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Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents The Snow Queen
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Anyone visiting the Youtheatre office before this year might have been a little nonplussed. It was located in the basement of the Arts United Center, in an echoing cinderblock-lined room without windows, where the clunk and hum of the building’s machinery provided the background noise.
Not only was it inauspiscious quarters for an organization well into its seventh decade, it was pretty much the exact opposite of the spirit of the organization itself. Those who have seen a Youtheatre performance, attended a class or workshop, or even watched a rehearsal can attest to the exuberance and enthusiasm of the actors, students, teachers, and directors. You don’t find that kind of warmth and good feeling in a basement.
This past year, Youtheatre moved out of the basement and into more accommodating digs on the first floor of the Arts United Center. Neither Leslie Hormann nor Harvey Cocks — the Executive Director and the Artistic Director of Youtheatre, respectively — seem to attach too much significance to the move; they were just as committed to Youtheatre’s mission when they were in the basement (though Hormann does conceded it’s nice to be above ground and not feel “like a mole”).
But if you’re into symbolism, it serves as a handy metaphor for the transformation Youtheatre has undergone recently. Youtheatre’s diverse range of classes — where fledgling performers can try their hand at everything from drama to public speaking, improvisation, and radio — have boasted healthy enrollment the past few years, and the organization has also increased its outreach in a number of different areas. “We do summer camps and after school drama clubs for Fort Wayne Urban League and the Boys & Girls Club, and education projects with Weisser Park Elementary and Oak Farm Montessori,” says Hormann, adding that they’re also doing a lot of touring with the Storybook Theater troupe.
“So, class enrollment is up, outreach has increased tremendously, we’re expanding our pre-school programs with Fort Wayne Community Schools and CANI schools, and we’re involved in a number of exciting collaborations,” says Hormann, who joined Youtheatre as Executive Director in 2010. “It’s been an exciting time.”
Youtheatre has also been involved in a lot of collaborations with other area organizations, including a project with the Fort Wayne Ballet and the Dance Collective last spring, and — coming in February — they’re working with IPFW on a production of Oliver.
For this year’s holiday production, an adaptation of the Hans Christen-Anderson story The Snow Queen (written and directed by long time Youtheatre director Harvey Cocks), the Youtheatre has recruited the talents of the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, Oakview Elementary choir, and the Hickory Center Elementary choir to serve as carollers. Some of the costumes and props — like the Snow Queen’s robe and her sleigh — are “on loan” from the Fort Wayne Ballet.
In The Snow Queen, an (somewhat) evil queen (played by Kia Miller) casts a spell over a young boy named Kai (played by Noah Cook) and takes him him to her ice castle, where he must remain unless he solves a seemingly impossible task. His best friend Gerda (Sydney Gamble) sets off to rescue him.
Ella Whitlock, who plays the Bandit Girl, one of the characters Gerda encounters on her rescue mission, fills in a few details: “Kai is wonderful at math, but absolutely terrible at spelling, so in order to get free, he has to spell the word ‘eternity.’”
Whitlock was in a production of Youtheatre’s Rip Van Winkle, and also participates in Storybook Theater, the traveling troupe. It seems to be a common thread with many of The Snow Queen cast members — in addition to the plays, they also take classes and participate in other Youtheatre activities (they also tend to be involved in their school’s drama program). Jason Collins, who plays one of the Snow Queen’s minions, has taken two radio classes and a drama class at Youtheatre. “I love to act, I love public speaking,” says Collins, who has also been in Civic productions. “It’s really fun to be on stage, and it’s fun to work with everyone at Youtheatre.”
The Snow Queen is the second Youtheatre production for Noah Cook (Kai). He was previously in Huckleberry Finn. “(The Snow Queen) is a nice mix of drama and humor,” he says. “Probably my favorite scene is where Kai and the Snow Queen first meet and she casts a spell on him. There’s a lot of humor, but it’s a little serious, too, so it’s fun to play.”
Sydney Gamble plays Kai’s friend Gerda. Gamble was in Rip Van Winkle and Huck Finn, and also has a pretty long list of Youtheatre classes on her resume, including singing and improvisation. The latter class came in especially handy for her role in The Snow Queen; there are a few scenes, she says, where some “ad-libbing” is required. “There’s this one scene where Harvey told us to ‘make a lot of noise’,” Gamble explains. “You have to work with the other actors on stage to try to figure out what’s good for the scene.”
The actress playing Gamble’s nemesis in The Snow Queen is also one of her teachers (and one of the only adults in the production). Kia Miller teaches classes in dance and “Voice for the Stage” at Youtheatre. Recently back in Fort Wayne after college, Miller was Tracy Turnbladd in Hairspray at the Fort Wayne Civic last year. “It’s such an outstanding organization for young people,” Miller says of Youtheatre. “A ton of my education as an actor came from working with people here. To be able to give back to them is pretty cool for me.”
Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents The Snow Queen
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Friday, December 14 at 7:00 PM
Saturday and Sunday, December 15 & 16 at 2:00 PM
Also, there will be a pre-show party — the Ice Castle Ball — on December 14 from 6 - 7 PM in the Ian Rolland Gallery of the Arts United Center. Meet the cast and enjoy a buffet.
For tickets to The Snow Queen, call 422-4226 or buy online at tickets.artstix.org
For more on Youtheatre, including classes, visit fortwayneyoutheatre.org