Broadway Comes Home

Broadway Comes Home

NYC stars host Pilot Arts’ holiday spectacular


Before covid-19 changed everything, Chad Burris had just finished a run playing Olaf in the Broadway hit “Frozen,” and he was “two days into my new role as Damian in ‘Mean Girls’ on Broadway.”

You read that right: On Broadway.

But Burris is a native of the Arkansas River Valley and, as a kid, was trained as a member of Missy Gipson’s Young Actors Guild.

So when Gipson was trying to put together a Christmas show for her Fayetteville company, Pilot Arts, Burris — back home to ride out the pandemic with his family — immediately came to mind.

“We wanted to give people an opportunity to gather for the holidays, even if it’s virtually,” Gipson says with her trademark enthusiasm. “I love holiday variety shows, and Chad and I had discussed working together while he was home, so we thought this would be a fun way to collaborate. Our hope is that families and friends across state/ocean lines will watch the show at the same time, maybe FaceTime each other while watching, and still get to share a holiday experience together, despite covid.”

Chad suggested his friend Katie Ladner join in the fun from her hometown, Jackson, Miss. She had been workshopping a new Broadway-bound musical before covid.

“I am teaching voice lessons and trying to stay busy and creative,” she says of sheltering at home. “I knew I would be stir crazy in New York, so I figured if I was going to be confined to my apartment and small space, I would rather be with my family and dog.

“I loved getting to work in such an intimate environment and with Chad, someone who is not only a close friend of mine, but such a talented performer,” she enthuses. “It almost feels like a normal thing.”

“Holidays At Home: A Virtual Variety Show” won’t be just holiday music, however. Gipson says there’s a chef segment with Case Dighero, a craft segment with Ladner, and “a ton of extra features we won’t spoil! Watch to see!”

“All ticket buyers will receive a pdf of song lyrics and a supplies list so they can mix drinks — cocktails for adults, mocktails for kids — and make a yummy holiday appetizer, and craft alongside us,” Gipson says. “The mocktail even gets a sprinkle of ‘snow!’ This show is family friendly and is entertaining for adults and kids alike.”

Chad Burris, from Alma, and Katie Ladner, from Jackson, Miss., will co-host a virtual holiday variety show for Pilot Arts. Burris had just finished a run playing Olaf in the Broadway hit “Frozen,” and he was two days into a new role as Damian in “Mean Girls” when covid-19 hit. Ladner was workshopping a play bound for Broadway. Both ended up sheltering with their families during the hiatus.
(Courtesy Photo/Patti Webb for Pilot Arts)

Burris and Ladner will be backed by a quartet of local musicians — Gini Law, Don Bailey, Benjamin Baker and Brian Bailey — that Pilot Arts playgoers are accustomed to seeing in the orchestra pit, plus Cameron Law and Aspen Knight on background vocals.

“Our lighting designer is Steven Sellers, and our videographer/editor is Christopher Smith,” Gipson adds. “So, besides Katie, we harnessed the tremendous power of our local artists! There are so many talented people right here in Arkansas.”

Since stages went dark in March, Pilot Arts has been presenting virtual workshops for its actors and, according to Gipson, is gearing up for spring shows. One of them will be a song cycle titled “The Passion Project,” in which, Gipson says, “12 brilliant women sing to their great loves: the object of their careers. An aviator sings to her airplane, an acrobat to her tightrope, an astronomer to her comet, etc. It features the stories of real women from history and now.”

Also in the plans is an original new musical for kids titled “Robot Kids.”

“It’s a new landscape,” Gipson says of using the internet to reach performers and audiences. “This is my first time doing a show like this, so learning in the moment has been challenging, but really positive. I’ve definitely expanded my palette for creating. It also highlights the importance of having the right people with a motivated mindset to complete a project like this.”

“I think it’s important to get theater back,” adds Burris. “I loved being able to be creative on this project, but I am really ready for our country to step it up in helping theaters and artists actually work. Artists want to be creative, but we also need to pay our bills, and theaters need support to keep the lights on during this hard time.”


‘Holidays At Home: A Virtual Variety Show’

WHEN — Dec. 17-20; the performance will be available to view as many times as you’d like between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. on the day you select

WHERE — Pilot Arts online

COST — $12-$20


Categories: Cover Story