In this weekend's Pine River-Backus Community Education production of "Steel Magnolias," the star of the high school's "Alice in Wonderland" production - Synclair Gardiner - returns as Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie, around whom much hilarity and drama orbits.

Gardiner is a senior who lives in Pequot Lakes and attends Central Lakes College in Brainerd and home school programs. She has a history with performing arts that started in Kansas, where Gardiner performed in a children's musical theater with the Christian homeschool community.

Locally, she played the writer and narrator of "Anne of Green Gables" with Lake Region Christian School in Baxter and performed in "The Ransom of Red Chief." Last year she played Alice in "Alice in Wonderland," and for the past two years she has plied her performing experience at speech competitions with the Pequot Lakes High School speech team.

"Last year I was in duo and prose," Gardiner said of speech. "We didn't make it very far but we had a super funny script in duo. This year we were in duo and did well with our drama, 'The Notebook.' Then I was in storytelling and made it to state, so that was cool."

Gardiner feels there is a lot to love about being a thespian, but also a lot of stress.

"There's a lot of love-hate relationship with it," Gardiner said. "It's stressful having to do the lines. There is a certain point where you get frustrated with people, but I also really enjoy the bonds you make with people. The cast becomes family, especially with a cast this small. It's super fun. It's an atmosphere you can't get anywhere else, that's for sure. You can't not fit in there. It's kind of cool."

She first felt that she was fully in character with her performance last year as Alice. The feeling of being immersed, she said, enforced her love of theater. She's excited to play Shelby, a rather complex but fun character.

"Shelby Eatenton is a girl about to get married and start her life," Gardiner said. "She's super excited about everything to come, but she's a very redheaded spirit like she's going to do what she wants. She has a lot of conflict with her mom, but they kind of work that out through different things they go through. You get to see her do a lot of things she wants to do and things that are hard for her, and just the connections she's had with all the other individuals. They are all super close."

Though she is used to performing amongst "madcap" characters like those in Alice, Gardiner said the humor in "Steel Magnolias" is bound to be a real crowd pleaser.

"There are a lot of really funny one-liners in this show," Gardiner said. "I love the kind of comedy it brings. There is a lot of sarcasm in a lot of lines. That's super fun. There's a lot of real life drama and you can feel a lot of it even though it is from a different time period."

Of course, those lines have to be performed correctly for the jokes to hit their mark, a task Gardiner is excited to tackle with her fellow cast members.

"With these people it's been fun to have such a small cast. I'm so excited performing this play with these ladies," Gardiner said.

'Steel Magnolias'

When: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 3-4; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 5.

Cost: $8, adults; $5, students.

Tickets: Available at the door 45 minutes before show time. All seats are general admission.

Cast: Truvy Jones, Susan Kottschade; Annelle Dupuy-Desoto, Sarah Good; Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie, Synclair Gardiner; M'Lynn Eatenton, Jennifer Anderson; Ouiser Boudreaux, Sue Langins; Clairee Belcher, Deb Binda.