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Q&A with Molly Lajoie, director and choreographer of VYT's 'Snow White'

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” opened at the Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix April 4 and runs through April 20. Directing and choreographing the musical is Molly Lajoie. She previously worked on “Shrek the Musical” and “Seussical” at VYT and has also worked with Childsplay in Tempe and Phoenix Theatre.

Lajoie graciously agreed to answer some questions about directing and choreographing “Snow White” and other shows at VYT, about working with young performers, and about her vision for “Snow White.”

Q. You’re directing and choreographing “Snow White” at VYT. Tell me about working with young performers. How does it differ from working with adults?

A. There are some differences in working with youth versus working with adults, but I try to treat the young performers like adults as much as I can. We always start rehearsals with warm-ups, both vocal and physical, which I expect professionals to take care of on their own. I spend a lot of time talking with the actors about their individual character and what they are trying to accomplish in a scene. I have a handout with character questions on it (i.e., age, favorite color, educational background, hobbies, etc.) which helps them start to really think about their character. We talk about their answers, and I continue to ask them those kinds of questions as we are blocking scenes.

Q. What is it about working with children and youth that makes you want to do it?

A. With “Snow White,” I did a press conference in which each character had to enter the stage as their character and tell us a little bit about themselves. Then the other actors acted as “press” and asked them questions. It was a lot of fun, and the kids were so creative with their answers. This is a reason I love working in youth theater. Kids are just fun and creative and really are ready to try anything! This exercise also gave them confidence to make good choices within scenes. Character development is crucial as an actor, especially when you are cast in an ensemble role and really have to create all aspects of your character. I also love working with youths because I know what an impact my drama teacher had on me as a child and how it gave me confidence in my life. I was a very shy child, and I know the arts helped me to overcome that. To see a child grow, not only on stage, but in their personal life because of the arts is truly rewarding. And also, it is just fun! The kids bring you energy that you forgot you had and playfulness back into your life.

Q. You designed dance routines for "Shrek the Musical” and “Seussical” at VYT last year. How does “Snow White” differ?

A. “Snow White” is a very different show than both “Shrek” and “Seussical.” Those are both much bigger shows and have an enormous amount of dancing in them. This show does not have those big ensemble dance numbers with large dance breaks in them, although the music is great! And the cast size is small for “Snow White.” There are only 12 roles in the show, but it was a nice change of pace.

Q. What was your vision for “Snow White,” both from a directing and choreographing perspective?

A. My vision for “Snow White” was to take a story that everyone knows and try to put a little spin on the characters we are so familiar with already. What I enjoyed about the script was that it stuck to the Grimm story much closer than Disney. It gave us a chance to see more of an arc with the queen’s character and other characters that usually don’t have large roles, like the woodsman. It was also fun to watch a new set of dwarfs. I also tried to create different characters than a traditional type of queen, Snow White and mirror. For instance, I didn’t want the queen to be so evil at the beginning of the show. Sarah Moss, Jessie Jo Pauley and Sara Matin all discussed their characters in depth and found new ways to portray them on stage. It was a bit of a struggle to try to play opposite of what we think of as these characters, but I think it stretched them in ways they didn’t know they could do.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add about "Snow White," VYT or working with young people in theater?

A. It is so important to me, especially with youth, that they understand the journey of the rehearsal process and that they have to do the work. I don’t want to just give line readings and tell them exactly what to do. I want them to discover things on their own through my direction. As a director/choreographer, my job is to tell the story through the dialogue and dancing. And that is what I tried to do with “Snow White.”

Tickets to “Snow White” are available online or by calling the VYT box office at (602) 253-8188, ext. 2. Cost is $18.00, plus service fees.

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Follow me on Twitter @DorisNehrbass.

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