Break a Leg, Merlin Players

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Laura and I are sending lots of broken leg thoughts to all the Merlin Players as our play, The Santa Diaries, opens tonight for it’s two week run. We’ll see the production next weekend, and can hardly wait. This is the Minnesota premier!

You won’t be able to miss us. I probably won’t wear the Christmas tree hat, but Laura says she’s wearing her monkey hat. What about the antlers, Laura? They aren’t exactly fashion forward. Whatever we wear, we know the Merlin Players will give us a warm welcome which we’ll need. I checked the weather in Faribault, and it’s been in the teens at night.

Mala and Laura in parade hats


Is It Really Over?


I knew there would be a letdown when The Santa Diaries was over, but I hadn’t anticipated how abrupt it would be. Maybe I didn’t want to know. Going to rehearsals, doing script revisions, marching in parades, etc. had taken huge chunks of time. The rest of our lives revolved around the play. Then on Sunday, December 23rd at 4:30 pm it was over. Producer Liza Ledford had announced before that last performance that everything would be gone that evening. As Laura and I left, the cast was gathering one last time and the chairs on the main floor were being stacked.

We still have a couple of loose ends. The big banner we had made from the poster Laura designed is someplace at the Avalon and we want to get that back. I bought The Night Before Christmas book used in the show and promised that to Tyler Sabatino who played Timmy.

I’m going to continue to blog on this site for awhile. I got background information about most of the actors just days before the show and there wasn’t time or energy to do more posts mentioning all of them. Every person in the cast was integral to the show and I want as many as possible to be highlighted. The set was spectacular, more than we could have imagined, and I want to blog about the woman who created the original art as well as talk about the technology.

Except for Tim Weigand, we don’t know the names of the guys who moved props around on stage, but they were instrumental in moving the play along each performance. As were the mothers downstairs who wrangled the kids into costumes and got them lined up for timely entrances. To everybody who helped make the magic, Laura and I are so grateful.

People are emailing us, stopping us on the street and in the grocery store, and telling us how much they loved the show. They say they laughed and cried and a number have told me that something about our story has stayed with them and they keep thinking about it. We couldn’t have hoped for a more wonderful response.

My husband and I had Christmas dinner with Laura and her family last night. During desert we went around the table and said what the most memorable thing about 2012 had been. For me it was the show. I’ve done alot of things in my life, but this was a peak experience . This was better than being on Oprah!

Laura and I wish everyone great things for the coming year. I have a feeling that some of the newbie actors may have been bitten by the acting bug and will be seen again on local community theater stages. As for what’s next for Laura and me…we need to sit down and talk about what additions to the play we thought worked and those we didn’t. We’ll do some rewriting before we put it away. Writing this story as a movie script was part of the motivation for writing the play, so that’s on the horizon. It’s reassuring to know that even though the run of the play is over, The Santa Diaries really isn’t.

Premier of The Santa Diaries

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Today is the premier of The Santa Diaries. At last night’s dress rehearsal I was glad I did not have heart problems. Missed actor and tech cues, kids who were in the green room when they were supposed to be on stage, props that stayed in the middle of the stage where they DID NOT BELONG – a long list.  The director reminded us about the old adage that a terrible dress rehearsal means you’ll have a fabulous opening. I wish we had another week of rehearsals, but we don’t and the show will go on at 2pm. Live theater is not for the faint of heart.

dress rehearsalEveryone has worked hard for the last three months to get to today and here’s the wonderful news. This community has embraced our play and pulled so many people into the effort to make the words we wrote last summer come to life. It is the actors who make the characters live on stage, but the unsung heroes are those who attend to the million of tiny details behind the scenes. We, the writers of The Santa Diaries, are grateful to all of you.

Break a leg!

The Cassell/Barwick Family

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Cathy Barwick Cassell has lived in Easton her entire life. She’s married to Marty Cassell and they have four sons. In The Santa Diaries Cathy plays the role of Mrs. Cratchit and also a barfly – two very opposite roles.

Tristan and Cathy CassellA Clinical Social Worker by day, Cathy enjoys travel, photography, arts and crafts and spending time with family and friends. When asked what is her favorite thing about Christmas, she replied, “the entire deal.”

She told us she had never been in a play except for the part of “the little red ant” in the first grade. She came to auditions to support her son and her parents, Tom and Betty Barwick, and ended up in the play.

Cathy’s son, Tristan Cassell, is an honor roll fourth grader at Easton Elementary School. In the play he performs as young Will and Child #1. This is Tristan’s first play and he wants people to leave the performance full of the Christmas spirit.

Tom Barwick 2Tristan’s grandfather and grandmother also have parts – his grandfather, Tom Barwick, plays Bud, and his grandmother, Betty Barwick plays  Glory Bea.  Betty Barwick









The Cassell/Barwick family wants the community to be proud of the Avalon Theatre and the dedication of the cast of The Santa Diaries. Buy Tickets.

Shall We Dance?

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Cavin with kidsThe Santa Diaries is lucky to have a gifted choreographer working with the cast. Cavin Moore, from Cambridge, Maryland, graduated in 2008 from Sarah Lawrence College with a B.A. in dance performance and composition. While at Sarah Lawrence, Cavin choreographed several pieces for student showcases and collaborated on several theatre projects including a stage version of the 1900’s to 1940’s comic strip “Krazy Kat” created for the Downstage Theater Fall Season.

Cavin has performed at INTAR Performing Arts Center and at The Rover Soho in New York City. In 2011 she choreographed for Kaleidoscope Children and Youth Productions of Salisbury, Maryland and worked on The Avalon Foundation’s production of  “A Christmas Carol.” Most recently, Cavin choreographed The Underground Actors’ production of “Pippin.”

Cavin performs with Floofie Films; a production company founded in 2009, along with her sister, Henley Moore, and Cecile Davis. Their latest project is the short movie musical “Jolene” which premiered at The Chesapeake Film Festival this past fall.

Watching Cavin work with the kids and the adults has been awe inspiring. She is a wonderful teacher with endless patience. The Santa Diaries is lucky to have her on our team. In the photo above, that’s Cavin in the center. Shall we dance?

Brother and Sister Act – the Wagners

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Seth WagnerThe Avalon Theatre summer camps have been creative outlets for brother and sister Seth and Selene Wagner. A first grader at St. Michaels Elementary School, Selene has been acting on the Avalon stage since she was five through the camps. She enjoys dancing and singing and playing with her friends. Her older brother, Seth, is a fifth grader at St. Michaels Elementary School. He has been acting on the Avalon Stage for five years. He enjoys acting, singing, writing and creating fun skits with his friends.

Selene WagnerIn The Santa Diaries Seth plays Zack, Child #2 and Selene plays Della, Diary Kid #1.

Seth and Selene will be walking in the Christmas in St. Michaels Christmas parade Saturday, December 8. This photo is of Selene getting ready to march in the Easton parade last Saturday night.

In the St. Michaels parade the kids will be wearing elf vests and Santa hats. This day time parade is great fun.

Maybe we will be by the llamas. I am told by parade master, Mert Jarboe that he has to keep the llamas away from the horses. They don’t get along! I know llamas are in the camel family and horses are, well, horses, but hey, guys, where’s your Christmas spirit?

I Love a Parade

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The dancing Santa on the poster Laura Ambler designed is part of the branding of The Santa Diaries. Last night we carried the poster in the Easton, Maryland, Christmas parade along with cast members from the show. Marie U’ren had outfitted people in Victorian costumes, and although those will appear only briefly on stage they are colorful and evoke the season. From left to right in the photo are Cathy Cassell, Laura Ambler, Mala Burt and Erik Higgins.

Easton paradeThe big weatherproof poster has been hanging in front of the Avalon Theatre. On Saturday afternoon when Laura  went to pick it up and it was still hanging outside. Nobody was around to help her get it down so she found a stool behind the ticket desk in the lobby and used it to climb up and unhook the poster. All the while she’s thinking “this is not a good idea” especially when she discovered the top of the stool swiveled. But need prevailed over common sense and she retrieved the poster, attached it to a dowel rod, and added red bows. It was parade ready.

At the staging area I made my way back in the line up of floats, old cars, and kids wrapped up like Christmas boxes until I found a group of people in Victorian costumes. Laura was there with the poster. As it grew closer to the start time we wondered where Marie U’ren was. Erik Higgins got a call from a mother of one of the kids saying her daughter couldn’t find the group, then a little later a call to say she had found them – except Selena wasn’t with us. So we knew there must be another group of Victorian costumed parade walkers somewhere in the line up. Someone took off toward the front of the line, then came running back. The rest of the our people were three back from the start of the parade. We found the other group, and got ourselves organized just as the whistle blew. We were off.

The Easton parade is held at night and the floats and fire trucks were decked with lights. The streets were lined with  waving kids, smiling adults and well behaved dogs. The kids and adults in our group handed out postcards about the play and candy to the children. As we passed the Avalon Theatre we saw Jessica Rogers, Cece Davis, Liza Ledford and other Avalon staff. Play Director Tim Weigand was walking with us.

It was chilly, but not bitterly cold. Just a perfect night to watch the glitter and lights that signal the beginning of the Christmas season. At the end of the parade Santa wound his way through town in a cherry picker. What fun! When it was all over Laura and I met our husbands at Bartlett Pear Inn for dinner. It was a wonderful night. Next Saturday we march in the Christmas in St. Michaels parade which starts at ten in the morning. It’s all part of letting people know about The Santa Diaries play and branding our dancing Santa.