Carson School alumnus Tousley is an assistant set designer for new Disney 'Frozen' production
calendar icon30 Oct 2015Lincoln, Neb.--Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film alumnus David Tousley (M.F.A. 2015), is an assistant set designer on the new stage production of “Frozen,” which opens next summer at the Hyperion Theatre at Disney’s California Adventure theme park.
He began working on the project last spring after making an earlier connection with designer Robert Brill.
“Prior to attending UNL, I was an assistant under a designer in San Francisco, who introduced me to Robert Brill,” Tousley said. “I never had the chance to officially work with Mr. Brill, but we kept in touch via e-mail. I was working at the Santa Fe Opera, and my roommate and I watched a DVD of the San Francisco opera, ‘Moby Dick,’ set designed by Robert Brill. I e-mailed him to say hello and to chat about his set.”
Brill later asked him if he was available to work on some upcoming projects, including a new project for Disney with another assistant in Woodside, California.
“I spoke to my professors and was able to work out a period of time that I would be away to assist on the project,” he said. “It worked out perfectly as I was already planning on visiting California for spring break. I extended my stay for a bit longer and made arrangements with Robert.”
“Frozen” is one of the largest productions he has worked on. As one of the assistant set designers, his main job is to build the theatre space and preliminary set model in 1/4” scale.
“The ¼” scale model of the theatre was so big that it had to be split into three large boxes that barely fit in the back of a Subaru Outback,” Tousley said. “Not only did we build the theatre and the set, but we built travel boxes out of black foam core and shipping boxes out of giant sheets of cardboard. The director, producers and executives were all very impressed with our efforts.”
Many elements of the production are still a secret.
“I can’t say too much about the design except that it’s going to be beautiful,” Tousley said. “I can’t wait to see it under lights and with all of the fun costumes.”
An announcement of the show promised that “this new show will immerse you in the world of ‘Frozen’ as never before, with elaborate costumes and sets, stunning special effects and surprising scenic transformations.”
“Our stage production of ‘Frozen’ will stay true to the heart and soul of the film,” said Dana Harrel, Portfolio Creative Entertainment Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering. “Anna and Elsa will carry the audience on an emotional journey that includes show-stopping production numbers and a few unique theatrical twists.”
In fact, Tousley was only able to tell people very recently what he has been working on, when Disney announced that “Frozen” would be replacing “Aladdin” at the Hyperion Theatre in September.
“It was extremely hard to keep it a secret,” he said. “Everywhere you go, there is something “Frozen” related. I have always been a big fan of Disney and its animated films. It’s been a very long time since I last visited Disneyland, so I’ve never been to California Adventure. I am excited to visit the park once the show goes into tech.”
In 2013, Tousley won the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival National Award for Design Excellence in Scenery and attended the national festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. His design credits at UNL included “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Paragon Springs” and “Cendrillon.”
He said the key difference between the productions he worked on in the Carson School and this Disney production is budget.
“The budget for this design is astronomically different from the budgets we worked with in school,” he said.
He appreciates the opportunity to work with Brill.
“I think the best part about working under Mr. Brill is to watch him juggle multiple large projects and to keep a cool demeanor at all times,” he said. “While we were building the model for Frozen, he was working on at least four or five major productions throughout the country, not to mention preparing to become the head of the design department at the University of California San Diego. He is teaching me how to work under pressure and still have a positive attitude. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with such a fantastic mentor.”
He doesn’t know how long he will be working on the production.
“In short, however long Robert needs me on the project,” he said. “I will begin working on the color model soon, but I don’t know long that will take, especially with revisions and possible changes due to budget and direction.”
For more on “Frozen,” visit https://go.unl.edu/g8sp.