Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” is about a young woman’s epic quest for her true love through icy landscapes, realistic and mythic, and assorted obstacles: storms, creatures and magic.
That’s no small order for a theater company that wants to bring the story to the stage.
“What does move, what does fly, what does this world look like? How do you take an Icelandic kind of area and then take this black box and turn it into this snowy world?” asks Lexington Children’s Theatre artistic director Vivian Snipes, who is directing the theater’s production of her adaptation of the tale at the Lexington Opera House. “It’s great fun to have that challenge and address it and conquer it, I think.”
Snipes is known for bringing big visions to the Children’s Theatre stage, including productions of “The Never Ending Story” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In fact, she was the one who brought “Snow Queen” back to the Children’s Theatre in 2008 after a more than six-decade absence. That production was on the main stage of the theater’s home base, across the street from the Opera House, and by many accounts, it was an eye-popper.
The show provides two prime elements for the theater’s annual holiday-season show in the Opera House: a wintry story and spectacle. It also gave Snipes’ show, which she wrote under the pen name Robin Hill, a chance to grow in a much larger room than its original production.
“They have a lot more possibilities for staging than we do in our thrust space in some ways,” Snipes says.
The show is a director’s vision, but it cannot be realized alone. Like any Children’s Theatre production, “Snow Queen” employs a team of designers, technicians and actors to pull a production together, a process that Snipes says can be broken down into a series of meetings that start with broad idea sessions and then are defined, sketched out and finalized as the production moves forward.
“All this happens even before there is a cast,” scenic designer Josafath Reynoso says. “By the time Vivian is casting ‘The Snow Queen,’ she already has all this information behind her. She knows what the space is going to look like, what the costumes are going to look like — at least roughly — and that allows her to do better casting choices and be aware of the needs of each character.
“I am always impressed that it may appear that we each are doing our own parts, but Vivian always has all this information dancing around her head, and to see her put it all together is really humbling. It’s impressive to see her put it all together in (technical rehearsals) while people are coming at her saying, how about the sounds and how about the masks?, and she has all this information ready to go. She knows where everything is, and where everything should be and what’s next.”
One of the special elements of the production to Snipes is the actress playing the title character, Marjorie Amon. She played the heroine, Gerda, in the 2008 production, and Snipes says that’s emblematic of how actors grow through Children’s Theatre productions.
The new edition also comes with an original score by Bluegrass Opera director Lorne Dechtenberg.
By going into the Opera House, the design team has, in ways, kept things deceptively simple. Costume designer Joscelyne Oktabetz says she went for a simple delineation between realistic and fantasy worlds.
“The real-world characters have simple lines, simple shapes,” Oktabetz says. “For our other world — our demons, our snowflakes, our magical beings — we wanted to change their shape and make them stand out to us so that when we look at them, we don’t really see the human shape.”
That straightforwardness extends to the set design, too.
Snipes says, “We have three platforms, six pieces of fabric, and a few pieces that fly in and out — a door and two window units — and then a trellis of roses. That’s pretty much all the pieces, and it changes with how we configure them on stage and how the lighting changes the mood.”
As with many illusions, the elements are simple. The theatrical magic is in how Snipes and her team uses them.