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Finding Home in ‘The Snow Monster’

A Place to Be Tackles Tough Emotions in New Holiday Show

Finding Home in ‘The Snow Monster’
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Jenni Sable as Lena and Josiah Critchfield as Davis rehearse a scene in A Place to Be’s original show “The Snow Monster.”

As the most wonderful time of the year moves into full swing, negative and complicated emotions can rear their heads.

Loudoun’s noted music therapy studio A Place to Be addresses anger and learning to communicate emotions in its new winter show, “The Snow Monster,” an original musical written and directed by co-founder and creative director Tom Sweitzer.

“It’s very traditionally children’s theater, very Mr. Rogers-esque, with a moral and a message about how we all have anger inside of us that we have to deal with and how—with tools to deal with our anger—we can communicate better, and we can feel better,” Sweitzer said.

The show, designed for children 5 and older and their families, has a festive winter/holiday theme, but delves deeper into the importance of processing and communicating negative emotions.

The cast of A Place to Be’s original show “The Snow Monster” goes through vocal warmups with director Tom Sweitzer.

“The Snow Monster” tells the story of Davis, a child in foster care who finds a home with a loving family after moving through the system. In his new home, Davis builds a snowman, George, who is stolen from his yard and taken to a snow monster’s lair. Davis enlists his new friend and neighbor Lena to join him on a hunt to find George. When they arrive in the snow monster’s domain, they find thousands of snowmen stolen from children’s backyards. But as the kids get to know the monster and understand the root of his actions, Davis forms an unexpected connection with his adversary.

“The little boy and the snow monster both have anger issues, so they learn from each other,” Sweitzer said. “The gist of the show is about how we all have anger. … It’s also about finding a home.”

The performances, which take place in a pop-up theater in a retail space at Village of Leesburg, are a prelude to Middleburg-based APTB’s expansion to a new space at VAL in April, 2023. The new studio will feature 7,500 square feet of innovative music therapy rooms and a small family theater. Meanwhile, VAL’s owner Rappaport has donated space in another area of the retail center for rehearsals and performances of the current holiday show.

Sweitzer and his team are turning the entire room into “winter wonderland” to create an immersive experience. Children can sit on the floor for the 50-minute production, with chairs available for adults. And while the show has plenty of feel-good warmth and cuteness, early December is also a perfect time to be talking about the complex emotions both children and adults can experience, Sweitzer said.

The musical features a cast of 14 APTB performers, many of whom are neurodivergent or have disabilities. The diverse cast includes both new and veteran performers. Newcomers Josiah Critchfield and Jenni Sable star as Davis and Lena. For these elementary school students, a big part of the show is having fun, enjoying rehearsals and making new friends. But Sweitzer said the entire cast and crew have been working hard to put on the kind of top-notch show APTB is known for.

“It’s the first time for many of these guys,” Sweitzer said. “We’re going to be showing a very tight, well-rehearsed musical.”

“The Snow Monster” also features performances from several young adults who have appeared in past shows with APTB, a program known for taking a message of acceptance and inclusion to schools around Loudoun with productions like “The Same Sky Project” and “A Will to Survive.”

Noah Hickman, 22, who plays Davis’s dad is a veteran APTB performer who now works as an administrative assistant at the studio. While Hickman has been away from the stage in recent years, he wanted to return for this very special holiday show.

Josiah Critchfield as Davis and Jenni Sable as Lena rehearse a scene in A Place to Be’s original show “The Snow Monster.”

“I had retired from acting,” Hickman said. “I love the art. I had taken a break from it, but I wanted to make one last memory and this is it.”

“The Snow Monster” features APTB veterans Scott Meeker as George the snowman and Cass Parker-Price as the snow monster looking for a home.

Mental health advocate and past performer Abby Dahl has also returned to the stage in the role of Davis’ mother. But Dahl also is focused on mentoring younger actors.

“She’s helping lead the whole thing,” Sweitzer said.

Dahl performed in APTB’s “A Will to Survive,” the rock opera created by the APTB team after the death of Dahl’s close friend Will Robinson by suicide in 2016. “A Will to Survive” toured Loudoun's high schools and appeared at the Kennedy Center in 2017. That show inspired Dahl, now 25, to become a mental health advocate.

Noah Hickman, Joe Sable and Josiah Critchfield prepare for rehearsal of A Place to Be’s original show “The Snow Monster.”

“Through A Place to Be, I learned more about mental health and how important it is as I went through my own personal losses,” she said.

Sweitzer encouraged Dahl to return to the stage for “The Snow Monster,” where she serves as a mentor for younger actors.

“Being able to be here and support these kids through this process is great for my mental health,” Dahl said. “It just fills my heart with joy. They’re doing such a good job and working so hard, and the story itself is so beautiful. All the parents are going to cry—100 percent.”

A Place To Be’s original musical “The Snow Monster” runs two full weekends at its pop-up theater in Village at Leesburg. Performances take place Fridays Dec. 2 and Dec. 9 at 7 p.m., Saturdays Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Sundays Dec. 4 and Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. Look for the giant snowman at 1609 Village Market Blvd. SE #110. Admission is free.

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