Jeremy Davis: Bringing Olaf from Disney’s ‘Frozen’ to life in while studying at DU

Matthew Murphy
Jeremy Davis performing as Olaf in the touring production of Disney’s “Frozen” currently playing at the Denver Center.

Disney's “Frozen” has returned to the Denver Center for three weeks after making its pre-Broadway debut there in 2017.

The touring production’s cast includes one member with an unusual connection to the city — Jeremy Davis, who plays the sentient snowman Olaf, is currently studying for his master's degree in professional creative writing at the University of Denver

The dual focus actually provides a welcome balance for Davis. 

"The two things act sort of in tandem with each other to give me a break from each one,” he explained. “So when I'm at the show, I am not thinking about school, and when I'm working on my schoolwork, I'm not thinking about the show."

Still, he has to be strategic in balancing his studies with the physical demands of the tour, relying on foresight and careful budgeting of his time. 

"I actually write out a schedule of when I'm going to work on my schoolwork when I'm going to do these things and make sure I meet all those deadlines. Then I don't have to worry as much about it if I can just sort of stick to the schedule," he explained.

Davis has been with the "Frozen" tour for nearly three years, but his involvement with the show dates back even further. 

"I was in the original company. I understudied Olaf and the Duke of Weselton at that point," he explains. 

With that long history, Davis offers unique insights into the world of musical theater and the challenges of bringing a beloved animated character, especially a non-human one, to life on stage.

Among the most intriguing aspects of Davis's role are the physical and technical demands of puppeteering Olaf. Throughout the show, Davis, in costume, is visible behind the figure of Olaf, performing his gestures and mimicking his emotions.

"It was a new experience for me. I had never done any puppeteering before. Olaf had taught me everything I know about puppeteering and it's made me a little more aware of the external part of acting," he said.

Reflecting on his first time performing as Olaf, Davis recalled the excitement and support he felt.

 "Really what helped me was the immense support of the entire company,” he said. “I remember going out on stage and I looked off stage for a moment and I saw this wall of faces — all of my friends that I worked with every day — just this huge wall of faces of them just staring at me and watching me and supporting me in that way."

Puppeteering presents unique challenges and rewards, and has influenced his overall approach to acting: 

"With a puppet, you only have so many things you can control, and the way he looks to an outside viewer is very specific. So you have to sort of work the other way. You have to work outside to in, you have to think, ‘Okay, how does he look at this point? How do I make this? Do I make this behavior apparent?’" Davis explained.

Collin Bajaas Sven and Jeremy Davis as Olaf pose with a reindeer in the Frozen North American Tour.
Matthew Murphy
Collin Bajaas Sven and Jeremy Davis as Olaf. Frozen North American Tour.

The actor also emphasized how much he enjoys the collaborative nature of his performance with Olaf. 

"I mean, on stage, we're all part of a team because we’re all working together all the time,” said Davis. “But for me, even if I were alone on stage, it wouldn't just be me. It would be me and the puppet. And it really does feel like a joint effort between me and Olaf to create the performance."

When describing the stage interpretation of "Frozen," Davis focused on the heart of the story — the rift that grows between two once-close sisters as one struggles to keep a part of herself hidden.   

Davis also took the opportunity to highlight the unsung heroes of the production – the crew. 

"There's a lot of magic in our show, both as magic and theater magic — things that will make an audience member just sit back in awe or make their eyes wide,” he said. “And what you don't know when you're seeing those things is that anytime you see something magical on stage, it is due to the efforts of a bunch of people that you don't even notice and who in fact take great pains not to be noticed."

As "Frozen" continues to captivate audiences on tour, Davis's dedication to his craft, his studies and his unique perspective on bringing Olaf to life offer a fascinating glimpse into the world of professional theater and the magic that happens both on and off the stage.

Disney’s “Frozen” plays at the Denver Center through July 3.