BY COURTNEY POTTER – (special to VC On Stage)
I may not have been one of his “best” friends, or even someone who knew him for particularly long, but I can honestly say that Kevin Traxler had a huge, long-lasting, sometimes hilarious and always memorable effect on my life.
I first met Kevin in, if I’m remembering correctly, late 2004, around Christmastime, actually. My mom worked for the Employee Events & Services department at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, and Kevin was working for the same kind of group within Walt Disney Imagineering. At the time, the company would close down Disneyland to the public for two nights, opening it only for employees and their families to celebrate the holidays with no lines and cheaper food (occasionally even served to you by executives!). I went down to the park with my mom one night that year to help her and her coworkers hand out collectible ornaments to employees as they left for the night. Kevin was there that night too, and when he found out I performed in musical theater, he started telling me all about Cabrillo Music Theatre. It was the first time I’d really heard of the group. I had just gotten back involved in theatre after a post-collegiate work-induced hiatus, so I decided to audition for the next show, which Kevin happened to be producing.
That show was 2005’s Annie Get Your Gun, starring a then-unknown Katharine McPhee. I was called back for the female ensemble, but wasn’t cast … initially. Cut to a few weeks later. Rehearsals had only just started, but they’d lost one of their ensemble members. My cell phone rang with an unfamiliar number. It was Kevin, asking if I was still available and interested in being a part of the show. I was. The rest is not only history, but also some of my fondest, weirdest, most uproarious theatrical-related memories — stories I still regale friends and family with, even though they’ve heard ’em 18 times. And more importantly, I never would have met two of my most cherished friends: Shawn Lanz and Arryck Adams. And they’re responsible for introducing me to Conejo Players Theatre. Truly, a life-changing few months …
I did one more show at Cabrillo directly with Kevin, later that year – Oliver! which starred his lovely and talented wife, Fiama Fricano, as Nancy. There are plentiful stories from that show as well … like how shocked Kevin, director David Ralphe, and the rest of the staff were when our set arrived in a semi, looking like the world’s largest Lincoln Logs collection — with no directions in sight!
That’s the thing about Kevin … in the midst of total insanity, Kevin always got stuff done — and with a sense of humor to boot. Anyone else might’ve had a conniption fit at first glance of that pile of lumber, but not Kevin. He knew they could make it work, and they did.
Kevin’s involvement with Cabrillo Music Theatre, and SoCal musical theatre in general, waned a bit in the last couple years — though he did remain heavily connected with productions of Forever Plaid, a show he’d produced on and off for years all over the dang place. In fact, he not only supplied Conejo Players’ Summer 2013 Plaid production with his cache of show-specific props, but he was also involved in Cabrillo’s upcoming production as well — a return to a company he’d been so much a part of for so many years.
And although I hadn’t had the honor of working on a show with him these last few seasons, I was able to see him on a much more regular basis in 2012. After a brief hiatus from the company, he had returned to Disney about three years ago — and was now working in the very same department as my mom! This newer department, or “in-company agency,” was now responsible for all manner of employee events all over the country, including the big D23 Expo, celebrating all things Disney, held every other year down in Anaheim. I was hired into the editorial group of their department for six months last year, writing articles for Disney’s internal bi-weekly corporate communications magazine, the Newsreel. I can’t tell you how excited I was to get to see Kevin and hear his amazing laugh on a more regular basis. While we may not have worked very closely together, he’d occasionally call me over to his office with crazy requests, like the time he couldn’t get a Facebook event page to work right. Here was a guy who’d produced huge events not only for Disney but also for iconic dignitaries like President Bill Clinton, and he couldn’t figure out Facebook! He was a total character, and we loved him for it.
Kevin was truly one of a kind. He may not have ever realized it, but it’s not hyperbole to say he had a hand in changing the course of my life. And while those of us who knew him will miss him terribly, I believe we’re all better off for having had the privilege to travel ’round the sun with him for the brief time we did. And I know he’s out there somewhere, laughing his head off at all the memories his friends have been sharing lately …
Much love to Fiama and their adorable son Finn …
If you’d like to do something special in Kevin’s memory, you can donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Kevin’s name: http://bit.ly/1gE4hU5