Meet Jordyn Leininger, a senior at Whitko Junior Senior High School and Kosciusko County native. Jordyn, daughter of Thad and Rochelle Leininger, has been involved in Wagon Wheel Junior shows since she was 9 years old and has performed in 15 shows at the Wagon Wheel. When she isn’t on stage, Jordyn shows sheep across the US, competes in pageants, and reads. Jordyn was also recently named a 2022 Lilly Endowment Community Scholar by the Kosciusko County Community Foundation this past December. Elisa Wise, Development Director of Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts, sat down with Jordyn to hear more about her experiences.

Q. How did you first get started in Wagon Wheel Junior?
An upperclassman at my school had done a show and it sounded like a lot of fun. I auditioned three years in a row before I got cast in my first show though. My dad, he said I sounded like a dying cat when I sang. He was right! I’m pretty sure in my first audition I didn’t hit a single note right and I was off-tempo the entire time. But I kept auditioning and finally got cast in my first show in 2015.

Q. What was your first show like?
So much fun! There were a lot of older kids in the cast and I really looked up to them. As a 9-year-old, the cool high schoolers were like celebrities to me! But the best part was that everyone was like family. The big kids took us younger ones under their wings, the parents were volunteering, and the staff treated us like professionals. Being in a Wagon Wheel Junior show is being a part of the Wagon Wheel Junior family – that family atmosphere is what got me hooked! Now, I am one of the older kids in the cast and I am proud to mentor and be someone the new, young kids can look up to.

Q. How many Wagon Wheel shows have you been in?
I’ve been in 15 shows at the Wagon Wheel, 14 Wagon Wheel Junior shows and I was also part of the youth ensemble in the Professional Theatre’s cast for a Christmas Carol in 2016. I’ve played a zombie, a cowboy’s sidekick, a fairytale critter, a pop star, a fairy godmother, a stowaway on a pirate ship, and a princess. Whether I’ve been in the ensemble or a lead role, each show is special and memorable to me.

Q. Have you had the opportunity to engage in theatre outside Wagon Wheel programs?
I attend Whitko Junior Senior High School and we don’t have a theatre program at school. I am in the choir but it is small with only about 20 kids participating. I had to find creative opportunities outside of school. Wagon Wheel Junior was my start but I have also had the opportunity to participate in Fort Wayne Youtheatre shows. I was Nick Bottom in A Midsummer’s Night Dream and was nominated for the 2022 Broadway World Fort Wayne’s Best Supporting Performer in a Play. I also played Elsa in Frozen at the Fort Wayne Youtheatre.

Q. What other opportunities have you had at the Wagon Wheel to grow and develop?
I took vocal coaching lessons from Thomas Hall as a part of Wagon Wheel’s Conservatory program. He was able to cater to my individual learning style and help teach me how to properly use my voice safely and effectively. That gave me a lot of confidence in singing and learning new things. I’ve also taken acting classes with Kira Lace Hawkins and dance classes with Scott Michaels.

Q. What else are you involved in?
I am 10-year member of 4-H and have been showing sheep across the states for years. I also became involved in pageantry. I was the first runner-up to Miss Indiana Outstanding Teen. I am currently Miss Kosciusko County, Teen USA. I use my musical theatre talent for the talent portion of my pageantry. All of the songs I have selected are from Musical Theatre – not a traditional choice in pageantry.

Q. What has theatre taught you?
Being involved in Wagon Wheel Junior gave me a sense of belonging. I was bullied in school and didn’t have a lot of close friends at school either. But at the Wagon Wheel, I became a leader and made so many friends. It is crazy how much line memorization has helped me in school. Math formulas are a breeze for me to memorize. I just remind myself that if I can learn my lines, songs, and dances for a show in just 2 weeks then I can easily learn a simple math formula. And of course, confidence. It is sometimes easier to be in front of people as a character in a play than it is as yourself, but the practice of being in front of others on stage has helped me be confident as myself in front of others.

Q. You are a senior this year, what are you excited about most after graduation?
I am so grateful to have received the Lilly Scholarship and will be making several college visits this winter to narrow down my college choices. I hope to enter a pre-med program but if I can squeeze a minor in theatre into my schedule I’ll be glad to have that in my life still too!

Q. You are one of two Kosciusko County residents that received the Lilly Scholarship this year. What does that scholarship mean to you?
More freedom in selecting my college! I can now focus on selecting a school based on the experiences and opportunities the school can provide me and focus less on the costs.

Q. What experiences and opportunities are you looking forward to most in college?
I am really interested in a study abroad program. I am also excited about meeting new people and trying new things. That is something theatre taught me, that it is important to have the chance to explore and try new things.

Q. What advice would you give adults on the importance of theatre and the arts for students and our community?
I actually did a study on the importance of giving youth opportunities to explore the arts in English class! I found that this exploration (of the arts) helps kids do better in school and improves their mental health. I believe we are hindering the growth of youth by not giving them chances to try new things. The arts and theatre give students a diverse range of opportunities.

Q. What advice would you give young people like you?
Don’t give up, keep trying, and “no” isn’t the end. I’ve received a lot of “no’s” but it has always been worth it to try again. You never know what doors will open up for you if you just keep trying.

Note from the interviewer:

I have known Jordyn since she was an energetic 9-year-old. At the time, I was still directly involved in the Junior program helping to costume the show. Jordyn was memorable for her enthusiasm, passion, and drive to succeed. I have watched many kids grow into mature young adults through the Wagon Wheel Junior program and Jordyn shines bright. Sitting across from her to interview her, I see a strong, confident, and resilient young woman. From the entire Wagon Wheel Family, we are proud of you Jordyn!

Jordyn is just one of many young people that we, the staff of the Wagon Wheel, have the privilege of teaching and empowering. We are proud of each of them and grateful to the parents and guardians who have supported them and trusted us with a part of their education and growth. We are also thankful to the donors, foundations, and businesses that support the youth and educational opportunities at the Wagon Wheel through donations. For more information on how you can support students like Jordyn by giving to the Wagon Wheel, please visit the donate page or reach out to Elisa Wise,