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.
Danae DeShazer is an actress, singer, and dancer living in Sarasota, FL.