In addition to directing & choreographing the Illinois Premiere of Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical!, I also got to return to one my most treasured shows and programs!
The McLeod Summer Playhouse season typically includes two mainstage shows in the McLeod Theater with the professional company, plus a Theater for Young Audiences production in the intimate blackbox theater. At the end of the MSP Professional season, we collaborate with Carbondale Community Arts to present the ALL-SOUTHERN HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE PROJECT. This musical theater intensive is a four-week immersive experience filled with rehearsals, workshops, classes, and culminates with a full-fledged professional production on the MSP stage! The high school students from the Southern Illinois region audition to get into the program each year, then it's off to the races in July.
This is my THIRD year working with the program! In 2017, I assisted Wes Drummond on his production of Singin' in the Rain. In 2018, I directed Once Upon a Mattress and then, I directed & choreographed one of my favorite musicals this summer, The Drowsy Chaperone, with these incredible students!
Many moons ago, I played Janet van de Graaff at the Venice Theatre in Florida... and it was a special experience. You know those shows that just have the perfect mix of great people, great times, great experience, and great theater? THAT was Drowsy in 2012. And who woulda thunk that I would be returning to the musical again, this time at the helm!? Definitely not me. But, I'm so so grateful I got the chance.
These students, ranging from incoming freshman to graduating seniors, are incredible. Some of them are heading off to impressive BFA programs (and I'm so proud!), while others, this was one of their very first experiences like this on stage. I pushed them and challenged them, and we created something so beautiful and special.
And did I mention we had FUN? Yes. This show is quite fun. And challenging! This choreography is no joke! I have never choreographed a 4-minute tap routine before. Especially one so intricate as "Cold Feets" for two male tap dancers.
I think the thing I'm most proud of, is the fact that I directed AND choreographed that thing. And slapped a unique and enlightening concept on it, that was born out of a fever dream. It was a mammoth undertaking. I was so ready for it, and yet it challenged just about every creative bone in my body. And, the reward was so sweet. I loved every minute of it.
I call McLeod Summer Playhouse my artistic home. It's a treasure that I discovered at the Southeastern Theatre Conference auditions in 2014, and I've been lucky enough to return for four fulfilling summers since! Over the years, I've been lucky enough to grow as an actor, as well as begin my career & sharpen my tools as a director and choreographer. My mentors, Wes Drummond and J. Thomas Kidd, have been instrumental in my growth and I'm ever so grateful for all the opportunities!
This past summer was fruitful in new experiences with directing and choreographing two productions. The first, Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical, was new to me in more ways than one! It was my first time directing a Theatre for Young Audiences production, but it felt so natural and so beautiful. It is a new, contemporary musical written by the geniuses Douglas Lyons, Melvin Tunstall III, and Gregory Borowsky.
A little about Polkadots: The musical follows 8-year-old Lily Polkadot who just moved to the “Squares Only” town of Rockaway. As the first Polkadot in an all-Square school, Lily faces an almost impossible task of gaining acceptance from her peers. From daily bullying, to segregated drinking fountains, Lily’s quest seems hopeless until she meets Sky, a shy Square boy whose curiosity for her unique polkadot skin blooms into an unexpected pal-ship. Inspired by Civil Rights pioneers Ruby Bridges and The Little Rock Nine, Polkadots serves as a colorful history lesson for the world, reminding us that our differences make us awesome, not outcasts!
I mean. Could I be any luckier? In addition to its powerful message and beautiful story, the score ROCKS! And with only four actors, the rehearsal process was incredibly joyous - full of discovery, laughs, tears, and lots of play. Another "new to me" experience with Polkadots, was that it was in the intimate Christian H. Moe Laboratory Theatre, which is essentially a blank canvas scenically. Working with the genius Ronald Naversen (scenic designer), we created an almost-in-the-round design (three-quarter thrust) with colorful adult-sized building blocks to create shapes and furniture in front of the audience's eyes. It added to the playful and abstract element, while inviting them into our colorful and shape-driven world of Rockaway. The process and end-product were truly innovative and exciting to watch.
And, of course, once we added an audience of about 100 young people and the "young-at-heart," the story was infectious. I was often times moved to tears to see an audience of all different shapes, sizes, colors, and orientation, being drawn into this story and connecting to its powerful message of acceptance, inclusivity, and celebration of all. I will treasure this experience for the rest of my life. A special shout-out to my amazing cast: Lyndsay Manson, Brooke Bucher, Kalyn Glover, and Bryce Beliveau, and my music director Jenna Mee Dosch, for creating this special and unique production. Oh, and did I mention this was the ILLINOIS PREMIERE of Polkadots?!! I'm so honored.
Get a look at the incredible cast of Polkadots at MSP!
Inside the Costumes & Makeup of Polkadots at MSP
What does it mean to be a COOL KID?
All videography & photography by the incomparable Carrington Spires.
Having just completed my first tour with Prairie Fire Children's Theatre, let me just say... TEACHING IS HARD!
A little about PFCT and touring: PFCT is a professional touring theatre company based in Barrett, Minnesota, and has been bringing a theatrical experience to communities across the upper Midwest since 1987. Prairie Fire tours a variety of original musical adaptations of classic tales. I was touring with their original adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, with my tour partner (and real-life partner!) Derek Brookens. Together, we served as Co-Directors of the show as well as actors in the show. We traveled week-to-week to new cities, small and large, across Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. While in that community for our one-week residency, we met with our cast of children (ages 7-18) to hold auditions and rehearsals Monday through Friday. By Friday/Saturday, we performed in two performances for the community at-large - sometimes in gymnasiums, sometimes in auditoriums, sometimes on stages, sometimes not! Every week was different in all ways possible, but it brought wonderful challenges and opportunities to learn and grow and experience theater magic. By Sunday, we were onto the next booking and next group of kiddos.
This job taught me so much about myself and about the art of teaching. And trust me, it's an ART, y'all. I've learned an ungodly amount of patience, peace, and strength. I also think my ability to command a room is much stronger! When you're facing a squirrelly group of 75 small humans, your skills are put to the test!
I also found pockets of joy in their success. As always, working with youth is an interesting part of my job as an actor and director. Each week with PFCT is a sprint to the finish. The show is happening no matter what! It's our job to prepare them as best we can... and to have FUN along the way. It's incredible what kids can soak up in just five days.
One of my favorite comments from teachers is when they remark about certain students they "didn't think would be able to pull it off" because of their shy nature in class or their reserved qualities. But, by the end of the week, they are completely out of their shell and doing incredible things in front of 300 people. You truly never know what they're capable of until they're given the opportunity to shine.
Not only did I have a complete B-L-A-S-T directing & choreographing The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with The Players Centre in Sarasota, FL, but the audiences and critics are L-O-V-I-N-G it too!
"It’s a beautiful ode to the oddball in all of us."
- Marty Fugate, The Observer
"Danae DeShazer directs and choreographs with a sure hand. Some years ago, Ms. DeShazer was frequently cast in important roles [in the area] and I thought her a fine talent. Her recent absence was due to leaving the area and making McLeod Summer Playhouse in Carbondale, Illinois, her home base. She has honed her talents and is now a fine director bringing out the best in all of her cast... This production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee reminds me that much of the best musical theater is taking place at our community theaters." - William S. Oser, Talkin' Broadway
"It's a charming musical, staged with energy, joy and a touch of empathy..."
"It’s a charming musical, staged with energy, joy and a touch of empathy by director and choreographer Danae DeShazer at the Players Centre for the Performing Arts. There are some clever updates to the script that allow for local references to, for example, the recent #MeToo graffiti on the Unconditional Surrender statue and problems with parking meters. DeShazer has assembled an adorable cast of performers who capture the essence of those middle school years from different perspectives." - Jay Handelman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
It's been quite the busy season here at The Round Barn Theatre in Nappanee, Indiana! After arriving here in mid-August, I have been involved in *FIVE* productions on the Joseph Stein Stage and we are finally winding down.
I had the privilege of starting the season as teenager Lori Beth in Happy Days, the Musical, directed by David Craven. Let me tell you, it took a lot of energy to be so "young," but all that bouncin' and boppin' really paid off. I loved it!
During the run of "Happy Days," a sliver of our professional company was involved in the World Premiere of The White Buggy written by Frank Ramirez, conceived by Richard Pletcher, with direction by Ryan Schisler. I got to return to my "Amish girl" roots (having previously played Amish characters with Blue Gate Musicals) and create the character of Lily Bontrager. Although it was a one-night-only production, we put our hearts and souls into it to create something memorable and exciting.
After feverishly putting that show up, we began rehearsals for the Theatre for Young Audiences production of A Year with Frog & Toad, where I got to sing beautiful jazzy harmony as Woman #1. That track included the roles of Bird 1, Turtle ("Toad looks funny in a bathing suit!"), Squirrel 1, and Mole 1. Hearing little human laughter is such a joy!
Alright. Three down, two to go. Next up: Lend Me a Tenor as the delightful Maggie Saunders. I have wanted to do a Ken Ludwig farce for as long as I can remember, and TENOR is one of my favorite plays of all-time.
I also got to work with director Charles Burr, who serves as the Artistic Director at Tibbits Opera House up in Coldwater, Michigan. He is known as a farce-doctor because he has directed just about all the farces there are in the modern-day theater. I look forward to revisiting this role and this play again in the future! I wasn't ready to say goodbye to dear old "Moggie."
And, finally: we arrived at Annie. I grew up watching the film, but had seldom seen it on stage. Now it seems it's getting revived quite often, and I'm glad of it! A beautiful score, a well-rounded story, and wonderful characters: it is truly the feel-good musical we need around the holidays.
I am privileged to bring Miss Grace Farrell to life every night. She's strong, resilient, and is so much more than meets the eye. I am looking forward to stepping into her shoes for a total of 45 performances. We run here in Nappanee until December 31, 2018! More information here.
And just like that, a life-changing season comes to a close. As 2018 began to unfold, people would ask me how I was feeling about my summer with McLeod Summer Playhouse. Afterall, I was taking on the role of Associate Artistic Director from my best pal, Wes Drummond, and was thrust into a whole new arena.
My answer always seemed to be (as Little Red in Into the Woods would say), "excited & scared." Equal parts "can't wait" and "scared to death" of the prospect of my regional professional directorial debut at a wonderful company that I'm so proud to be a part of.
J. Thomas Kidd (Managing Artistic Director) and Kevin Anthony Smith (Resident Musical Director) and myself began preparing for the season in January.
We attended the A-1 Auditions in New York City, where we saw 900 young hopefuls. And so, audition season began. It would continue with a local audition in Carbondale, IL, and another 900 auditionees at Southeastern Theatre Conference in Mobile, AL. On top of that, countless video submissions and callbacks. We spent hours poring over every detail and every option.
By the end of March, our cast was finally set. Then, in late April, another bomb was dropped. One of our actresses had an opportunity presented that she couldn't pass up -- leaving us without a Donna in Mamma Mia! As Tom and I both discussed options, I threw out that I'd be willing to take on the role. This would be in between my directing responsibilities with 9 to 5 and Once Upon a Mattress. It would be STRESSFUL, but I said I would give it a whirl. And that was THAT! An incredible experience and a challenging season was ahead of me.
Through all the auditions, casting, countless videos from actors across the nation, long and creative design meetings, fruitful production meetings, inspiring rehearsals, energetic choreography, lots of tears, lots of laughter, late nights, early mornings, a long list of "incidents," stress, and margaritas... it was all MORE THAN worth it.
I accomplished the impossible. I directed the oh-so-challenging feat known as 9 to 5, The Musical, then jumped immediately into the role of a lifetime, Donna in Mamma Mia!, all while prepping to direct and teach and mentor students through a musical theatre intensive and professional production of Once Upon a Mattress.
I survived. I thrived. And I'm proud. Thank you to Tom Kidd for the unwavering guidance and support throughout. Thanks also to my guiding lights: Derek, Wes, Kevin, Jenna, Lyndsay, J. Morgan, Cassie, Katelin, and so many more. Thank you to each designer and creative I worked with on a daily basis. Your professionalism and commitment to your craft is inspiring. Jen, Will, Grenville, Mark, Michael, Kevin, Darryl, Tori, Daniel... looking forward to the next one.
My first tour with the National Theatre for Children is wrapping up, and I feel so grateful to have spent weeks on the road educating middle schoolers about the power of energy efficiency!
Based in Minneapolis, NTC sends out several tours throughout the US during the school year to educate students on a number of different topics. The show that I performed, with my tour partner Derek Brookens, was called POWERED UP! It was a 30-minute sketch comedy show that really stretched my improvisational skills! Before each show, we would ask the group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders for suggestions -- whether it be a movie title, a new video game, their favorite meal, a super hero, or whatever tickled our fancy.
Those suggestions were then incorporated into our sketch show, so, ANYTHING was possible! Since our tour was in and around the Chicagoland-area, we spent four amazing weeks exploring Chicago and visiting schools all throughout. Every day was a new adventure (especially in that Chicago-traffic!), but we got to experience so much while on tour.
Derek and I got to see HAMILTON: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL (a highlight!), visit several breweries, reunite with old friends, see the Improvised Shakespeare Company, see Macbeth at Chicago Shakespeare, eat so much good food, visit some museums, cheer on the Chicago Cubbies, and enjoy the weather as it transformed into spring.
Looking forward to the next one! Thanks NTC!
Well, isn't this amazing! The film that I assistant-directed last fall, 50 WORDS, has been accepted into the SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL!
It's an honor for the film to have its World Premiere in Sarasota, as the Sarasota Film Festival was recently called "One of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World" by Movie Maker Magazine. The competition to get into the festival is fierce, and there's a limited number of films they can fit into the programming.
50 WORDS SCREENING DETAILS
"50 Words" will be screened as part of the Shorts 11: Florida Showcase at the Art Ovation Hotel at 1255 N Palm Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236.
Sunday, April 15, 3:00 PM
Saturday, April 21, 11:00 AM
Tickets are available to the general public here:: https://www.goelevent.com/SFF/e/SHORTS11FLORIDASHOWCASEPROGRAM
Here's a link to the Sarasota Film Festival film guide - (50 Words is on page 73!) There's also details about all the wonderful independent movies and festival parties:
Opening Night Film & Block Party - April 13, Selby Five Points Park
Out of the World Party - April 20th - Art Ovation Hotel Ballroom
Closing Night Film & Chill Under The Stars Party - April 21st, Selby Five Points Park
If you have no idea where to start, this interview on At the Movies with "Gus Mollasis" gives a great overview of the festival.
See you at the movies!
When I knew I was going to be spending some time back in my hometown of Overland Park, Kansas, in between gigs, I KNEW I had to get involved with something, somewhere. In between auditions, casting trips, vacations, and yoga, I was looking for an opportunity to stretch my artistic wings and utilize some new tools.
As luck would have it, I reached out to my high school drama teacher, Ms. Laurie VanderPol, and she was in need of a director for the Spring Rep Show at Blue Valley West High School. The Rep Theatre class is the highest level of acting you can take at BVW, where it combines the skills you've learned in acting class and applies them to a performance-based class. Basically... you get to put on shows.
The challenge was finding something that would work for the entire class - should we pick a big comedy? A musical we can do without a budget? Or how about... work with the students on acting through song and create our very own Broadway-style Cabaret with solos, duets, full-scale production numbers with kicklines and choreography?! SOLD!
I started working with the students, many of whom had little-to-no vocal training, in January 2018. We met twice (sometimes three times) a week during their Tuesday and Thursday class time (1.5 hours). I asked them to step completely out of their comfort zone, as I barked "a-5-6-7-8" at them. What happened over two month's time was a miracle.
Through blood, sweat, and yes, some tears, we created a 15-number revue with songs ranging from Golden Age to Contemporary. With a dash of Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton to Chicago and Wicked, we put together a unique amalgamation of Broadway greats that allowed the students to shine. We worked together to take the musical numbers out of context and place them within confines that worked for our piece. It transformed the music, the students, and most definitely, myself.
Piecing together a revue reminded me of my time creating "Sisterly Love," a cabaret I did with the incomparable Alana Opie, my siamese twin from Side Show back in 2014. Being part of the creative process in producing something new is so special.
I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity to work with the students of BVW, Ms. V, Ms. Opheim (our student teacher), and special assistant Derek Brookens (who helped create the pivotal finale, "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" from Spamalot). I can't wait to see what the future holds for these bright stars!
It's been a joyous time in Amish Country!
After closing The Confession on November 4, we had a quick 4 day turnaround before we opened Our Christmas Dinner on November 9. You heard that right. Four days.
But, we did it! We're champions!
The show is a 90-minute romp filled with lots of Christmas caroling, gorgeous original music, bright lights and shiny tinsel. Even though we have a lot of "two-show days," the show is totally fun and I never feel exhausted!
I get to play Mrs. Sadie Miller, a rather spunky Amish lady with a mind of her own. She speaks her mind... sometimes to her own detriment... but you gotta love her.
It's hard to believe there are only 10 performances left before we all head home for Christmas and beyond. I'm so very grateful to Wally Nason, Dan Posthuma, and the whole team here at Ohio Star Theater for the fantastic autumn adventure.
Danae DeShazer is an actress, singer, and dancer living in Sarasota, FL.