Kids’ Theatre Experience (KTE), a local summer theatre program for youth, is one of the first groups in the nation to present the new production of “Frozen Jr.”, with performances scheduled for tonight and Friday night.

According to Michele Pryor, who founded the theatre program along with Mindi Miller in 2011, the play was released in late January.

“There is limited availability,” she explained, “so we stayed up until 12:01 a.m. on the day it was released and applied as soon as we could. Being one of the early productions allowed us to create a unique show and premier it in the central Pennsylvania region.”

KTE is a community group based in Selinsgrove and open to children from any area who are going into third through eighth grades. Each summer, they present a Broadway-style musical.

This year, Pryor said the 50 children participating represent the Selinsgrove, Shikellamy and Midd-West school districts, and there are 18 new children who joined the program since last year. Typically, most of the children involved in the program return year after year until they begin high school. But even then, they have “alumni interns”, she said, who return to volunteer with making props and costumes, and helping with games, choreography and makeup.

“We couldn’t do it without them as well as all the parent and grandparent volunteers,” Pryor said, “and we feel very blessed to have so much support.”

Producing a musical version of “Frozen” has been something Pryor has been waiting for for a long time.

“Since the writers of the movie have Broadway backgrounds,” she said, “it transitioned pretty seamlessly to the stage. It has been thrilling to create the choreography and bring the show to life with the costumes, props and set pieces.”

It’s also been an enjoyable experience for the children, who grew up watching the beloved movie.

“We love seeing their enthusiasm and helping them to shape it through song, dance and expression into the story on stage,” Pryor said. “We have quite a few younger kids who are making their debut this year; seeing them find their passion at such a young age is gratifying.”

Elliot Muller, 13, a student at Selinsgrove, is playing Olaf in the play.

“What I really like about the show this year is the complexity of it,” he said. “It really made us step up our game with more advanced music and choreography.”

He has enjoyed preparing for his role as Olaf, a character he explains as being “a naïve but loyal friend.”

“In ways, he is like me, trying to help in situations whenever he can.”

Pryor said that while the play has a limited number of lead roles, they always make extra efforts to include the ensemble in as many scenes as possible. They also double-casted the lead roles of Elsa and Anna.

“It’s exciting to have so much talent and be able to see what each person brings to their roles,” Pryor said. “We emphasize that every part is crucial to the show going well and that there is a lot to learn from each production. Learning to work as a team and giving your best even when you’re in the back row is an important life lesson.”

The play itself has an important life lesson as well. Pryor said they chose to perform “Frozen Jr.” this year “because of the witty writing, the music and the theme of the story.”

“We liked the emphasis on knowing who you are and what you were created to do, as well as showing selflessness in loving others,” she said. “It is refreshing to have a character like Princess Anna who has down-to-earth personality and is not the picture-perfect princess that has historically been portrayed on screen. Showing her strengths and flaws is important because there is often an expectation for girls to look and act in a way that isn’t realistic or achievable without damage to their psyche.”

The overall mission of KTE is also focused on an important message.

Pryor said she and Miller founded the group to not only provide meaningful musical theatre experiences for children in the region: “We wanted to emphasize sharing creativity as a gift to others, to encourage true character in young actors, instead of having a self-focused diva mentality,” she said.

One of the ways they do that is in supporting an organization each year with the proceeds from a bake sale and a portion of their ticket sales. This year they chose Charity Water, which helps build wells in communities around the world where clean drinking water is not available.

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