Young actress finds a home in Midvale Main Street Theatre’s production of ‘Frozen Jr.’
Jun 03, 2019 03:13PM
By Sarah Morton Taggart
Cast members of “Frozen Jr.” finish a number during a rehearsal at Midvale Main Street Theatre. The Utah premiere of “Frozen Jr.” runs from June 6-15. (Photo courtesy Midvale Main Street Theatre)
By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]
Stephanee Chidester had to audition, just like every other kid performing in Midvale Main Street Theatre’s upcoming production of “Frozen Jr.” But unlike other kids, she also needs special accommodations to practice at home.
For the past several months, Stephanee and her family have been living at the Midvale Family Resource Center operated by The Road Home. There isn’t a lot of room to sing and dance, so Stephanee explained her situation to the staff and got permission to practice in a stairwell.
“Ever since I was 5 I’ve wanted to be an actress,” said Stephanee, who is now almost 12. “I used to hang up scarves as a backdrop and perform for my parents. I kept wanting to audition [for plays], but always chickened out. I’m glad I did, because then I wouldn’t have come to this theater. I love this theater.”
Stephanee had been planning to sing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” for her audition because she thought she would need to sing a song from “Frozen.” But when she heard the other kids singing different songs during the audition she switched to David Bowie’s “Magic Dance.”
Her favorite subject is math and she is homeschooled by her mom while her dad works a full-time job. Stephanee admits that life at the shelter can be hard. “You don’t have a lot of room there, and it’s always loud. The schedule dictates a lot of your life, but you get used to it.”
Stephanee is a member of the ensemble, which means she has just one line, but multiple costume changes. Her favorite part of the show is dancing during the song “Fixer Upper.” Rehearsals are a lot of work, but for Stephanee it’s usually the best part of her day. “It’s fun to have time off and chill with my friends,” she said.
The young actors in “Frozen Jr.” range in age from 5 to 18 and live as far away as Bountiful. Forty-three youth were narrowed down from the nearly 100 who auditioned.
During a Saturday morning rehearsal a month before opening day, the kids fully embodied the characters they were playing, with only the occasional character break or peek at the script. The director, Cassidy Ross, provided firm guidance, encouragement and the occasional laugh when the kids improvised around missing props and scenery.
Ross started the youth program six years ago and, as far as she knows, it’s the only youth theater in the area that doesn’t charge a fee to participate. The money to run the program comes from ticket sales and fundraisers. Parents can donate if they’d like, but it is not required. Some parents volunteer their time and talents to help.
“We all volunteer because we love our kids,” Ross said. She tries to run the program just like an adult theater, which instills a strong work ethic and commitment from the kids. The lead from her first youth production continued acting in shows until she aged out and is now Ross’s assistant director. Three other young actors from that first show will appear in “Frozen Jr.”
Ella Henrie, who plays Elsa, is 14 and has been in 10 productions since she was 8. This is her first production at Midvale Main Street Theatre, but she knew some of her cast mates from previous shows.
“I like acting because it’s how I express myself,” Ella said. “Once I come to a new theater I’m shy at first, but I really like working with people and getting to know the people around me.”
It can be challenging for the young actors to make the part their own in a story they’ve watched the movie version of many times. Ella gets inspiration from the actress Caissie Levy, who originated the role of Elsa in the stage adaptation of “Frozen.”
As a special treat, the Theatre is hosting a “Frozen Jr.” Tea Party on Saturday, June 8 at 11:30 a.m. where young theatergoers can enjoy crafts and treats and have their photo taken with Anna and Elsa in full costume. Tickets to the tea party are $25 per child (adults are free) and all proceeds go toward operating children’s programming at the Theatre.
“Frozen Jr.” will run from June 6-15 with show times at 7 p.m. plus 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays. The show is 90 minutes long with a 15-minute intermission and tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for children. Kids of all ages are welcome and are given a brief lesson in theater etiquette before the show starts.
Midvale Main Street Theatre, located at 7711 S. Main St. in Midvale, is the first in Utah to stage “Frozen Jr.” The musical features all songs from the hit Disney movie plus five new songs written for the Broadway production. “Frozen Jr.” tells the story of finding love and acceptance, a theme that resonates with many of the young actors, including Stephanee.
“Stephanee is overcoming the challenges of living in a shelter while working with our staff to find a place to practice within the existing space constraints,” said Matthew Minkevitch, executive director for The Road Home. “Our team at The Road Home is excited for Stephanee and proud of her achievements.”