The Sugar Creek Players Do Us Proud

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You know you are in Indiana when your rental car comes with an ice scraper, but the weather Gods smiled on Laura Ambler and me the first weekend in December 2018. We never needed the scraper, but I was glad I’d packed an umbrella.

We flew into Indianapolis and drove to Crawfordsville. An hour on the interstate led us right to the Vanity Theater.

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It’s a thrill to see our play in marquis lights.

On opening night the house was full and we were escorted to our seats by two of the cast members who play volunteer firemen in the show.

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After welcoming remarks by Director Keith Strain, the firemen escorted us to the stage where Crawfordsville Mayor, Todd Barton,  presented us with a proclamation announcing this week as The Santa Diaries week.

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The stage at the Vanity Theater is tight…just 22 feet wide. It’s deep however, and the director made use of several levels including a scrim (you can see it on the photo above with a photo projected on it) and a small raised area which served as Timmy’s bedroom.

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Sandy, Will, Martha, Brandeee and Josh. Then the Casserole Ladies begin to arrive.

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When most of the cast is on stage, it’s crowded, but risers in the back help.

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Adorable elves help Sandy read letters to Santa.

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Marley Dog, Timmy and Will

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There was an after party on Friday night where all the cast and crew gathered.

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On Saturday Director Keith Strain and his wife, Betsy, took us to lunch. And in the afternoon a local cooperative art gallery hosted a reception for us. Laura and I supported the local ecomomy and bought jewelry and met people from this vibrant community.

On Saturday night we saw the show again. The staging of every production is unique and every actor interprets his/her character differently. It’s why we travel to see productions. Sometimes there’s a bit of business that we want to keep. This time it was a reprise of At Christmas I Believe (an original song in the show written by Laura Ambler) sung by Will’s mother’s ghost. It was a nice touch. It would give a director an option for the character of Alice.

Community theaters across America provide a cultural venue for their communities. Sometimes they serve as the focal point for the revitalization of a small town. And for some, they are a place where people come together — regardless of politics, religion, gender or sexual orientation — to put on a show. And that’s just what the Sugar Creek Players did at the Vanity Theater last weekend. They put on a great show and did us proud.

 

A Call for Reindeer

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Reindeer are featured in Martha’s Christmas decorating efforts in the new show – A Christmas Wedding – so the Merlin Players sent out a tweet.

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Laura has been doing some rear projection images for the new show. She put a bulletin board on the wall of the community center where much of the action takes place. It’s an homage to sweet potato hot dish recipes, auditions for  the Christmas Carol — the perennial holiday show in our imaginary small-town — and a photo of the playwrites with Merlin Players director Julianna Skluzacek.

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In twenty days we’ll be in Crawfordsville, Indiana watching the opening night performance of The Santa Diaries (the original show) performed by the Sugar Creek Players. Life doesn’t get much better for writers.

The Santa Diaries Lives On in 2018

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Mala Burt and Laura Ambler want to let you know…

The Santa Dairies lives on and in 2018 will be produced by the Sugar Creek Players in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

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November  30, 2018 and December 1, 6, 7, 8, 9,  2018
Thursday, Friday and Saturdays @ 7:30 p.m.   Sunday @ 2:30 p.m.
Directed by Keith Strain ~ Produced by Kym Bushong

Director Keith Strain gets community theater. He has cast 42 people in his version of the play. In the community theater featured in the play everyone who wants a part gets one. Especially the kids. Their parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents all buy tickets. Laura and I will be attending two performances the first weekend.

In Bath, Maine the Chocolate Church Arts Center is also producing the play. We will be  attending two performances there as well.

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Our new play — A Christmas Wedding: The Santa Diaries 11 —  will premier in Faribault, Minnesota this Christmas. The sequel was commissioned by the The Merlin Players who performed the original in 2014. It features the same cast of characters five years later. Who can resist a simple small-town Christmas wedding that is derailed when it becomes a reality TV show?

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Many of the people who played parts in the original play are back. Here are some of them at the first read through. We love you guys and can’t wait to see you on opening night. We’ve booked our flights and rented a house because we are traveling with an entourage this time.

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I’m hoping to get photos and some bio information of the casts in the various productions for the blog. Head shots if you have them. Acting history or newbie status. Rehearsal photos would also be great. You can always send them directly to me at malasburt@gmail.com or santadiariesplay@gmail.com.

Check out our FaceBook page. Anyone can post comments and photos.

Here we go!

 

 

A Thank You to the Merlin Players

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Laura created an animoto Thank You for the cast and behind-the-scenes crew who did such a wonderful job of producing our play, The Santa Diaries. We couldn’t have asked for more.

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We were made to feel part of the theater community. It was a very special weekend.

Minnesota Nice

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Laura and I flew into Minneapolis/St. Paul on Friday afternoon. We needed to arrive in time for the 7pm performance of our playThe Santa Diaries.

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We rented a Hoodie Hamster car (Kia Soul)and drove to Faribault. We didn’t know that we were heading toward one of the friendliest towns in America. Our suite at Be My Guest – The Loft was amazing. Sleek, modern, but cozy and warm at the same time. And on the table was a welcome basket from the Merlin Players Board of Directors. It was full of all sorts of Minnesota food items. We brought most of it home in our suitcases and plan to have a Minnesota Night Dinner with our husbands after Christmas.

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We settled in and then went in search of a place to get some dinner. The Loft was only two short blocks from the theater and The Cheese Cave had been recommended (more about that in another post). On the way we saw the marquis of The Paradise Theater. A kind of surreal moment. In fact, the whole weekend was rather surreal, but in a good way.

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It turned out the Cheese Cave was closed because that night the restaurant was having its Christmas Staff party. Really, on a Friday night? We ended up at a Subway a few doors down. We knew we’d get to the Cheese Cave eventually. At that point we just needed some food. We’d been on planes all day, surviving on little packets of peanuts.

Merlin Players Director Julianna Skluzacek had asked us to meet her at the theater at 6:40. It was the first time we’d met in person, and she was warm and welcoming and thrilled that we had come to see the show. It felt like we were old friends.

Julianna gave us a brief tour of the beautifully restored theater. It is truly a gem – and it turns out to have incredible acoustics. The auditorium holds 210 people and was full for the three performances we attended.  The dancing Santa logo was on the screens on the stage as we watched the auditorium fill . How would The Merlin Players treat our baby?

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From the opening montage we felt ourselves relax. This was going to be really good. The cast was professional and polished. Even the small children were excellent. No one in the cast wore mics and we could understand every word – those amazing acoustics.

The Casserole Ladies of the original script had morphed into Midwestern Hot Dish Ladies, complete with hot mitts and hot dish carriers. Even funnier than the original. We were told that the reception after opening night had featured a hot dish buffet. Brilliant. I wonder if they had any sweet potatoes with bananas and bacon?

This holiday chorus line will have you laughing out loud. Photo by Edward Brown, courtesy of The Merlin Players.

At the end of play we were presented with flowers and ushered to the stage where the audience whooped and applauded the cast and us. Surreal. I already said that, didn’t I.

We then walked back to The Loft where there’s a party space on the first floor and a cast party was soon in full swing. I hadn’t stayed up that late in forever.

On Saturday we walked around the town. Everybody seemed to be expecting us. I commented to one lady that this was the friendliest place I’d ever been. She said, “It’s called Minnesota Nice.” The world could use more of that.

More about the show and our visit to Faribault in the coming days.

 

 

 

Opening Night

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Stephanie Weiss, who plays Martha in The Santa Diaries, posted on her FB page before the curtains opened: Opening Night of THE SANTA DIARIES!! Break legs to my wonderful cast-mates!! Have a great show Jerry, Michael, Noelle, Jennifer, Pamela & everyone else!!!! Remember to Open Your Heart and Listen! 

After the show, Stephanie wrote: “The audience LOVED it!! What a terrific opening night. High energy, very responsive audience, almost sold out, and the hot dish served at the post show reception was delicious!!!”

She posted a photo of the hot dish ladies (casserole ladies in the original script) on her FaceBook page. FB wouldn’t let me copy it. Search for Stephanie Weiss and you’ll find it.  

Oh, how we wish we could have been there. Friday we’ll be in the air on our way to Minnesota and will see the play Friday and Saturday nights and the Sunday matinee. Friday can’t come too soon.

 

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