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Snow Queen
Adapted from the story
by Hans Christian Andersen
by Sandra Deer

Welcome to CUESHEET, one of a series of performance guides published by the Education Department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C. This Cuesheet is designed to be used before and after attending a performance of The Snow Queen.

What's in Cuesheet?

What happens in The Snow Queen?
Adaptations: How Print Becomes Performance
Objects: How Props Help the Performance
Plays: Pretending and Participating
The Audience: "Great Pretenders"
Hans Christian Andersen
And the transcripts with audio

What happens in The Snow Queen?

Young Kai and his neighbor, Gerda, play together summer and winter. While Gerda practices her flute, Kai becomes a whiz at multiplication tables and geography. As they bake cookies, Gerda's grandmother tells them the story of the Snow Queen and her ice palace north of Lapland (the most northern region of Europe, including parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia).

One day, something sharp pierces Kai's eye and heart. He thinks it is a cinder (a particle of burned material). He immediately becomes nasty and mean. Later, Kai finds his toboggan (a long, narrow, flat-bottomed sled) attached to the sled of a mysterious driver, who takes him away.

When Gerda discovers that Kai has disappeared, she sets out to find him. On her journey, she has many adventures. First, an Old Woman feeds her cherries and combs her hair with a golden comb. Gerda thinks about stopping her search. Then she dreams of her friend, and continues. Soon, Gerda is kidnapped by the Robber Girl and her mother. Gerda thinks she is in danger, but the Robber Girl becomes her friend and helps her look for Kai.

Kai has been living in the Snow Queen's palace. He has become spoiled and selfish. An old Fisher Woman explains to Gerda that Kai's eye and heart were pierced by a splinter of an evil mirror. Flowers, animals, a reindeer, and the Fisher Woman lead Gerda to the palace. Kai has forgotten his home and friend. Gerda finds a way to make him remember them. The Snow Queen lets Kai go home with Gerda. As they grow up, their friendship strengthens.

Adaptions: How Print Becomes Performance

How does the story "tell itself?"

Adapting means changing.

Changing a story of printed words into a story told through actions and characters' dialogue (lines performers speak) usually requires changes in the story. Playwrights may make these changes to prepare the story for the stage:
  1. characters and events may be combined, simplified, or eliminated.
  2. Characters and events may be added.
  3. Settings may be simplified to avoid complicated scene changes.

Lines to Listen For:

Here are some lines the playwright wrote when adapting the story The Snow Queen for the stage:

Objects: How Props Help the Performance

Objects often give readers or viewers very strong feelings. (Compare the feeling of receiving a balloon or an ice cream cone to the feeling of receiving a spoonful of medicine or a needle in the doctor's office!)

In the theater, small objects that actors handle are called hand props. Large items, like pieces of furniture, are called stage props.

The Snow Queen PROP LIST
  • A splinter of glass / an evil mirror
  • A toboggan (a small sled)
  • A boat that carries Gerda on her journey
  • A pair of red shoes
  • A golden comb
  • A muff (a roll of fur and quilted cloth used by ladies to warm their hands while outdoors; considered very feminine and fashionable)
  • A symphony of flowers (Gladiolus; Sweet Peas; Gardenias; Nasturtiums; Tulips; Petunias; Tiger Lilies; Narcissus; Sunflowers)
  • A bush with big red berries
  • A rose frozen in an icicle
  • A fish
  • Seven sticks and a circle

Plays: Pretending and Participating

Theater Conventions
A basic understanding between audience and performer is the agreement to "suspend disbelief" --to pretend together that the action is real and is happening for the first time. This agreement often relies on the acceptance of theater conventions (practices accepted as part of playmaking).

These theater conventions are found in The Snow Queen:
  • Narrators talk to the audience.
  • A character's dream is acted out by the dreamer and other characters.
  • Some performers play many different characters.
  • Some performers play animals, flowers, trees, rivers, and other natural objects that move, speak, and think like humans.
  • Settings are suggested by use of simple props and furniture.
  • Lighting changes (including color changes) indicate changes in setting.
  • Changes in characters' ages are suggested by simple changes in hair and costume.

The Audience: "Great Pretenders"

When you go to the theater, you are the audience. The audience is an important part of the performance. You help the performers by pretending and participating with them.

Before the performance: An usher will meet your class at the entrance to the theater and guide you to your seats. Bathrooms are located outside the theater. It is a good idea to use them before the performance, since everyone will want to go later. If you must go to the bathroom during the performance, be sure that you leave and return quietly. When the performance is about to begin, the lights in the theater (house lights) will dim and go out. Be sure you are ready to become silent when this happens.

During the performance: Help build the magic theater with your imagination and cooperation. Attending a play is different from watching TV or going to the movies. The performers are in the same room as you are. They need you to watch and listen quietly. Talking to friends disturbs the performers and other members of the audience. Your job is to pretend along with the performers. They like it when you laugh when something is funny. They also like to hear you clap at the end of the performance when they bow. After the bows, the audience stays seated until the house lights come on. Follow the usher's directions for leaving the theater.

After the performance: Actors, dancers, and musicians like to hear from their audiences. Write and let them know your thoughts. Write to:
    Cuesheet/The Snow Queen
    The Kennedy Center Education Department
    Washington, D.C. 20566

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) of Denmark made up many stories, including the original version of The Snow Queen. He had some of his strongest feelings when he was young. Read what he wrote below. Have you had some of these same feelings?

1806 Age 11: My father has died. The best gift my father gave me was the theater he made for me, but now I'm tired of my puppets. I hate being poor. I want to leave this small town and become famous.

1819 Age 14: I'm running away to Denmark's largest city, Copenhagen. I'll be a star in Copenhagen. I have no money, no work, no friends. I want to be a singer! I want to be a dancer! I want to be an actor!

1820 Age 15: Success! I've been hired to perform at the Royal Theater of Copenhagen!

1821 Age 16: Another rejection! I lost my job. My voice is changing.

1822 Age 17: More rejection. Every play I've written has been rejected. Is it because I can't spell?

1828 Age 22: I've become a published author!

1835 Age 30: I am really famous now. My very first novel is being read all over Europe, but I make up fairy tales in my head. I think I'll begin to publish them as well.

1875 Age 70: As I look back on my life, I'm surprised that my fairy tales seem to be my most popular works. The best known are The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Nightingale, and The Snow Queen. (No one must ever know that the Ugly Duckling was really me.)

Cuesheet Editor: Rosalind Flynn. Writer: Suzanne Pratt. Design: Paul Dupree Communications.
Cuesheet is funded in part through the support of the U.S. Department of Education, The Kennedy Center Corporate Fund, and the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.
Copyright 1995 The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts