Westview High School sophomore Abigail Figueroa has loved the Disney movie “Frozen” since it came out when she was five years old. She says she’s seen it countless times in the 10 years since, and loves its focus on adventure and the relationship between two royal sisters — not romance.
Last summer, not long before the first day of school, she came across an essay contest to win the rights to put on “Frozen: The Broadway Musical” on stage at her high school. There would be just one winner per state, and even though the deadline was the next day, and she had no time to consult her theater teacher or her high school, she decided to go for it. And she won! The show opens Thursday and runs through March 11. Figueroa was also cast in the show. She joins us, along with director Justin Hauke, to talk about how they won the exclusive rights and how their show fulfills the theme of the contest, “Love is an Open Door.”
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB.
[Recording of “Let it Go” plays]
There’s a good chance that if you have kids under the age of say 15, you don’t need me to tell you what this song is. For everyone else, it’s “Let It Go” from the Disney movie turned musical “Frozen.” That version was from a rehearsal earlier this week at Beaverton’s Westview High school. The show opens tomorrow night. Disney is only allowing one high school in each state to perform this musical. It picked Westview after a student there decided to enter the contest all on her own. Senior producer, Allison Frost, spoke with that student, sophomore and lifelong Frozen fan Abigail Figueroa, along with drama teacher Justin Hauke.
Allison Frost: What do you remember about seeing “Frozen” for the very first time when you were just five years old?
Abigail Figueroa: I remember sitting there in that movie theater and loving all the visuals of the animation. It was so cool. I walked out probably already knowing like half of “Let It Go.” I bought the movie afterwards and I’ve seen it so many times since.
Frost: Dozens, would it be fair to say?
Figueroa: Oh yeah.
Frost: Scores, perhaps? No pun intended.
Besides the songs, what do you love about the story?
Figueroa: I love the fact that, for once, it’s not like a princess needs to be saved by a guy. She is the one that goes and solves her problems, and it’s centered around this bond between two sisters.
Frost: Yeah, the two main characters are sisters and they each have their own independent adventures.
Have you actually seen the Broadway musical “Frozen?”
Figueroa: I have not seen the full Broadway show. I saw “Frozen Junior” at the Hyperion at Disneyland when it was still playing there, and that was a pretty cool experience.
Frost: What was your reaction to seeing that?
Figueroa: I remember being like “wow, people can be those characters and they can make that world come to life. That would be so cool to do someday.”
Frost: “That would be so cool to do someday,” a little foreshadowing there. But you hadn’t really thought about that, at seeing a staged live action version. You’d just seen the animated movie like most of the rest of us, or many of us.
Frost: So fast forward to just before this year’s school started, and you were watching Disney Plus, and you came across a notice about this contest that Disney was putting on to win the rights to put on the musical at your high school. Could you describe a little bit about what they were asking for, the theme? They had the theme of “Love is an Open Door.”
Figueroa: I researched the contest a little bit. I found out that there was 24 hours left to apply, the theme was “Love is an Open Door” about equity and inclusion throughout schools and communities. And I looked into it, had my mom help me a little bit, she’s written grants in the past, she’s a teacher, and we filled out a submission.
Frost: Can you give us a little bit of a sense of what you wrote?
Figueroa: Of course. So for this I wrote “Westview is the best choice to exemplify and represent the theme “Love is an Open Door” because we’re a public high school, open to and accepting of all who make up our student body of 2,525 students, 61% of which are BIPOC, many of whom identify as LGBTQIA+ with 52 home languages and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Westview has a motto which supports its inclusive community, the Wildcat Way: “We welcome all; we resist hate; we practice kindness; we celebrate differences; we rise to the challenge; we are Westview.” Our thespians and broader theatre community will welcome those from many diverse student groups and clubs with open arms, just as they welcome new students such as myself this past year.
Frost: You mentioned that you came across this contest 24 hours before it closed. I think that that would be very daunting for most people, most adults even, let alone someone who is going to be a sophomore in high school. What made you just decide to go for it?
Figueroa: Part of it because this was such a cool opportunity. “Frozen” is such a franchise that I’ve loved since my childhood, and it’s such a cool thing getting to produce that show. And part of it also, I never expected to hear back. I never thought I would have a chance at winning it, so I thought, why not? Let’s just go for it.
Frost: When did you find out that you won?
Figueroa: I found out late August/early September.
Frost: What was your reaction?
Figueroa: I had been refreshing my email for days, just seeing is there gonna be anything? And one day it was there. And I remember running upstairs to tell my mom, I was so excited about it.
Frost: Well, I want to hear much more from you, but just hold on Abigail. Justin Huake is here as well, the director of “Frozen” and the full time drama teacher at Westview High School. How did you find out, Justin Hauke, about this show?
Justin Hauke: Abigail came to me. We had a freshman day where we welcome the incoming freshmen and get them associated with the school and get them feeling comfortable. And Abigail had come up to me and mentioned that she had entered us into the contest and wrote a grant, and I just kind of was like “okay, that sounds great,” I think just like Abigail, not sure what would happen, thinking “okay, we’ll see what happens.” Students have so many big ideas and you want to encourage and let them let that grow, but you never know what’s gonna take root.
And so then we hadn’t spoken, and it was the first day of school, the teachers had come in, and I was congratulated by two of my administrators that we had won! And I said “won what?” And they’re like “‘Frozen!’” I’m like, “what do you mean?” “Abigail won the rights to ‘Frozen!’ So are you going to do it?” I’m like “I know nothing about this right now, but yeah, I mean we’ll definitely take a look and see what the possibility is.”
And so then we really had to hit the ground running to figure out was this going to be something that was even possible for us? And after a lot of debate and figuring out, realizing that this is a fantastic opportunity for all of our students, we wanted to go with that “Love is an Open Door” here at Westview, and that yeah, we do welcome this challenge and we’re going to embrace it.
Frost: I mean, you did have some things to work out because you had actually already chosen the entire lineup for the 22-23 school year. So there was a little bit of a little bit of fast talking that you had to do, right Abigail, to help convince folks that this should be done?
Figueroa: Yeah, it was a little bit of a push, but I think in the end the message was what really got it through, “Love is an Open Door,” and the fact that this is such an amazing opportunity for our program and for our school.
Frost: So Justin, what are some of the ways that you have made good on Abigail’s promise of “Love is an Open Door,” and the inclusion and diversity of the show?
Hauke: Well, I think me and Abigail can both agree that perhaps in the past that our students might not be fully represented in the theatre program here. And that’s, I don’t think, anybody’s doing or consequence of anything. But students, they don’t know if they can belong somewhere. And so while the demographic of Beaverton has changed, that doesn’t necessarily mean those students have seen themselves represented. And so it kind of involves this snowball effect of those students still not feeling like they belong in the program. We thought we had a little bit more time, we were making a game plan, how can we get more students involved this year from diverse backgrounds, so that next year we’re able to do this show? But after kind of looking through things, we discovered that we had to do it this year or it was a no go.
So we did what we could and just encouraged any students, we put up posters around the school, we made sure that we were on the announcements, making sure that students of all backgrounds felt like this was a safe place for them to come audition, and that we wanted and were going to embrace them.
Frost: Can you give us a sense for the numbers of students who are involved? You’ve got the cast, the crew, the choir, the orchestra. There’s a few kids that are involved in this, right?
Hauke: Yeah, our cast is about 45-46 strong, and our crew I think is about 40. And then we’ve got our pit, and that’s just over 20. And we’ve got a few other volunteers. We’ve also got our stagecraft classes that build the sets. So if you include them in it we’re easily like 120.
Frost: Wow. Do you feel like this has been an opportunity for you to expand and draw in students who might not have otherwise been interested in getting involved in the theatre program, and been a vehicle to diversify and expand the program?
Hauke: Yeah, 100%. Students know “Frozen.” Generally speaking, students don’t want to go see a show that they don’t know like “oh, I don’t know, that sounds scary, spending time, spending my energy towards something.” But students know “Frozen,” and they can get behind it. It was a strong thing, just like it was for Abigail. It was a part of their childhood. I remember growing up, I was probably about the same age Abigail was when “Lion King” came out, and I was obsessed with it. So the opportunity to put it up on stage, yeah, students have just jumped at the opportunity, doing whatever it takes to get this show up and running so that we can do it.
Frost: Back to you Abigail, you are in the ensemble, so you do it all, sing and dance. But you’re also an assistant to the director, helping with some other various other kinds of tasks, including developing a description service for an audience member who’s going to be seeing it who’s blind. How did you approach that?
Figueroa: So right now my game plan for that is to sit out from one of our dress rehearsals and get to see the show and all that’s happening, so that from there I can develop what is basically a script for the show, except instead of the lines that they’re saying, it’s their movements and what’s happening on the stage so that then it can be read live to the student that’s coming to see our show so that they can just have as full of an experience as possible and know what’s happening on the stage.
Frost: What’s been your favorite part of being part of the show?
Figueroa: Getting to know all the different people. This has brought in a lot of new people to our theater, and I’ve gotten to make so many new friends. And seeing all of them thrive here has been wonderful.
Frost: Now Justin and Abigail, you all lost at least three days of rehearsal because of the snow storm shutting everything down and grinding everything to a halt, and that’s a lot of days to lose so close to opening. Are you going to be ready on Thursday night?
Hauke: Yes, we’re actually rehearsing right now, I’ve got students running things. So yeah, I think we are going to be ready. Are we as ready as we want to be beforehand? Uh, no. We’re scraping by right now. But it will definitely be ready for opening night, nothing’s gonna stop us unless there’s another snowstorm.
Frost: “Frozen,” yeah. We want to keep those frozen particles away just so the show can open. So what do you hope that audiences are going to take from this? I’d like to hear from both you, Justin, and you, Abigail.
Figueroa: I personally hope that audiences will see this and see all the love and care that’s been put into this production, leaving every person with a smile on their face, knowing just how magical it is. I love that feeling as an audience member, just getting to come out happier and more fulfilled than I was. And I hope that every audience member has that experience with our show.
Hauke: Yeah, this show is for the kids, not just our kids, but the young crowds that will be coming. Currently our two matinees are very close to being sold out. Don’t let that dissuade you, we’ll have a waitlist. There’s no wonder that those are days that are sold out because we want it for these little kids, and that’s our target audience. We want them walking away seeing the love that is put on stage, and hopefully they see themselves represented on stage and want to join theatre, and feel like they have a place that they belong already at the high school.
Frost: And one last question for you Abigail, before we let you go, your passion shows through so clearly, is this something that you think you’re going to be pursuing professionally?
Figueroa: Absolutely, this is what I want to do with my life, that’s why I’m doing it here. I’m in all the acting classes, I try to be as involved with every production as I can be, and this is what I want to do going forward.
Frost: Well, best of luck to you, not that it sounds like you’re going to really need it. Break a leg, I should say. Justin Hauke and Abigail Figueroa, thank you so much for talking to us today.
Hauke / Figueroa: Thank you.
[“Frozen” music playing]
Miller: That was Westview High School drama teacher, Justin Hauke and ensemble cast member, Abigail Figueroa. They spoke with Think Out Loud’s Senior Producer, Allison Frost, about winning the rights to stage Disney’s musical “Frozen.” The show opens tomorrow night and runs through March 11.
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