Students, teachers spend summer break producing ‘Frozen’ musical for new theater group

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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Students rehearsed more than three hours a day this summer to prepare for Thursday’s opening of “Frozen JR” a production from the new central Texas theater group MAD Productions.

The group formed a year ago, a collaboration between three theater devotees, two of whom are teachers at local school districts.

“I feel like giving everybody an opportunity to explore the arts is something that changes their lives,” said Olin Meadows, one of the founders and a teacher in Hutto ISD.

Meadows and his co-founders, Rhonda Demings and Cari Ancelet, an educator in Round Rock ISD, founded the company to give students more opportunities to experience the stage. Their own districts have invested in the arts, they say; Round Rock ISD, for instance, poured nearly $40 million into two new high school auditoriums in voter-approved 2014 bond money. The new performance space at Stony Point High School opened this past school year.

But the teachers worry that’s not the case everywhere. Texas only requires high schools to offer classes in at least two of four fine arts disciplines — dance, music, theater and visual arts.

“Fine arts seems to be the first place that people want to take money away from and put it into other places,” Meadows said.

“Frozen JR” is an all-student production, since it’s happening during the summer (other shows during the year are a mix between students and older actors). Of the 31 actors in the production, 20 are students at Round Rock schools.

“I love that this is taking up my entire summer,” Lucan Morgan said sincerely. The rising Cedar Ridge High School freshman plays Olaf in the show and said he’s found a family in the production group.

He and the other principal cast members, Abigail Bensman (“Anna”), Trenton Pepper (“Kristoff”) and Jessica Teran (“Elsa”), spent Wednesday morning at Primrose School of Crystal Falls in Leander, singing and reading to groups of young kids to drum up new audience members.

Together with the rest of the cast, they’ve spent weeks of their summer breaks preparing for the production through three-and-a-half-hour rehearsals.

“Theater’s a break for me,” Pepper, a rising senior, said. “Life is stressful and can get a little rough, but going into theater and getting to act and sing, it’s a nice break.”

MAD Productions has offered them a chance to explore the stage in ways they don’t have time for during the school year.

“I’m a huge theater geek,” rising junior Bensman said to agreeing laughter. Teran, her on-stage sister and incoming freshman at Texas State Universisty, added: “This is something I truly have a passion for and a drive for.”

In addition to supplementing theater education for public school students, MAD Productions reaches out to home-schooled students and those at charter and private schools to offer them theater opportunities they might not have.

“We really wanted to create a place that everybody could get their moment in the spotlight,” Meadows said.

The musical runs Thursday through Saturday, July 25-27 and Aug. 1-3 at the C.D. Fulkes Middle School auditorium.

Eventually, Meadows said, they want to be able to build their own facility that includes a space to stage productions as well as an educational wing to continue their mission.

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