‘Frozen’ in Time

COVID-postponed middle school production finally gets stage time

A melting Olaf, (Jackson Maire) receives a magic umbrella to keep him safe from the sun.

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Actors from Seven Oak Middle School dusted off their costumes and flipped on the lights July 1 and 2 for their first performance before an audience in more than a year.
Since curtains closed in 2020 due to COVID, students and teachers from the Seven Oak Theatre Club had to get creative to keep the talent – and, hopefully, the money – flowing.
“It’s been a whirlwind of a year for us,” said Kathryn Collins, music and choreographer director.
The group began preparing for “Frozen Jr.” in January 2020, and the cast was only four weeks away from performing when the state shut down.
“We were just so disappointed,” Collins said.
Several months later, at the beginning of 2021, the club posted a few plays on YouTube that they were able to perform together through Zoom.
Teachers revived the club five years ago at a time when the stage was being used for storage, said stage director Emily Latimer. There’s also an elective theater class, and even some home-schooled kids participate in the club.
Productions help draw in ticket sales and donations, which fund things such as lighting, technology and snacks, Collins noted.
“We financially really struggled this year because usually we would’ve done two or three productions in person,” she said.
To have fun and entice a little money flow during the pandemic, the club held virtual sessions. Members first created their own skits about their teachers’ annoying habits during Zoom class time. Then they performed “Virtually Ever After,” a series of fairy tales with modern and amusing twists.
“Some of the kids bought intricate backdrops, and some had virtual backgrounds,” Collins said. “We delivered costumes all around town to anybody who needed one.”
When spring arrived, students were able to perform together in person, though without an audience. They presented “Super Short Shakespeare,” a series of summarized Shakespeare plays. Again, the production was posted online.
By the time summer arrived and the state reopened, it was clear that finishing what they started a year and a half earlier might be a possibility, Collins said. One caveat: they had only four weeks left to hold on to the “Frozen Jr.” rights.
“This was a dream we couldn’t let die, and the kids didn’t want to let it go,” she said.

The theater club was invited to participate, and the original cast was invited back, as well. Some of the original cast included actors who had already moved on to high school. One, Ruby Freitag, was in the eighth grade when the production began. Now she’s about to enter her sophomore year. Returning to the production didn’t appeal very much to her because it had been so long since she’d been on stage.
“I was feeling a lot of stage fright,” she said. “I’d done a lot of plays in the past, but it had been so long; I felt really rusty.”
But she knew her mom wanted to see the play, so Freitag chose to finish what she started and make her mom proud, she said.
The cast rehearsed for 12 days at nearly four hours a day in preparation for the show, Collins said.
In addition to that, they didn’t have time to build backdrops, so actors used their bodies and ribbons to depict scenes, Latimer noted.
And due to the pandemic, the students still needed to wear masks and maintain certain guidelines.
“We had to change all the choreography just to keep them from holding hands and touching,” Latimer said.
Having less than a month to put together a modified play was a challenge, but it worked out, said ninth-grader Aidan McWayne.

VILLAIN HANS, played by Aidan McWayne, stands over Elsa (Ruby Freitag).

“It was pretty crazy because what I’m used to for musicals, we have a good two to three months of time to rehearse, and when we get thrown in this after a year off of school, and then we have a month to do it, it was pretty crazy,” he said.
Freitag agreed.
“Everyone was actually putting in a lot of work and really doing their part, and so it came together really well,” she said.
Latimer also pointed out that seventh-grader Braden Pruett committed himself to back-to-back rehearsal and baseball practice every week.
“We convinced him he needed to be in a musical,” Latimer said. “I think he kind of fell in love with it. It’s really cute. He was such a good natural actor when we did our ‘Super Short Shakespeare’ play, that we told him he would really have fun doing a musical. He kind-of like, you know, rolled his eyes at that.”
Pruett had a slightly different take on his hesitancy to do the musical.
“It was just, like, none of my friends were doing it, so I didn’t really want to,” he said. “But then I decided I wanted to because it kind-of sounded fun, and I wasn’t doing anything with my summer.”
Pruett played a couple different roles in “Frozen Jr.,” including a guard and a member of Oaken’s family. Freitag had the starring role as Elsa, which makes sense when you hear her sing “Let it Go.” McWayne, who’s participated in Lebanon Association for the Arts since he was 5 years old, played Prince Hans, the antagonist.
“It was a fun character,” he said. “I enjoy being the villain sometimes.”