Years of learning about hitting marks, lighting cues and librettos have led Katie Gudzik ’22 (Theater Arts)’s Honors Program thesis: a staged reading of an Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical adaptation inspired by the children’s classic short story series “Frog & Toad.”
Set to debut at the McKenna Theatre on Nov. 19 & 20 at 11 a.m., “A Year with Frog & Toad” is a New Paltz community production with a cast of students and musical accompaniment from Adjunct Professor Nathan Perry. As a Deaf Studies minor, Gudzik will also be serving as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for the production, along with Anouk Bourdeau ’24 (Media Management).
The musical follows the woodland adventures of the upbeat Frog and grumpy Toad characters that have touched generations of young readers, while they explore the four seasons together among other woodland creatures.
“It takes the children’s books that we all know and love, and adds music to it,” said Gudzik. “I think audiences will resonate with the music and the friendship of the two characters.”
The staged reading is free of charge and open to audiences of all ages. Families can use this link to reserve tickets.
With the dual goals of bringing children’s theatre to the Hudson Valley and fulfilling the Honors’ Program senior thesis requirement, Gudzik sought to make the production accessible to all audiences.
“This area doesn’t have that many showcases for children’s theater, and I wanted to create something where children, families and the community in general could experience theater,” she said. “It’s a great way to bring the community together for a weekend afternoon.”
Learning about theatre beyond the classroom
Gudzik’s Honors Program thesis is a product of the College’s undergraduate research program, which encourages students from all academic disciplines – including the creative arts – to pursue faculty-mentored research projects.
“One of the missions of undergraduate research on campus is to bridge the traditional ideas of research with creativity and artistic expression, and to demonstrate that creative people do research, and researchers are creative people,” said Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Andrea Varga, who serves as a faculty mentor for Gudzik’s research along with fellow Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Catherine Doherty. “It is a mission that Katie is demonstrating beautifully with this project.”
One example of how Gudzik merged research and creativity on this project can be found in her choice to use this story to connect with LGBTQ+ themes and audiences. She had learned in researching “Frog & Toad” about its place in the history of queer literature, and when she brought this to her cast and crew they mutually agreed to incorporate LGBTQ+ ideas into their depiction of the relationship between the titular characters.
“It is a children’s theatre production, so we’re not outright saying anything about Frog & Toad that may turn families away,” she said, “but since most of our company is queer, we feel strongly about reaching out to queer audience members by telling the story as truthfully as we can.”
The project also underscores the value of independent learning and creative activities at the undergraduate level. Gudzik’s experience leading a production team translates directly to her future ambitious in the theatre industry.
Working with a cast and crew of mostly students during rehearsals at the Honors Center has given Gudzik a simulation of what the real world of directing will look like.
“I am learning a lot about what it takes to run a rehearsal room,” she said. “I think the true nature of doing theatre is such a collaboration, and now that I’m directing a real show, it’s so beautiful to watch it come together.”
As she approaches graduation this year, her long-term goal is becoming a theatre arts teacher, and pass on her passion for the medium to future generations.
“I want to get some lived experience in the theater profession, whether that be through directing, performing or any other means,” she said. “I want to try all different aspects of working in the theatre before going on to teach. It is important for me to be able to share all I’ve learned with young people, so I can encourage anyone and everyone who wants to tell stories for a living.”
“A Year with Frog & Toad” was made possible by an Academic Year Undergraduate Research Experience (AYURE) grant. Each semester, the Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities (RSCA) office offers these grants to support faculty-mentored, multidisciplinary student research.
About the Honors Program
The mission of the SUNY New Paltz Honors Program is to provide an enhanced intellectual experience in a climate conducive to interaction among highly motivated students and faculty. This experience will seek to develop and intensify skills from a conceptual point of view in a diverse, multidisciplinary, analytical environment that nurtures independent thinking, creativity, respect and social responsibility. Learn more here.