As soon as Danish exchange student Christian Otzen heard the news that East put on a musical, he was excited and knew he would join. When he learned the musical would be “Beauty and the Beast,” he was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to audition. A big theatre back in Denmark had performed the same musical, and Otzen had loved it. He was eager to take part in East’s version and he immediately began preparing his audition song: “Be Our Guest.”
Otzen practiced the lyrics and how to sing the song more and more until he was practicing every night before his audition. He went into the audition confident and was rewarded with the role of a dancer.
Acting and dancing isn’t new for Otzen; he has a history of performing in plays, dances and short movies in Denmark.
Four years ago, Otzen got the rare chance to act in two short films. The films depicted bullying and child care and were shown to schools around the country. The first movie focused on a boy who went around bullying other kids and it was a choose-your-own-ending. During the movie there would be a situation and three choices, each choice leading to a different outcome and different storyline. Otzen played a boy in one of the gangs. The second movie was basically the same, except it was about care for children; Otzen played a boy who was abused by his dad.
For those picturing Hollywood lights and fancy staging, it’s nothing of the sort. The movies were filmed in a simple club with a couple cameras.
“It’s not the same level as Hollywood, don’t think about it like that,” Otzen said. “It’s just some cameras and that’s it and then some people.”
Along with these short films, Otzen has been in several plays back in Denmark, with the most notable beingOdense Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” While Otzen was attending a special dance school, the director for the show came in one day and asked him if he would like to be in his play. Otzen immediately said yes. The cast was made up of about 20 actors, including Otzen, playing many different roles. Otzen was cast as several small parts and even had a couple lines.
After performing in these Danish productions, Otzen has enjoyed taking part in an American musical. Otzen said Danish and American musicals are very similar.
“I mean it’s not that big of a difference,” Otzen said. “We don’t do anything special. What you do in a musical or play or whatever is you come, you rehearse, you produce and make it as good as possible so the audience will like it.”
The only minor difference is that all of the big shows in Denmark are put on in the summer and are performed outdoors.
For those in the East musical, it has been a fun experience to perform with Otzen. Junior Meghan Spivak has noticed how he really gets into the role he is playing.
“In the Gaston scene at the bar, he’s just wild and crazy,” Spivak said. “It’s really funny and he fills the scene. He really develops a distinct character that he keeps throughout the show instead of just getting into the character in the scene. He develops his own part.”
Otzen first got the idea to be an exchange student when he learned one of his very best friends from Denmark was planning to go to Brazil as an exchange student.
“I think if he could be an exchange student then so could I,” Otzen said.
Otzen waited a year before applying to be an exchange student, but he sent in his application a day late so he wasn’t sure he would be accepted. One by one, the programs he applied to said no, since he was too late.
One Saturday morning, Otzen lay sleeping in bed when his phone began ringing with a call.
“I picked up the phone and said, ‘Yeah, hello, who’s this?” Otzen said. “And they said, ‘Yeah, you sent me an application form to be an exchange student,’ and I just jumped out of bed and said, ‘Yes! Yes! That’s me!”
Rotary Youth Exchange Program had an opening for Otzen if he wanted it, and Otzen could hardly contain his excitement. Otzen had heard of Kansas as a state, but he had no idea what it was famous for. Like any teen would do, Otzen got on the computer to see where he would be living for almost a year.
“I looked [Kansas] up on Google and I went to images and I saw lots of pictures of ‘Wizard of Oz,” Otzen said. “I just didn’t get why there were so many pictures of this ‘Wizard of Oz.”
When Google failed to give Otzen insight to his future home, he turned to YouTube.
“I searched for Kansas and there was something about cheerleaders and I thought, ‘Oh, maybe they have some good cheerleaders there,” Otzen said.
Otzen has found more than Wizard of Oz and cheerleaders here in Prairie Village; in the musical, he’s found a group of friends in the cast he can relate to and enjoy. Surrounded by all the new experiences in America, returning to the theatre is a welcome comfort.