At the end of October, Austin resident Julie Frost got the email: After nine years of performing at Disney World, her furlough would turn into a layoff.
She had swum an ocean as Nemo in the live musical of "Finding Nemo." She had flipped through the area as Squirt the baby sea turtle in that same show. She’d fallen in love as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid," and played a giggly host in the "Disney Junior - Live on Stage" production.
Her voice was perfectly suited for Disney characters: high-pitched and bubbly.
"I knew from a very young age that Disney was an end goal for me," Frost says. A lot of her musical theater peers at the University of Central Florida had dreams of heading to New York. "For me, it was Disney or bust."
Her high school chorus teacher took her under his wing and guided her to audition for Nemo when the show was casting. That teacher, Mike Dombrow, also later worked at Disney and was furloughed and then laid off this year.
Together they have created the new podcast "The Super Secret Hive," which takes kids and their parents on an adventure each episode. The characters of Mike and Julie explore different topics from the magic of bees to pollution in the seas to germs inside our bodies.
Frost, 31, in her closet in Austin and Dombrow in his home in Florida have been recording and producing all the episodes themselves.
"It’s just the two of us wearing all the hats with zero budget for this," she says. They voice all the characters themselves, and every instrument you hear is played by Dombrow.
She’s had to learn how to do different voices that are not like her own. In episode three, which is about sickness, she plays Lady of the Ache, who was meant to be a woman with a powerful and confident low voice, "which is not my sound," she says. About what she ended up with after much work, she says, "I think it’s fine, but I do get a good laugh. I know how much I struggled."
It’s not the first time Frost has created content for kids. Frost worked full time for Disney for three years and then was given an opportunity to work for the USO and create a show for military kids like herself. She was able to write out her own story in song in that show.
The kids she reached in those shows, "they might not ever go to Disney World, but I would bring them a little Disney-esque magic," she says.
She learned she had a knack for creating content, and after the USO show, she worked on creating content in Austin, where she had moved, while returning to Orlando to sub for performers when Disney World needed her.
She approached corporations about creating content for them aimed at kids. She created an anti-bullying bilingual show that she toured throughout Texas for H-E-B.
For three years, she toured school gyms all over Texas. "I loved making kids content and connecting with young kids on social-emotional issues," she says.
"Oftentimes we’re taught to tough it out, but that’s not the best way to get through challenges and overcome them," she says.
She also created content for Whole Foods’ Whole Kids Foundation and Procter & Gamble.
With the pandemic, Disney was shut down, and so were school shows. Frost and Dombrow began working on "The Super Secret Hive," but first they had to figure out how to produce and distribute a podcast. Their first effort was "Julie Frost Kids," which took Frost’s songs, paired them with a lesson and created short bits on ideas like the power of words, healthy eating and the diversity of people.
They also wondered if podcasts for kids would be something parents would want right now. She found out they did. "Kids are so inundated with screen time right now," she says, but she’s heard from parents that they like having something that kids can just listen to and not watch.
"The Super Secret Hive" takes on big topics like pollution and viruses. "We’re empowering kids to help take care of the Earth," she says. "These adult topics can seem really daunting," she says, but kids "can be empowered to make small changes in their lives."
The theme for all of it is Kids Save the World, which is the name of Frost’s production company.
"The Super Secret Hive" was released with six episodes. Frost and Dombrow now are working on other projects as well.
Meanwhile, she’s living in downtown Austin, and she loves how everything is walkable, how active the city is and the exchange of ideas and different views. She says it’s a city of people trying to be fit and healthy and educated, "trying to be the best version of themselves."
Even with the news that her dream job at Disney has gone away, Frost just keeps swimming and finding ways to bring bubbly joy through her voice and her content.
She’s is a bit like her character Polly Darton, the pollinator in "The Super Secret Hive," whom Frost describes as a Pollyanna. "I like to think I’m like that," she says.