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Kira Hawkins marks 50 shows with Wagon Wheel in ‘Elf’ musical

Hawkins joins company as education director


Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published November 24, 2021

When Kira Lace Hawkins stars in the Wagon Wheel Theater’s upcoming production of Elf The Musical, it will be her 50th show with that company.

Elf The Musical opens Dec. 3 at the Warsaw theater.

Roughly 15 years after her first show at the Wagon Wheel, Hawkins recently joined the staff of the theater as education director.

“We’re actually kind of ramping up all of the programs that we’re going to offer and kind of reimagining how big we can make it,” she said. “We’ve renamed it the Conservatory.”

Hawkins is not an Indiana native.

“I actually grew up in Minneapolis,” she said. “And went up and got my master’s in theater, in acting performance. And then my husband made the decision to join his dad on their family farm and brought me along.”

Moving from the vibrant theater town that is Minneapolis to sleepy North Manchester, Indiana, was a hard adjustment at first.

“I feel more fortunate than anything that the Wagon Wheel happened to be so close to his family farm in North Manchester,” she said.

Big Screen Origins

Elf The Musical is, of course, the musical adaptation of the 2003 hit film.

The film starred Will Farrell as Buddy, a human raised by Santa’s elves who decides to make his way in the non-magical world.

Hawkins is assaying the role of Emily Hobbs, a role played in the film by Mary Steenburgen.

Hobbs is the sort of thankless role that Steenburgen has played many times: Long-suffering yet endlessly patient mom and wife.

Hawkins, who has played moms many times at the Wagon Wheel, said that Hobbs has considerably more to do in the musical than she did in the movie.

“Thankfully, they have given her two songs and she gets a really nice relationship with their young son, who is being played by a really talented Warsaw kid,” Hawkins said. “It’s more fun than many mom roles I played.”

The biggest difference between the film and the musical, she says, is the absence in the latter of Papa Elf, a character played on screen by Bob Newhart.

“I know people really miss that,” Hawkins said.

Most productions use adult actors walking on their knees to portray the elves, she said. The Wagon Wheel decided instead to recruit child actors.

“It’s really fun for them and it adds this element of kid energy,” Hawkins said. “Kid energy is so different, and having them on stage is really fun.”

Despite old Papa Elf having gotten the old heave-ho, Elf The Musical has become at least as beloved and ubiquitous on theater stages as the film has on TV and computer screens. Much more so at this time of year than any other, of course.

Uniqueness of a Theater-in-the-round

Wagon Wheel is a theater-in-the-round, so blocking a theatrical show in such a space is different from blocking a show on a more traditional proscenium stage.

One of the benefits of a theater-in-the-round in this context is that the actors can actually talk to each other.

On a proscenium stage, actors must “cheat.” Meaning, they must address the audience while also seeming to talk among themselves.

As a theater professional, Hawkins was disappointed initially to leave Minneapolis. But she became a fine example of someone who grew where she was planted.

“I won’t say that I didn’t entertain some second guessing,” she said. “I think that’s natural. But I was just saying to someone the other day: I am positive I wouldn’t have this many roles on my résumé if I had lived anywhere else.”

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