By Trudy Horsting
Fantasia was founded in 1985 by Gary and Sheila Locke but didn’t become “Fantasia” until 1986. What started as a small program has blossomed into the incredible ensemble we know and love today.
In 2023, Fantasia placed 5th in WGI Independent World Class Finals. Fantasia’s success was particularly momentous because of their ability to retell a version of a story that didn’t quite reach its ending in 2020. Fantasia performed a similar production to their show from 2020, which got cut short when the WGI season ended early.
Tim Mikan, Director, has been with the organization for nearly 20 years. He says, “Success is measured in so many ways.” In addition to their numerical success, 2023 was an opportunity for Fantasia to bring new life to a production that wasn’t quite finished.
The pandemic and the restrictions implemented to curb its spread were consuming for many. Tim describes a lack of inspiration and creativity during the lockdown which was difficult to push through.
For the virtual season in 2021, Tim decided to produce a show that would bring excitement back to the group in the midst of an incredibly difficult time. “I chose fun music and made it my mission to make the season enjoyable.” Nonetheless, it was a hard year for Fantasia and all teams. Rehearsals had to be staggered and this limited what could actually be accomplished.
Tim had contemplated building off of their 2020 production each year since it passed but a different idea always came out on top. However, when it came time to plan for 2023, something felt right about picking up where they had left off. Tim says, “I was so inspired by that production, and it felt so incomplete. I kept thinking back to that season and to what it could become.”
In many ways, building from the earlier production was also practical. Tim says, “We had already spent money on our props and various elements of the show. I decided it was time to embrace it.”
He explains, “I didn’t tell anyone that we were doing this show, but we did have several students from 2020 come back to perform in 2023.” Tim shares the moment when he first played the music for the 2023 production for the performers. He describes how, at first, they chuckled when the music started playing. But as the song continued, their mood shifted, and tears came to some of their eyes. Tim says, “They felt the same thing I did. Incomplete.”
Tim continues, “I didn’t realize it had affected the performers as badly as it had myself. It really hit all of us in some way. Having some students come back from 2020 was the perfect addition.” Many of those who hadn’t been a part of the 2020 production had also seen the show, so they were also able to connect with the previous version of the story in their own way. Anyone who had been a part of the previous production in some manner finally had the opportunity to finish things out.
Tim describes how, when planning the revised production, he and the team were in a different place than they were in 2020. “I challenged myself to approach the show in a different way but to keep the story that we wanted to tell the same,” he says.
Choosing The Original Concept
Tim says, “I have been a fan of Jewel for such a long time. She is just an incredible singer. She can sing in an incredibly mature manner, and she can also sound adolescent on the turn of a dime. Her dexterity is amazing. She has a really beautiful way of stringing words together that is just so poetic. When I came across this piece, “Painters,” I knew I wanted to use it.”
Although Tim knew he wanted to use the song instantaneously, how he wanted to use the song took some time to figure out. “The song speaks so much to color, but I didn’t want it to be cliché and focus solely on painting. I wanted to focus on the metaphor, and I waited to use the song until I had a hook for it.”
For Tim, the idea just seemed to come together one day. “I started thinking about the southern twang of the song and, being from the south myself originally, I knew it needed to be about the porch in some way. The porch is where you come together. It’s where things happen.”
Tim explains how getting the props together, which formed the porch, was a huge foundational piece for the production. Darren Stack built the props, which were the centerpiece of the show. “He did an incredible job. They brought the show together,” Tim says.
Sometimes, it’s just the right time for the right idea. 2020 was the year this production was meant to start coming to life, and 2023 was the year it was meant to finish the story.
What Changed from 2020?
Tim says, “Scott Chandler did a fabulous job on the costumes the first time around. I really loved the look and the way he pulled in the color. He has such a way of making performers look great. However, having a couple of years to reflect on what we had done, I wanted this show to have a bit more southern flare, and I wanted to see the performers a bit more. I wanted the story to be about them as much as the porch.
Byron Valentine also did an incredible job putting the 2023 look together.” The jacket that was added in 2023 was ordered internationally from a woman who paints all of her products by hand. The jacket perfectly matched the soundtrack, which reflects the story of the couple’s time together.”
“Of course, we used the porches again. However, I didn’t like the black floor from 2020. It seemed too stark to be the backdrop for our story. I wanted something that would feel more like a painting, so I chose something with sweeping color.”
Another big change from 2020 was the introduction of flag in 2023. Tim says, “There was a certain quality that I thought the production needed that only flag could bring. It needed something dark and ominous but still beautiful at the same time to represent the woman’s grieving. The flag choreography was designed to be suffocating in a way that felt a little uncomfortable to match the emotions of the characters in the story.”
Tim says, “I also approached the placement and movement of the props completely differently than I did in 2020 except for a few key sets. The story was the same, but how we approached the man’s character shifted, and as a result, so did some of the moments of the production.”
What Made it Possible
Tim emphasizes how the 2023 production was possible only through the dedication of an amazing staff. “I’ve got a lot of amazing people who I work with. They ask questions that I’m not thinking about, and together, we make the show stronger. I am so proud of this program and the staff we have.”
Tim says, “Our team is incredible because the people who are involved really care. Our members work so hard, and they do it all without complaining. It’s really about the people who make the experience.”
The best advice Tim can provide to other groups striving to build back from the tumultuous year of 2020, or who are just striving to better themselves generally, is to surround yourself with good people. “If you have a great team behind you, success is inevitable.”
Of course, success is not all about scoring or placement. In 2022, Fantasia missed the opportunity to perform in finals. Tim says, “I try not to rely on external gratification in this activity because it’s like climbing onto a moving sidewalk. But it is nice to know that you put on a production that people valued.” He says, “I always prefer, instead of a standing ovation, for the audience to lean in a little bit, full of curiosity, because they witnessed something they didn’t quite expect when they walked through those doors.”
Tim also recommends that groups who are striving to come back stronger in 2024 work to develop a clear vision of what they want from their program. Tim says, “I wish that I would have been a bit more thoughtful about that from the beginning. But each year is an opportunity for growth and an opportunity to learn from the last.”
Tim explains, “We used to do very different shows each year, and that could be a challenge. Over time we’ve built up an identity for Fantasia.” Of course, the audience will always identify your group in their own way, but building up your organization’s own internal identity is one of the best things you can do for your team.
Tim says, “One of the things I think we’ve done well at Fantasia over the last few years is digging deeper below the surface level of a story. He explains, “The 2020 and 2023 productions had a sort of pleasantry to them but took the audience through a story of loss and heartache. I think our 2023 production really spoke to people while providing the right element of surprise from the year before.”
The 2023 production was particularly meaningful for Tim. In the middle of the season, Tim lost his father. He says, “I cancelled a Friday night rehearsal after the San Diego Regional so that I could attend the funeral. My parents were ideal role models who loved to spend time on their porch together so there was a lot of symmetry for me with this show. My father’s death mid-season was a tragic event I would never want to repeat but it did make the story of the 2023 production even richer for me.” It was a story of resilience and perseverance, of heartache, loss, and of relationships whose richness cannot be described.
Fantasia is thrilled to show the world their 2024 production.
Tim says, “We don’t take success lightly and we don’t take failure lightly. Twice we’ve missed finals and followed it with a fifth-place finish. Sometimes we get the point across and sometimes we don’t. The numerical success is great, but I want audiences to see the value that I see in our productions.”
He continues, “I want our productions to make people inquisitive. I want to make the audience ask questions. Of course, I don’t want to be esoteric in a way that no one gets it, but I love for people to wonder how components of the production are connected together. I would love for people to walk out the doors and go, ‘I just didn’t expect to see something like that.’ In 2024 we hope to bring the audience on a six-and-a-half-minute journey which is unlike any journey they’ve been on before.”
“Additionally, and as always, in 2024 I want to make sure that my performers are getting everything they can out of this production and their season,” Tim says. “I am an educator first and foremost, and I want every person who comes in to leave better than they arrived. If I can contribute something to that, I’ve done my job.”
About the Author:
Trudy Horsting is a graduate student at Arizona State University pursuing her Ph.D. in Political Science. She holds a MA in Political Science from ASU as well as a BA in Political Science and a BA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication from James Madison University. While at JMU, she was a four year member and two year captain of the Marching Royal Dukes Color guard and JMU Nuance Winter guard. She was a member of First Flight World Winter guard in 2019 and FeniX Independent World Winter guard in 2020.