Hell Week in Faribault

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Michael Lambert (cast as Will Hawes) sent us this message…

Dear Mala and Laura,

It’s Hell Week this week, tech rehearsals culminating in our opening night production on Friday of your The Santa Diaries. Last night was the first tech rehearsal and it went very well, so hopes are high.

Hell week cast

(Thomas D. (Timmy), Cynthia Paley (Jessica), Jerry Fox (Sandy), Michael Lambert who-is-sitting-down/not-that-short (Will), Matt Drenth (Josh), Sydney Place-Sallstrom (Brandeee))

We even have the “real” Santa Claus coming this Friday for the premier! And an opening night reception that may even feature some bites of sweet potato hot dishes. Mmmm!

sweet potato casserole

These are The Merlin Players’ set builders, Matt and Roger, working on the rear projection screens for The Santa Diaries. Everything is good to go for this weekend’s opening.

set build at Faribault

Of course the flu needed to make an unfortunate appearance, sadly with both my leading ladies. Cynthia (Jessica) came down with it over our Thanksgiving break, and Sydney (Brandeee) is bravely battling it right now. Our poor Amazon princess! But as miserable as she feels, she still looks great. Ah, the power of youth … In the meantime, I’m downing vitamins and zinc and washing my hands every chance I get. And no kissing either of them until clean bills of health!

hell week santa and brandeee

I can’t put into words how much it means to me to come back to my small hometown to be in this touching play about a guy coming back to his small hometown to find the true meaning of Christmas. I truly love everyone involved with this show, even the little turkey who teases me each night (I know he secretly admires me … or at least that’s the story I’m going with). Some are people who I went to school with, others are kids of people who I went to school with, some are parents of people who I went to school with. A real “small town” feel to this show.

It’s snowing outside right now (“It’s really coming down out there!”), but the forecast looks clear for the weekend. Hopefully no snow storms for your upcoming trip to Minnesota.

We got quite a bit of press coverage in the local papers and I’ve attached some of the pictures and link.

Safe travels and we’ll see you soon.
-Michael

Note from Mala: I can’t tell you how much Michael’s reflection about coming back to his small town means to me. We all yearn for that community of people who know us and love us anyway. It doesn’t have to be a small town; it could be an urban neighborhood, or a church. That longing is at the heart of The Santa Diaries and Laura and I wrote this play because our Christmas wish is for everybody to find their own heart’s small town.

Update from Faribault

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An update from Michael Lambert (who stars as Will Hawes) about the rehearsals of The Santa Diaries in Faribault, Minnesota where it is now officially winter. The play will be produced by The Merlin Players.

snow michaels back yard

“Hi Mala and Laura –

Winter hit Minnesota pretty hard yesterday, dropping up to 14 inches of snow and ice in some parts of the state. The maple tree in my backyard decided to finally drop its foliage … I wasn’t sure whether to use the leaf blower or the snow blower …

I have a bit of a cold, and the icky weather prompted me to call in and work on lines. My cat, Pippin, had other ideas and wanted to get snugly. Not helpful, Pip! But he’s such a handsome boy …

Michaels cat

Stephanie Weiss (Martha) and I drove down to rehearsal in Faribault together and it was a slow, slick ride. This was our first time out of the rehearsal room and on the actual stage, so that was exciting.

Here is Jerry Fox (Sandy) and Stephanie Weiss (Martha):

Sandy Hawes and girlfriend

And the Hot Dish Ladies (they’re SOOOO cute!):

hot dish ladies

I’ll keep sending pics and stories as we get them. Stay warm!

-Michael”

Thanks for the update, Michael. It’s wonderful to put faces with the characters. Opening night will be here before we can blink!

Mala and Laura

 

Rehearsals Begin in Minnesota

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Rehearsals for The Santa Diaries have started in Faribault, Minnesota. Michael Lambert, who is playing Will Hawes, sent me an email.

Michael Lambert

Hello Mala and Laura,

The Merlin Players‘ rehearsals of The Santa Diaries started this week, and we are off to a great start. Julianna Skluzacek (Madame Director) has put together a great cast of veteran Merlin alumni and newbies (some of us were even in Merlin’s first show 20 years ago, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life. Apropos, no?). The kids (most are in the pic) are truly impressive and have set the bar high for the adults, although the “casserole ladies” are hi-lar-i-ous. Although this is the land of 10,000 hotdishes, not casseroles.

cast of kids 10-17-14 copy

The Casserole Ladies have even come up with some new recipes, including sweet potatoes with tater tots, and sweet potatoes with cream of mushroom soup (very Minnesotan)! The beatnik award goes to the sweet potato casserole with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. We may even feature some at the opening night gala!

Note from Mala: I suggested they might want to try Cream of Lutefisk soup. Michael said he threw up a little in his throat at the idea.

Cream of Lutefisk soup

I think that you are going to like how your play was cast. ‘Brande-e-e-e’ is a beautiful amazon power house of an actress, VERY extroverted and delightful. ‘Sandy’ is one of the sweetest men around, jokingly complaining about his blocking for the show (Ha!). He played ‘Kris’ in ‘A Miracle on 34th Street’ here a few years ago (type casting!). Cynthia, who plays ‘Jessica’ and I have been good friends for years, so our banter/repartee/chemistry is pretty spot on. ‘Martha’ is my good friend Stephanie who can’t sing ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’ without tearing up. I love her!

I’ll work on getting more pics, but I’ll have someone else take them, as I’m hardly off stage! Thank goodness for the Timmy and Marley scenes, so I can at least get a drink of water, ha!

Michael (Will)

PS. Today would’ve been my mom’s birthday … almost lost it on the “I miss mom” line during rehearsal last night… She would have loved this show.

A Sign from the Universe?

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I belong to the Woman’s Club of St. Michaels. Last weekend I helped with one of their annual fundraisers, Consignment Capers. The club gets half of the sale price of an item and the owner gets half and a cleaned out attic or basement.

Friday was the day people brought in their items to be consigned. I was a runner which meant once an item was logged in I put it in a place that made sense. Linens with linens. Crystal with other glassware. It’s not hard except that as more things come in the door you have to keep making room.

One of the items handed to me was this. A lap throw made by Faribo. Still in the original box.

Faribo-throw

And it was made in (drum-roll, please) Faribault, Minnesota where our play, The Santa Diaries, is going to be produced next Christmas. I texted Laura and we decided it was a sign from the universe. Of course I had to buy the lap throw. It will be a cozy addition to my couches when we watch multiple Christmas movies next December.

The Santa Diaries Goes to Minnesota

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Breaking News: The Merlin Players of Faribault, Minnesota is going to produce The Santa Diaries as its 2014 Christmas production. We can’t tell you how excited we are that another community theater will be putting its own stamp on our play.

theatre exterior

The theater in Faribault was originally an opulent opera house that was destroyed by a fire in the 1920’s. Somehow this seemed fitting as our play has a theater fire. Several incarnations later the theater became the home of the Paradise Center for the Arts. It can seat over 375 in the historic Bahl Family Auditorium. If you want to read more about the fascinating history of this theater, click here.

bahl-auditorium-300x195

The Merlin Players are a semi-professional, non-union theater company that is located at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Recently chosen as the best theater troupe in southern Minnesota by Scene Magazine, the Merlin Players, in partnership with area high schools, also provide learning opportunities for student audiences, actors and technical staff through their student intern program. Under the guidance of founding Artistic Director Julianna Skluzacek, this regional theater has attracted audiences and talent from Owatonna, Faribault, Northfield, Waseca, the Twin Cities, Albert Lea and Rochester for the past 19 seasons.

We can’t wait to see the Merlin Players’ interpretation of The Santa Diaries.

Is a road trip to Minnesota in our Christmas stockings?

Post Production Over Crabcakes

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Post Production Meeting

Laura had been in Carefree, Arizona for an Art and Wine Festival, so two Sundays ago I picked her up at the Baltimore Airport and we met Lori Chapman at the Double T Diner in Catonsville, a Baltimore suburb, for our post production meeting.

Double T Diner

Lori was the Assistant Director of The Santa Diaries production of the Liberty Showcase Theatre. Laura said she had been up since four that morning and we had a busy schedule. Post production meeting and then theatre at Everyman in Baltimore at 7 p.m.

The Director, Barb Gaspar, was to meet us, but she and her husband were driving back from Niagara Falls and she phoned that her husband was sick as a dog with some sort of intestinal flu so she couldn’t join us. I was just as glad. I did not want to be exposed to anything gastro…even second-hand.

Lori said the only thing she ever ate at the Double T Diner was the crab cakes so that’s what she ordered. I had a paninni and Laura had Eggs Benedict. For a diner with a menu that weighed over a pound and easily had 1000 items, the food was pretty good.

crab cakes

Foodie Laura

Laura had a birthday when she was in Arizona and she and her husband had a spectacular dinner at Binkleys. She said it was the best meal and service she has ever experienced. Coming from Laura that is a supreme compliment and she is already planning a Binkleys pilgrimage next January. Multiple amuse-bouche offerings added to the experience. That is a tiny bar-b-que sandwich. Talk about amusing your mouth…

binkleys amuse bouche

Script Changes

Between bites of crab cake, Lori’s only suggestion in terms of changes to the play was to see if we could combo some of the scenes so there wouldn’t be so many scene changes. The Avalon handled that with the rear projection equipment, but it was more challenging for Liberty  with a shallow stage, so we knew that was going to be something we wanted to look at.

At the end of our meal Laura and I looked at each other and decided to skip the play at Everyman and head home. She had to be at work the next morning and we were both tired. Next year we’re going to get matinee tickets. The Sunday night performances make for a very long trip home over the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore.

Another Santa Diaries Production?

Laura has designed a half page color ad to go into the American Association of Community Theatre‘s newsletter in March. We’ll make those changes to the script before the ad hits. Our hope is to have another theater produce The Santa Diaries for the holiday season 2014.

In the meantime we continue work on the movie script.

Thanks to Cast and Crew

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We Thank the Cast and Crew cast-and-crew-for-web-2

The cast and crew made the Liberty Showcase Theatre’s production of The Santa Diaries so very special and Laura and I are grateful for all their hard work. I was ill and unable to get to the last performance, but Laura attended with her husband. Despite some weather issues the Saturday evening performance and the Sunday matinee were packed. Laura said people laughed and cried. When that happens we know we’ve done our job as writers. Immediately after the last performance, volunteers began breaking down the set. In community theatre everybody gets to do a little bit of everything. My belief is that this is part of why participating in community theatre can be such a bonding experience. As some previous blogs have indicated, participation often spans generations.

Hiccups

In this production there were a number of hiccups. One was replacing the person who was to play Josh two weeks before the show opened. Although this is a male role, the person who knew most of the lines already was the female music director who heroically stepped in to fill Josh’s size twelves. Josh became JoJo and there was some hurried rewriting of the final scene in which Will calls Brandeee in the middle of the night and Josh answers. Did we want JoJo to be in Brandeee’s bedroom in the middle of the night? This was a family show, after all. Even having Josh in her bedroom was a bit of a stretch, but lines were finessed and everything worked out just fine. The snow/sleet/rain hiccup on the show’s last weekend was more problematic. The Liberty Theatre website home page was amended with the announcement: 12/14/2013 – It may be snowing outside, but the show must go on!! The Santa diaries will still be performed tonight at Glyndon United Methodist Church! Come out and get in the holiday spirit!!

People got the message and the cast performed to a full house. Last year at the Avalon Theatre the last show was on December 23. That was a burden on the cast and crew as it was so close to Christmas. The Liberty Showcase Theatre’s production ended on December 15 which gave people a little time to breathe before the last reindeer dash to the 25th.

Liberty Showcase Thanks Us

At the last show Lori Chapman, the Assistant Director, gave Laura two wrapped packages. She brought them to me a few days later and we opened them together. They were framed photos of the cast and crew of the this production. We were thrilled. On the first Sunday performance Laura and I were given one of the posters signed by everyone. Mine will go on my Santa Diaries wall! We have felt very thanked and appreciated by Liberty Showcase Theatre. The are such a professional group. We’d love to work with them again.

Post Production

We need to know how the play could be tweaked to make it better. What could be done to make it easier to stage? Liberty had a cast of about 25 as opposed to the Avalon’s cast of 65+. Most of those additional people were children which is its own special challenge, but when writing for community theatre it’s good if the cast number has some flexibility. You want to be able to showcase especially talented people and need to plan for that. Laura and I will have a post production meeting with the Director, the Assistant Director and the Producer after the holidays so that we can make useful changes to the script and notes that would help with the direction and staging of future productions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if The Santa Diaries was produced somewhere every year!

Our thanks and excellent Holiday Wishes to all the cast and crew and to the audiences who enjoyed the show. Find your inner Santa and celebrate with family and friends.