I sat down with director Tanner Morris to talk about his theater experience and the current production he is directing, “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” at East Valley Children’s Theatre.

Morris started theater 10 years ago when he was in high school. He saw there were auditions for the Neil Simon play “Rumors.” After auditioning for the show and not getting a part, he managed to get through another audition and did his first show, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Despite being a challenging show, he loved being in the theater. After that, he got involved with EVCT when one of his friends brought him along to audition for the show “Little Red Riding Hood,” and Morris got a role. He has been involved in EVCT ever since.

Morris’s favorite shows include EVCT’s junior production, “The Jungle Book,” because of how easily the cast learned the show, the cast’s behavior, and how smooth the shows were. He also loved “The Lost Boys Of Neverland,” his original composition!

Morris enjoys getting to work with some great people at EVCT. He mentions choreographer Breona Conrad, “I’ve worked with her when we’ve done summer camps here at EVCT. She is just truly a ball of energy that is so contagious. She’s so cheery and joyous and happy all the time.” He says music director Lori Bottomley is amazing, “I have never seen someone teach children music so fast and in a way that retains in their brains. And it’s just wonderful watching her work with the kids.”

For the future, Morris is excited about EVCT’s new Artistic Director, Bryanna Blanco, who has a lot of good ideas. He likes that she is working on what EVCT has and building upon that! He points out that Nicole Tatro, EVCT’s costume designer, is also wonderful. Morris shares, “I’ve worked with her before. I completely trust her on this show. She is fantastic.” Morris is also excited about the new makeup designer for the current show, Amanda Slade. Morris also spoke about Shyanne French and Ian Pelczarski, who are stage manager and assistant stage manager. “They do all of the tedious and annoying things, so that way Bryanna (Blanco) and I don’t have to…I love them dearly for that.”

Despite being so experienced, confident and engaging, Morris shared that he thinks some people may see him a bit differently at first and that they may be surprised by his full capabilities. While he came across as very well-spoken, he mentioned that he prefers to take his time in formulating an answer or being able to give a written response so he comes across better.

Morris loves many things about theater including the creative process and building a story onto the stage. He also loves the teaching aspect. “Because I’m working with young actors who may not be professionals yet, and that’s okay, that’s where I come in and teach them about motivation and energy and expression,” says Morris. Although there are many fun parts about directing, there are also some frustrations like, for example, when there are scenes with every cast member and having to manage everyone on stage. “My main frustration is when I don’t have an idea and I can’t find an idea. So typically I just let the ball roll and we’ll see where we go from there,” he shares.

When casting at auditions, Morris looks for general musical abilities, the ability to move and dance, and the ability to read lines with good volume. One of the biggest things Morris looks for is the stage presence needed to be part of a production and an actor who is really trying. Even if someone is not the loudest, or they have trouble remembering lines or doing dances, Morris mentions he is able to see their potential and how he could take what they have and make it bigger on stage when he sees they are motivated to try. Morris also gives suggestions for auditioning. “Go to every audition with 100% of what you have to give. Because if you do not, it could make a difference,” he says. “If you go in nonchalantly or you don’t care, it changes the chance of you getting a part.”

Morris thinks about EVCT as a special theater because of their focus on the kids. “EVCT is…the best children’s theater in the Valley. A lot of other theaters don’t focus on the kids as much.” Morris thinks other theaters focus on doing popular shows, and while EVCT does do fairytales, they also focus on very unique original shows, including ones that kids sometimes write. Here at EVCT, its like its not about us. Not about me. Its not about all the adults designing the show. Its about you guys,” he says. “It’s about the kids and you’re the ones on stage—you’re the ones having this experience, and I feel like EVCT is the best place for that.”

“Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” is a very special Christmas production at EVCT. Morris gave me insights into the messages shared throughout the production. It is a true story about a young girl back in 1897 who wrote a letter to the Sun Newspaper and a reporter named Frances Church, who wrote back to her,” says Morris. He also mentioned how the show has a really sweet message that typically, we as human beings experience hardships and terrible things happening in the world, and we tend to get more cynical about things, especially the more magical things in life, especially around the holidays. “I feel like this show is a good reminder…that it’s okay just to take a break and believe for a better tomorrow.”

EVCT has many other programs including the Express Acting Troupe, On the Spot Teen Improv Troupe and Bravo Teen Musical Theater Troupe, all of which have performances coming up around town. There are also acting classes, camps and workshops. To learn more about upcoming activities, classes, camps and performances, go to evct.org or email Katie Olsen, Officer Manager at info@evct.org.

Morris gave me a fun sneak peek into “The Frog Prince.” “I’m stepping away from directing and going back to stage managing the next show. (It’s) the winner of EVCT’s playwriting contest. It’s a musical, and there’s basketball in it!” says Morris.

“Yes, Virginia” opens on Dec. 1 and runs until Dec. 11. “Please come see the show. It is a wonderful, wonderful Christmas show, and the kids are doing a fantastic job,” he says.

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