Youtheatre’s production of Disney’s Frozen, Jr. set to melt hearts & make memories
Fort Wayne Youtheatre is celebrating the season with a new production of Disney’s Frozen, Jr. which opens Friday, December 9th at 1st Pres Theatre.
After a successful debut of this perennial favorite in 2019, the troup has decided to recreate the experience with a special emphasis on acceptance, according to its director, Christopher Murphy.
Julia Meek discusses the impact of the production and its message with Murphy, who is also Youtheatre’s Associate Director and lead actor Cassandra Smith, who plays the part of Olaf the Snowman.
Youtheatre's Disney's Frozen, Jr.
@First Pres Theater, downtown Fort Wayne
Dec. 9 - 18
Friday, Dec. 9, 16: 7:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10, 11, 17, 18: 3:00 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 17 is also the annual Breakfast with Santa event at 10:00 a.m., followed by a 12:00 p.m. show
For tickets and more information visit the Fort Wayne Youtheatre website.
Read a transcription of the full conversation:
Julia Meek: Christopher Murphy, Cassandra Smith, welcome.
Christopher Murphy: Thanks, Julia. Thanks for having us.
Cassandra Smith: Hi.
Julia Meek: So, Murphy, you premiered this delightful story in 2019 very, very successfully. In case anyone's listening that is not familiar with Frozen, Jr. very briefly, what's it about?
Christopher Murphy: So, for those people who've been living under a rock for the last nine years Frozen, Jr, is based on the Disney film Frozen it's a story of two sisters, two princesses, one born with magical powers one born without.
On the day of Elsa's coronation, she unleashes a blizzard and an ice storm upon her kingdom that wreaks havoc on everybody. Chaos ensues; drama, drama, drama. And at the end of the day, everyone lives happily ever after when these two sisters find how much they truly love one another.
Julia Meek: That's quite a dramatic story you've got going there for the holiday season.
Christopher Murphy: It is epic.
Julia Meek: Okay, Cassandra, first of all, this is your 28th Youtheatre production.
Cassandra Smith: Yep.
Julia Meek: Congratulations on that.
Cassandra Smith: Thank you.
Julia Meek: You are playing the part of Olaf, he's a snowman. Were you familiar with the play as well as the roll when you tried out for it?
Cassandra Smith: And what's it feel like to know that you actually are starring with a puppet in hand, literally, in this play?
Cassandra Smith: Yeah. So I was in Frozen when we did it three years ago, and 2019. I was in the ensemble then. And it was a really fun show was a great experience. So I know I had to audition again, when it came up. Olaf is actually a puppet. And I had played a puppet about two years ago when I did Stuart Little. So I'm very excited to get back into the puppet game, kind of!
Cassandra Smith: I think, Olaf is definitely one of the most loved characters. We're out this weekend, little kids were running up, they were so excited to see Olaf. And he's not a puppet to them, he's a snowman. He's their favorite snowman. And they're really excited to meet him.
Christopher Murphy: Absolutely! She does such a great job of bringing that to life. I did witness this one absolutely adorable little girl this weekend, when we were performing down at the landing, see Cassie with that puppet. And to her it wasn't an actor with a puppet, it was Olaf. And watching this little girl's happiness at interacting with Cassie and that puppet was just the highlight of my day that day.
Julia Meek: Now as director Murphy, you are very intentionally putting emphasis on acceptance, this time around with this production.
Christopher Murphy: Absolutely. And I think this is one of those shows that's really easy to dismiss as Disney Princess fluff. But there's really a lot more to it. I think the story is is almost Shakespearean in how epic and tragic it is. It's this really beautiful story of a family and in particularly these two sisters, who if their parents and the people around them had just been willing to accept them for who they are, and embrace them for who they are when they are little kids, none of the tragedy that ensues in the rest of this play would happen.
Everybody would be loved and live happily ever after. And so we're really trying to put an emphasis on it as a story for I think 2022, especially the young people that we deal with it youth theatre for our time of acceptance and the idea that family can be a lot more than just the people that you are born into.
Julia Meek: How are you bringing it to light as you do recreate the spirit and the love?
Christopher Murphy: To me, one of the most important things about Youtheatre is that it is home to so many of the people who are involved in it. We actually had an incident a couple of weeks ago where a cast member had a death in their family. And I told him they were absolutely welcome to take a couple of days off from rehearsal if they needed to.
And instantly the reaction was no they wanted to be there quote unquote, with their people. To me, that just summed up what I think you theater should be and what we try to make it every day. And that is a home for the people who are involved, whether it's classes camps shows...a home for audience members.
Julia Meek: Are you feeling it, Cassandra?
Cassandra Smith: Yeah, I definitely feel it. I've been involved with You theater for almost 10 years now. So all of these people, I've grown up with them. I've seen how they've changed. They've seen me change. They know me better than almost anyone in my life. They know how to be there for me, I know how to be there for them. It's a very tight knit group.
Julia Meek: And the whole building block aspect of all of this and the organization, you symbolize exactly what we're talking about in these ways. What does it feel like to be representing all of that?
Christopher Murphy: Not only does that statement represent what Youtheater should be, but this person sitting next to me represents the absolute best of what I think Youtheater can be.
Cassandra Smith: Yeah, so I grew up in Youtheater, so I would take all the classes and camps. And now that I'm older, I helped teach those same classes and camps that I took. So it's almost like giving back to the next generation and making sure that they have the same opportunities that I had and making sure they get the same support that Youtheater gave me.
Just being able to give back to the organization that gave so much to me and helping the generation behind me to kind of create a cycle of support, and just fun in theater.
Julia Meek: How else can you bring that message emphasizing acceptance to the whole theater this year,
Christopher Murphy: Not only are we presenting a message of acceptance and diversity in the actual show, but with our programming. One of the things we do at Youtheater is we do a sensory friendly performance of every show especially tailored for members of the Autistic community, anybody who might be on the spectrum, or really just anybody who might not feel like they can go to you know, a quote, unquote, regular performance of a show because they might disrupt the people around them or, or something like that.
And their caregivers as well, who oftentimes, you know, have to sit out going to things because of that. We've never done a sensory friendly show for our Christmas show before. And so we're really excited to be debuting Frozen as our first ever sensory friendly Christmas show. And we are really excited that it's already sold out. So clearly, there's a lot of need and desire for that in our community.
Julia Meek: Fantastic. Now, Cassandra, you have explored about every aspect of Youtheatres creative and inclusive program as you mentioned (chuckles) since third grade "Oompa Loompa" debut (chuckles) how do you feel that you've grown under all of that? Your life is a charmed and a happy one at Bishop Dwenger, you're in a lot of meaningful activities and educational opportunities there. Put this all in the mix. Where do you feel you're ready to go now?
Cassandra Smith: Yeah, so public speaking is the number one fear in America. So kind of being thrown into it at such a young age has really I think very much prepared me for a lot of things that I feel like a lot of people aren't prepared for. I have no qualms about getting up in front of people and getting in front of my classes and giving a presentation.
Being around such a supportive community, the arts community that's so diverse in so many ways, it's given me an appreciation for the differences in humanity. And it's also made me want to protect those differences and make sure that everyone gets support, which has led me to my future major in my career in political science. (chuckles) So even though I'm not majoring in theater theater has basically influence the rest of my life.
Christopher Murphy: She will be the next Ronald Reagan--from actor to President. (laughs)
Julia Meek: With a very good head on those shoulders and a wonderful way of expressing yourself. Certainly public speaking is to be feared, respected, and also understood, talking with you, Cassandra, how effective it can be. And you already do have your plans in gear and in motion. You have a school that you're thinking and hoping that you'll go to?
Cassandra Smith: Yes, I'm hoping to go to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania to study political science and environmental studies,
Julia Meek: Whatever you do, and with all of your background and your spirit and your skills, we wish you well, and we expect you will be going far. Now, Murphy, just where does Cassandra fit on that participation, intensity scale, Youtheatre-wise? (laughs) You know, how does her spirit, as well as her accomplishments reflect Youththeatre today?
Christopher Murphy: Yeah, I...Well, first of all, I don't think anybody is or could be more involved at Youtheatre than Cassie is and we're so extremely lucky to have her. She was named Youtheatre's Volunteer of the Year in 2020. And I will say that that's really rare because usually that award goes to somebody that's an outgoing senior, so here she was winning it way before that.
I think the world of Cassandra Smith, she is an amazing human being, a really beautiful soul. And we are so lucky to have her whether she is staged managing a show, assistant directing a show, acting in a show, helping with a class or being in a class. And I love that because I think it sets such a great example for everybody else.
And it shows everybody else walking into Youtheatre that they don't have to be pigeon holed, do, they can do all of these other things, and that they can play the lead in one show and they can be in the ensemble of another show. They can stage manage this show, and they can help with a class. That there are just so many opportunities out there for them and that they are welcome to avail themselves of each and every one of them.
Julia Meek: Those are especially great points, because this is what the Fort Wayne Youtheatre is ALL about, a nd sometimes we don't think enough about all of the parts of a production that make it that much fun on both sides of the stage...both sides of the curtain.
Christopher Murphy: Oh yeah, absolutely and the truth is most quote unquote children's theatre companies in the country are actually companies that produce theatre for children, but it's usually done by adults, or at least directed and designed and stage managed by adults. Youtheatre really is theatre for youth by youth and that makes us really unique in the landscape.
Julia Meek: A democratic process to be sure. And actually, truly, as you're indicating your long range plan to craft a wicked good repertoire of of good and meaningful holiday specials, what might be next, what might be the other heavy hitters?
Christopher Murphy: So we love the idea that at the holidays, people like tradition, you know, everybody in Indianapolis goes to IRT and they see Christmas Carol, everybody in Fort Wayne goes to the Holiday Pops, they go to see the ballet Nutcracker. And so I love the idea of tradition. I for one loved as a little kid sitting down with my parents and watching all the Christmas movies and things that we loved. And so we're trying to create our own theatrical version of that.
But at the same time, we don't want to stick our kids into the situation where they are not being given the opportunity to do different material every year. So what we're trying to do is build sort of a repertoire of three or four shows that we can cycle through every few Christmases. And if we want to stick something else in there, we're certainly open to that.
So we've got Frozen, we had a great reaction to Elf, Jr. last year and a great time doing that. And then next year, I believe we'll be bringing back that perennial favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Julia Meek: (chuckles) That's a good taste going there. Does that make you wish that you could make a return performance, Cassandra so that you could have a part of that? (laughs)
Christopher Murphy: Alumni! (chuckles)
Cassandra Smith: I've been involved in that show two times once as Patty and then another time as a stage crew member, and it's so fun to be involved with.
Julia Meek: We'll keep looking for you to be in some cameo appearances! (laughs)
Christopher Murphy: We'll zoom her in from college! (laughs)
Julia Meek: Wouldn't that...well now that might be a shape of the future. Now a quick word on that wonderful collaboration you share with the First Pres Theater, and how's it working for you over there, Murphy?
Christopher Murphy: We absolutely love being at First Pres. First Pres has been a great partner for us, provides us with a space that I think is just the right size for Youtheater--big enough for us in terms of audience size and stage size, but really keeps the audience in a real space of immediacy. And so this year, we're actually doing all four of our mainstage productions at First Pres.
We started out just doing Christmas there. We're doing all four there this year. And they're actually running this Christmas in sort of a little repertory with us because they are doing the bBest Christmas Pageant Ever, which used to be Youtheaters traditional Christmas show, but they have picked up that mantle this year. And they're going to be performing that essentially the same dates that were performing Frozen, but they're performing at some different times and performing it over in the sanctuary at First Pres.
So everybody if they want to make a great day of it, you can come see a matinee of Frozen, go grab something to eat and come back to the same building and see a totally different show with Best Christmas Pageant.
Julia Meek: How celebratory that does sound to be sure.
Christopher Murphy: Yeah, wow it's a lot of fun.
Julia Meek: And before you two leave us, in the spirit of this very season, what do you both hope your audiences will be taking with them when they leave this wonderful performance of Youtheatres Frozen?
Cassandra Smith: Well, obviously, I hope all the songs are stuck in their head. That's how you know the musical went well. (chuckles) But I also hope they just take with them the nostalgia and the fun of the snow, the singing, all the community around them. I just hope they leave with joy in their heart.
Christopher Murphy: I don't think I can come up with a better answer than that. Again, I think Christmas is such a time for tradition and for gathering with the people that you love.
The same way I look back on my experiences going to A Christmas Carol and things like that with my parents when I was a little kid because those are really really special memories to me, and I just want people to have that same experience.
Julia Meek: Christopher Murphy and Cassandra Smith are director and lead actor in Fort Wayne Youtheatre's Disney's Frozen, Jr. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, folks. Blessings, always.
Christopher Murphy: Thanks, Julia.
Cassandra Smith: Thank you.
Christopher Murphy: You're the best.