BY KENDYL HOLLINGSWORTH
Disney has opened the door for Opelika High School to become the only school in Alabama to bring the magic of “Frozen” to life on stage this school year.
Opelika won the sole spot for the state as part of the “United States of Frozen: Love Is an Open Door” competition, a partnership of the Disney Theatrical Group, Educational Theatre Association and Music Theatre International. The contest awarded a total of 51 schools across the nation and its territories the rights to produce three performances of “Frozen: The Broadway Musical.”
Winners received notice a few days before the announcement went public on Sept. 9.
“On behalf of the entire national tour of ‘Frozen’: a heartfelt congratulations to all of the winning schools,” said Lauren Nicole Chapman, who plays Anna in the nationally touring stage production, in the announcement video. “I am so inspired by everyone who applied — for your passion, your ingenuity and for your commitment to creating inclusive spaces for young people through theater, and I am honored to welcome these 51 student productions into the ‘Frozen’ family.”
In addition to the rights, winning schools will receive a free digital script, score, 21-piece orchestration, logo pack and video license.
“I think while there are many, many schools in the state that would do an amazing job with this production, I am more than confident that ours will be considered the finest,” said Revel Gholston, director of the Opelika High Theatre Society (OHTS). “I was quite overwhelmed when we found out. I wasn’t sure what to do even. I didn’t want to miss out or mess up. I, however, was having a hard time wrapping my head around it.”
The big win for OHTS was due, in part, to Auburn Terry Chason, a passionate former student who submitted the application on behalf of Gholston and the school.
“I am so thrilled,” said Chason, who participated in OHTS from 2011 to 2015. “I’ve been thrilled all week for them.”
Chason said Gholston forwarded her the contest announcement just four days before the deadline. With her passion, writing skills and firsthand experiences in the program, Gholston said he believed “[Chason’s] words may win it.” She submitted the application on July 31, one day before the end of the contest.
The competition theme, “Love Is an Open Door,” focused on outreach and inclusion through theater programs. Applicants were asked to explain how their “Frozen” production would reach underserved groups and strengthen their school community.
Gholston said “love is an open door” to anyone in the theater department, and there is a place for each student who wants to join in the theater experience.
“Theater opens so many doors for its participants and audience members that this theme is more than relevant to this experience we are getting ready to have,” he said.
Chason recalled her own experience of being welcomed into the program as a freshman in high school.
“That’s something that Revel has always done really well, I feel like, already,” Chason said. “I was not a shy child, but I was not ready to be on stage. He really took a chance on me, and I feel like he really takes a chance on just about anyone if he just has that gut instinct, so I talked a lot about that [in the application] — about how Revel was willing to give chances to people.”
The application also asked for references to previous shows, so Chason said she wanted to mention other Disney shows OHTS has done, as well as 2015’s “Phantom of the Opera,” among others.
“That was a massive undertaking, and I wanted to make it clear that not only would Opelika be ecstatic to have the opportunity, but they’re fully prepared to do it,” she said. “In 2015, we had a chandelier that fell from the ceiling, so I think we can make it freeze over in Arendelle.”
But the show won’t just be for experienced thespians; Chason said “Frozen” contains several parts that could provide a great introduction into the theater world for newcomers.
“There’s a character on stage — like Sven, the reindeer — and that would be a great part for someone who doesn’t want to talk but wants that experience on stage,” she said. “It’s an opportunity, I think, for the theater program to grow.”
Chason was quick to credit both Gholston and his wife Kate, also a teacher, for encouraging her to step outside her comfort zone and helping her build self-confidence.
Gholston said he will meet with Disney representatives Sept. 15 to discuss further details and next steps. The plan is to stage the show in April 2023.
He said he hopes the students involved will gain a love for performing, live theater and each other, “and most importantly, enough culture to share with those they come into contact with in the future.”
For those students, Chason said the best advice she can give is to trust the process. “When you learn to trust yourself to make decisions without inhibitions on stage, it makes all the difference,” Chason said. “When you learn to trust your director, too — especially someone as wise and clever as Revel — it really does make all the difference. And that’s part of what makes OHTS so wonderful and so professional, too, even for children, is that it has the ability to really just bring out the best in people. If you can let yourself just be your best and get lost in that Disney magic, then it’s going to be a wonderful show.”