Imagine having your hands and feet strapped to stilts while wearing forty pounds of puppet and holding yourself in a plank position while walking and galloping for the entirety of your role on stage. That’s just what William & Mary alum Dan Plehal does for each performance he portrays Sven in Disney’s Frozen, playing Altria Theater October 11 through October 22.
“It requires a lot of core strength,” says Plehal, who grew up in Springfield, Virginia. “Most of the time, the weight is on your arms and shoulders. Your toes are pointed like pointe shoes. I move the head of the costume with my neck. It’s like being in a comforter the whole time. It’s sweaty, exhausting, an adventure, and I love it so much.”
Dan Plehal Portrays Sven in Disney’s Frozen
Plehal got interested in the theater at a young age. When he was little, he and his siblings made up plays in their basement. “My brother got into theater production in high school. I thought I could do that. I got into shows in church and high school,” he says. “I had the bug to direct, piece it all together. I also got into acrobatics along the way.”
A Chicago-based actor, acrobat and director, Plehal wanted to go to graduate school for physical theater. The problem is he could only find five or six places where he could complete his graduate study. He ended up studying physical theatre at the Accademia dell-Arte in Arezzo, Italy.
“It was a nice jump across the sea to dive deeper into this weird niche of theater,” he says, adding he also trained at Aloft Circus Arts in Chicago.
Acting, acrobats, and directing represent a significant part of the last decade for Plehal. He was a founding member of an acrobatic dance theater company, Aura CuriAtlas, with one of his professors from William & Mary, Joan Gavaler.
“For the better part of a decade, we created work from scratch,” he says, noting that the theatre company did a show at Firehouse Theatre in Richmond a few years ago. “We created three shows and took them around the county and Europe. Right before I went on tour, I stepped away and left.”
What It Takes to Portray Sven in Disney’s Frozen
Now, Plehal is using all of skills in Frozen. He found out about the tour after his agent saw an online video of the actor that played Sven in the Broadway production. “He told me how weird his warm-up was and how the role was so physically demanding and I thought this is my collection of elements. If I want to do Broadway, this is the role I need to get and then they announced the national tour.”
Before his audition in 2019, Plehal worked out extensively at the gym. He didn’t book the role then, but did get the call that the tour needed a replacement in 2022. “I auditioned and just finished my year of performance with Frozen on the road,” he says.
It takes Plehal about fifteen minutes to get into costume and about forty-five minutes of warm-up before each show. “Whenever I exit the stage, I take my head off and hang it up. I sit on a stool waiting for the next time to go on,” he says.
He doesn’t speak or sing in the musical. “There is so much storytelling through the body without words,” he says. “I believe the body is the best tool for storytelling. I love bringing this puppet to life. It’s beautifully built by Michael Curry.”
Sven is the main focus of conversation during intermission with people wondering if Sven is a person, a robot, or puppet. “It’s a cool and unique — the weirdest job in the world,” Plehal says, adding that during the show his hearing is muted, he has to look through the mesh in the fabric fur. “I have tunnel vision, no peripheral vision. I can’t look up.”
Thankfully, the show has a physical therapst on staff, he says. “I usually spend three to four hours a week with her,” he says. “I alternate the role with Collin Baja. When one of us is on stage the other spends the show with the physical therapist, getting needling, cupping and massage therapy. That helps keep us in working order.”
The second that Plehal leaves the stage, people in the wings make sure to get out of Sven’s way. “They don’t want to get run over by a reindeer,” Plehal says with a laugh.
For showtimes and tickets to see Dan Plehal as Sven in Disney’s Frozen, visit broadwayinrichmond.com.