Her mother runs a youth theater program in Canada. One of her two sisters studies motion-picture arts at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. The other has her sights set on student productions at Middlebury College in Vermont.

For Whitman student Seren Pendleton-Knoll ’09, the time she spends on stage and in front of a camera is much more than a hobby. It’s a family calling. 

Seren Pendleton-Knoll ’09 (right) performs a song from “A Little Night Music” during a scene class in New York University’s summer CAP21 program.

Pendleton-Knoll and her sisters, Julia and Amie, are following in the creative footsteps of their mother, actor and theater company founder Susan Pendleton. Over the past four years, Pendleton-Knoll has directed children from ages 6 to 12 in productions ranging from “101 Dalmatians” to “The Jungle Book.” The shows were part of a summer youth theater program that she and her siblings launched in Surrey, British Columbia, through the Young People's Theatre Company of Surrey founded by their mother.

In the program, Pendleton-Knoll teaches character development and other basic acting techniques to her young acting troupe. “We have families that come back year after year,” she said. “It’s exciting to see the breakthroughs in 6-year-olds. You can really see their growth.”

In the summer of 2006, before her second year at Whitman, Pendleton-Knoll participated in New York University’s competitive CAP21 Summer Professional Musical Theatre Training Program, a rigorous, six-week immersion in acting, voice and dance.

“I worked with people involved with Broadway shows,” said Pendleton-Knoll. “We learned about everything – auditioning for Broadway, résumé writing, voice work. I really began to understand the real world of New York auditions.”

“I was expecting to be terrified, but everyone there was so supportive. It really increased my confidence,” she added.

Pendleton-Knoll, a psychology major at Whitman, lived in New York with her younger sister, Amie, who was enrolled in NYU’s high school acting program. Their mother accompanied them and took adult workshops. They shared an apartment in Chelsea and saw 15 Broadway shows in the space of two months.

“We’re really close,” said Pendleton-Knoll. “We’re very supportive of one another.”

Susan Pendleton was active in community theater in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. At age 7, Pendleton-Knoll convinced her mother to let her try out for a show, even though the roles were for children ages 9 and older. She earned the part, and has been acting ever since.

“As kids, when my sisters and I were bored, we would write and act in original plays,” she said. As recently as four years ago, Pendleton-Knoll and her sisters collaborated on a play about orphans set to modern pop music as a Christmas present, creating their own song-and-dance routines for the show.

Twelve years ago, Susan Pendleton opened the Young People’s Theatre Company of Surrey. “I started doing this because I was driving my kids and several other children to do shows in Richmond,” she said in a February 2007 interview with the Peace Arch News. “There was no youth theater company here, and after a while I thought, hello, I have a master’s degree in educational theater.”

Pendleton-Knoll has also landed several television roles. As early as age 8, she appeared in commercials and music videos. At 13, she started cartoon-voice acting. She is best known for her role in the anime program “Hamtaro,” the story of hamsters who gather for meetings to talk about their adventures.

At Whitman, Pendleton-Knoll has been active in theater from the time she arrived. “My teachers have opened up new ways of seeing things,” she said. “They push boundaries and take me out of my comfort zone.”

Pendleton-Knoll is currently rehearsing August Strindberg’s “The Ghost Sonata,” which will open next month at Harper Joy Theatre.

Originally a theater major, Pendleton-Knoll switched to psychology because she believes deeply in “human interaction and helping other people.” She hopes to combine both interests through a career in creative arts therapy.

Pendleton-Knoll currently works with a prison research group in Walla Walla. “I know of an Australian prison that has a theater company. I want to bring this to the U.S.,” she said, noting “the therapeutic value of acting.”

Pendleton-Knoll has already experienced firsthand the transformative power of theater. “It’s my creative outlet,” she said. “A place where I can channel energy; a way to express myself. It’s made me more confident.”

– Katie Combs ’08

Keith Raether
Office of Communications, Whitman College