I am also a photo consultant, primarily in the dental business. I love traveling, and I love what I do for a living.