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Backstage: The backstory for 'The Snow Queen'

Susan Aversa-Orrego is the director of “The Snow Queen,” now playing at The Collaborative Theatre Project (CTP) in Medford. This musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale premiered in 2013 at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, and was produced year ago as CTP’s first production. Now it is staged again with a new cast and lavish effects. I met with Aversa-Orrego at Boulevard Coffee in Ashland.

EH: Tell me about “The Snow Queen.”

SA: It’s an adventure fairytale. The heroine is a feisty little girl whose best friend was stolen away by the Snow Queen, and she goes through journeys to save him.

The backstory is that Hans Christian Andersen fell in love with the opera singer, Jenny Lind, and she would have nothing to do with him. So, as retribution, he created the Snow Queen, this cold, remote, icy person who steals your heart.

What the Snow Queen is to you may be different than what she is to me. The fun of ambiguity within characters is that we can put into them some of ourselves. The Snow Queen presents as if she has all the power in the world, but really — she’s on her own quest to find the answer to the riddle of eternity: "What makes us go on forever?" The answer is love. Love is what makes you go through journeys and never give up. It’s because you love enough, you conquer death and, in an implied way, you conquer eternity.

EH: Tell me about your steam punk design.

SA: It’s a fantasy view of Victoriana. There’s a futuristic element to it, with the Industrial Revolution giving a technological edge to the Victorian era.

EH: What are you directing next season?

SA: I’ll be directing “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the new adaptation. I think that it’s important for us to do right now, because of the political climate. There is so much negativity, so much dissenion, so much name calling — so much hate out there. I think a play like this speaks to us as a warning: You can go so far down a road, that you do yourself and others irreparable damage. It’s important to look at the warning signs and say, “Not again,” and to find subtle ways to remind people that hatred is a very damaging thing.

I’ll also be directing “Summerland” about the spiritualist movement at the turn of the 20th century. It’s a psychological thriller. We want to do newer scripts with a broad audience appeal. We find that having new works is more exciting for the younger audience.

EH: How does the theater function, with collaborating directors, instead of working with one artistic director?

SA: It’s fine. It’s being supportive of each other. We pick our guest directors very carefully. It’s about trust. It’s picking people that you respect as your peers, then letting them realize their artistic vision, and allowing them artistic freedom. It allows us to work with one another, to learn from one another. It’s nice to be in a format where we can support each other’s work. If I work with a good director (as costume designer) I can learn more about my skill sets as a director, because I’m working in a different capacity; but I’m watching someone (who is really good) direct. We all are learning from one another, allowing directors more artistic freedom, and not interfering with their work. It just lets everybody grow.

“The Snow Queen” (Musical Director Karl Iverson; musical adaptation Kirsten Brandt, Haddon Kime and Rick Lombardo) plays through Dec. 31 at 555 Medford Center, across from Tinseltown. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit ctporegon.org or call 541-779-1055.

 —Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director based in Ashland. To read more interviews with remarkable people, visit her blog at ashlandtheater.wordpress.com. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.