Backstage with Jen Young Mahlstedt

Austin’s ZACH Theatre has long been known for its talented teams of creative individuals from over the years. From gripping productions like Tribes and Notes From the Field to mesmerizing fairytales like Disney’s Beauty and The Beast and even lighthearted fare like Tortoise and Hare, audiences have seen immense talent grace the stage, and their production of Matilda the Musical is no different.

We got a chance to talk with Jen Young Mahlstedt, one of the critical components behind bringing the musical to life. As the production’s choreographer, she’s responsible for creating the dance moves for the show, and has done very well. She also oversees the Pre-Professional Company and the ZACH Performing Arts Academy.

Jen Young Mahlstedt

Jen Young Mahlstedt

  1. What's it been like choreographing such a creative production? It has been super inspiring and fun. I was able to play around! It was fun to collaborate with the kids in the process and gather their opinions on what they thought was interesting.  We had a blast playing with different shapes on the monkey bars and we laughed A LOT!!!

  2. How do you handle choreography for kids? It depends on the casting and their abilities. The more technique they have, the more I can do with the choreography.

  3. Are there particular challenges you run into? Yes, this is a double cast and their are a lot of moving parts. If one person misses a rehearsal or note, then there is a possibility that the  movement isn’t set or that person may be in the correct place.  It can get dangerous if the choreography isn’t exact or if the spacing isn’t right.

  4. How do you manage making sure so many kids learn their moves? All of these students are in the Pre-Professional Company (PPC) and I oversee that program. PPC is a Musical Theatre training program that prepares the students for College and Professional Productions.  Students learn what is expected in a professional rehearsal process. I am very familiar with their skill set and they have experience with large choreographed production pieces in their annual Showcase.

  5. Where did you pull inspiration from for this production? I pulled from my own adolescent experiences. Every piece is designed to tell the story through a child’s perspective and their imagination. For example, in “Loud” I thought about how Matilda would imagine a ballroom competition in her head and what kind of movement she would envision her mother would do. In “Bruce”, I thought about how a bullied 10 year old boy would picture his “imaginary cheerleaders” as cake dancers and chefs and how they would move. I also played with interesting shapes and pictures. The music is also interesting, big and fun, so it motivated most of the choreography.

  6. How has your role with the PPC program helped you prepare for this production? I am grateful to have had the years of experience Directing and Choreographing over 200 production pieces with 100 plus kids. I am also very close to the students and some have them have been in the program a long time.

  7. Is there anything you'd like to add? I am so proud of all of the kids! If you would like to check out the rest of our amazing students, then please see the PPC Showcase May 17-25.

    Bonus question: what's your favorite dance number of the show? Revolting Children:)

    Tickets for ZACH Theater’s Matilda the Musical, are currently on sale, and the show will run in The Topfer at ZACH until May 12, 2019. Feature photo by Kirk Tuck.

Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set unafraid to take on topics head on. He now resides in Austin, TX and continues to create content on a daily basis.