Hey, Elli! Thanks for being here. Why don’t we start by getting to know you a little bit? Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Florida, and when I was two, we moved to North Carolina. We lived there close to 11 years, then my dad got called back to Orangewood. I started dancing when I was three because, whenever my mom turned the music on, I would dance, and I loved it. At 10, I started dancing pre professionally because I thought I wanted to be a professional dancer. At 12, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease. I haven’t felt all the symptoms because we caught it early, but it’s still a life-long thing. It’s still in the back of my mind to dance professionally, but now I want to do more musical theatre.
How did you get involved with OCS’s Frozen Jr.?
Before I got to know Mrs. Brightman(OCS Drama Teacher), I didn’t know her very well. My dad just walked me into her office and introduced me to her. Then Mrs. Brightman called my mom and asked if I could choreograph Frozen Jr. I said, “Yes!” But after a little while, it was already December, and I didn’t have anything planned. I thought, “This is going to be bad.” I told my mom, “I can’t do this.” I knew this wasn’t going to go very well. So I told Mrs. Brightman that I couldn’t do it anymore, and it worked out because Mr. Brightman, who directed the musical, hired someone else to lead the choreography. I felt relief, but after a while, I was sad because I just let go of an opportunity. Mrs. Brightman said she still really wanted me to be a part of the show, so she thought it would be a good idea if I danced in it. She wanted to also have the Lower school kids in it, so she asked if I wanted to choreograph their pieces.
Can you tell us what it was like to get ready for the show?
At first, I was just going to help choreograph the Lower school kids, but as time went by, I saw they needed more help. I was out in the baseball field spray painting tables, then helping Mrs. Brightman in the costume room, and even working backstage. It was really fun. I got to meet amazing kids. It was definitely fun to work backstage with all the directors and stagehands and to experience everything all around.
What unique challenges did you face while prepping for the show?
I felt like I didn’t belong for the first two weeks because I felt kind of out of place. I didn’t know anyone. But after practicing together, we just became one big family. We also had a lot of people get sick and have to drop out. It was extremely stressful because it was two weeks before the performance, and I was like, “They need help. I’m available to help them. I enjoy what I’m doing right now and what the kids are doing.” So I asked Mrs. Brightman, “Do you need me to do this? I can do it.” And that’s how I became a part of the show fully. I wasn’t scared, but it was stressful because everything had to come together. We had to teach other people new roles in the performance, and other girls were teaching me what I was going to do. Even the last two performances were kind of hard because we had many cast members fall ill with different things, so we had to improvise there too.
How’d you get through it?
Well, definitely having Christian people around, mainly Mr. and Mrs. Brightman and our stage manager. They were all like our emotional support people. They would tell us to keep praying. At that time, it was really important to us for people to ask us to keep praying because we felt like we didn’t know what to do. They gave each of us prayer buddies, so me and my prayer buddy went and prayed together. We got the opportunity to pray over a cast member because he also got very sick in the middle of the performance, sadly. It was just very impactful for us.
Now that you’ve had some time pass since the show, what did it mean for you to be a part of Frozen Jr.?
Just being in that community with the kids, and watching how much fun they had with each other was great. It was really fun to see that and to have a relationship with them too. It was different than being together all day at school because I could actually have a personal relationship with them and felt like I could mentor them. Because I’m their age and don’t come from the same place, I could minister to them through me choreographing some of the pieces and just being able to hang out with them. I was grateful for that opportunity to share my gifts with them and be able to help Mr. and Mrs. Brightman at the same time. It made me happy to be able to see how much they appreciated my gifts and my help, and I don’t think I realized at the time how helpful that was to them. It was really cool. I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to do this.
What was it like to be a part of Orangewood Church and help in Frozen Jr.?
I got to work with 32 kids from the Lower school. A few of the kids go to Orangewood Church, and it was sweet because I got to mentor them and was like an older sister to them. I got to minister to them and comfort them when they felt scared being around all the big kids. It was awesome to work with them because they loved what they were doing, and just to see that passion from kids as young as five years old was fun. I enjoyed my time with them a lot, and I would do it again.
If you could go back and talk to Ellie before the show, what would you say to her?
There will definitely be challenges. It won’t be a stress-free thing, but if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have learned all the things I learned or met the people I met. I wouldn’t have had the relationships that I had with the kids. I wouldn’t have met Mr. and Mrs. Brightman, and I might not have opportunities in the future that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t do it. And it was a lot of fun. I would have missed out on a lot of fun.
What did you leave with?
I left with a great appreciation for what the directors do for everyone. They don’t just put on the production. They make sure everyone is healthy. And when we had sick people, we prayed over them. We would pray at every single rehearsal before we started. The teachers would help with any needs that came up and made sure we felt safe and loved. They made me feel like I was a part of the group and not an outsider like I was meant to be there. I also got to see how different people work, but how they can come together and make this beautiful piece of artistry and then can have fun and love it and make friends. I just saw how the arts bring all of that together, and my eyes were opened to how things really can be, and people are really impacted by it. I had a lot of people come up to me and say, “That was beautiful. You all did an amazing job.” Knowing that we could reach people in the audience through our love of arts was amazing.
What encouragement would you give to anyone who is thinking about serving in some capacity?
I would say, don’t let anything stop you if you genuinely love it. Being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s was really hard. Having an illness that can gradually get much worse is scary and means I need great strength to face it, but my parents and Christian community have been my rock when I feel like I can’t do it. You don’t know what could happen or what God can do if you just try.