North Texas Daily

Break a Leg

Break a Leg

August 09
12:07 2013

Amir Ellis puts his dreams on center stage.

Renee Hansen/Senior Staff Writer

Childhood is often defined by daydreams, make-believe and dress-up – the kind of carefree days full of imagination, friends and forming mythical creatures out of the fluffy clouds floating through the sky.

But 6-year-old Amir Ellis didn’t want to just dream, he wanted to make it happen. So he brought stories to life through theater, and not only stole the show, but created it all from scratch. And by kindergarten, he was attracting an international audience.

Living off-site at a military base with his single mother in Ludwigsburg, Germany, Ellis’ paper tickets to his bedroom-theater only attracted the neighborhood German kids, his mother said. But being the only Americans living in their area didn’t deter him from performing for his audience.

Now, as a radio, television and film senior at UNT, Ellis continues to attract audiences with his plays, but with a full cast and crew.

Complemented by his cohort, Stephanie Clausen, the pair wrote and co-produced UNT’s first student musical, “Occupy: The Musical.”

Just a few short months after his debut, Ellis is in the producer’s chair again, flying solo.

“I feel like if I’m doing this all on my own, I don’t have anyone to answer to and it’s like a testing ground for myself,” Ellis said.

It took one look at a tall cast member with a good voice and Ellis was inspired – “Bigfoot: The Musical” was born.

Ellis didn’t reveal too much about his brainchild yet, but he did offer a teaser as he looked down over his signature black-rimmed glasses at the swirl of his café Americano. He seemed to draw up the scenes that were already playing out in his mind.

Ellis said the ensemble show will focus around a national park that has been rumored to house Bigfoot, and each year people come in pairs for a contest to find him in hopes to win a particular prize.

The couples will be complex and contrasting of each other, ranging from a marriage on the rocks to a recently-widowed grandmother taking her grandchild on an adventure to remember the grandfather.

And simple as that, Ellis ran with the idea without knowing if the original cast member who was cause for inspiration would be involved.

While Ellis told the tall performer that the part was “basically written for him,” he would still have to audition, just like anyone else.

“Even though he was the muse, I play fair,” Ellis said. “You want the part, you have to compete with other people.”

One cast member of “Occupy,” Savannah Booth, remembered Ellis’ fairness fondly, and said how the result of it made the whole experience worthwhile.

“Everyone who wanted to be a part of the show was a part of the show,” Booth said. “That way I got to know so many different wonderful people that I may not have known otherwise.”

Paula Fairbrother, currently a set designer/builder with Children’s Musical Theater in Oklahoma, met Ellis in 2006 while she was producing and helping direct at the Razz-Ma-Tazz Family Theater at Ramstein Air Force Base. She has served as a friend and mentor since.

She recalled Ellis as being shy on stage but the pro in the group, focused on remembering his lines.

“He didn’t want my ‘evil eye’ coming his way,” she said. “If that’s mentoring, well then, I might have taught him how not to behave with actors.”

If “Occupy” was any indication, Ellis knows the challenges ahead are daunting. Flyers for auditions have yet to be posted, and he is already worried about where practices will be, let alone the production. The Union’s reconstruction has cut off Ellis at the knees, eliminating the Lyceum from use.

Other challenges include funding, but Ellis is hopeful in seeking the help of the student organization, Bored In Denton, which helped sponsor “Occupy: The Musical.”

Ellis takes on these challenges-directing and producing from scratch-as a welcome distraction, when others might have given up.

“It’s something I enjoy doing,” he said. “Even though it gives me stress, it relieves stress from other stuff.”

Corbin Young, a recent alumnus, was a member of the crew from “Occupy” who co-wrote lyrics with Clausen and noted how collaborative the whole team effort was in putting together the show.

“I don’t think they knew exactly what they were doing—I don’t think any of us knew what we were doing,” Young said with a laugh.

But Young is also hopeful for the learning experience through that first musical and is intrigued as to how Ellis will apply that knowledge toward “Bigfoot.”

“You can tell he’s certainly doing it authentically and with as much sincerity as he can,” Young said.

Ellis said it will be nothing like “Occupy,” which was more political and asked “the heavy questions.” Instead, “Bigfoot” will feature a new-age feel of what Ellis dubs “American-mythical,” and will consist more of “below-the-belt humor,” with corny jokes and a touch of drama.

And in keeping true to the myth surrounding the title creature, Ellis teased, “I cannot confirm or deny if the audiences will see Bigfoot.”

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