2019 Update: The Santa Diaries is being produced by the Encore Theatre in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee just outside of Nashville. Laura and I are hoping to be in the audience on opening night.
Maine wasn’t as cold as we expected, but it does get dark early. It was a short flight from Baltimore and by the time Laura Ambler and I landed at the Portland airport and were in the rental car (complete with ice scraper) it was getting dark. It was an hour drive to Bath. We checked into our hotel, found a place to eat dinner and walked to the theater to see the opening night show at the Chocolate Church Center for the Arts.
Thom Watson, the producter, told us before the show that the light board had gone out that afternoon and they were using dimmers and spots. The show must go on and it did to a full house. We were entranced.
Chocolate Church Center for the Arts is a wonderful theater space. The bones of the original church are still there, and it has great acoustics. We were told that on Friday afternoon two hundred school children kids had attended a performance of The Santa Diaries, many of them seeing their first live stage performance. The photo below was taken before Saturday’s matinee. The light board was back up.
The director of the show was Dennis St. Pierre, an Actors Equity and Screen Actors Guild member with 20 years of professional work in the theater, tv and music industry as an actor, singer, director and producer. He is currently the interim Executive Director for the Chocolate Church Performing Arts Center and recently created an Arts Education program that allows for collaboration with local school programs. It was that program that brought all those school kids to see The Santa Diaries.
In the opening scene of the show, cute elves deliver packages to Sandy Hawes who believes he has a calling… to be Santa.
The large cast exemplifies a line in the play…”It’s community theater. Anyone who wants a part, gets a part.” The photo below doesn’t show all the adorable elves who occasionally escaped their wranglers backstage and made an early entrance!
Chocolate Church did something clever to facilitate scene changes. They created three wheeled set pieces: a left and right window and a center piece that was the fireplace in Sandy’s living room (not seen in photo above). Each of these set pieces could be turned around to show something different on the other side. And for the finale (the community theater renovated after a fire) Christmas lights were turned on to show decorations in the actual theater. The audience went, “Awwww.” It was beautiful.
Before the show on Friday night we walked around the quaint main street of Bath. There was a snowman with a fire in his belly and kids were roasting marshmallows. With lots of adult supervision, of course. The only thing missing was lightly falling snow.
If we had stayed longer we would have attended the free community carol sing at Chocolate Church, a tradition on the last Monday evening before Christmas. And we would have spent more time at the Maritime Museum where the Christmas tree was made out of lobster pots.
At home, on the Chesapeake Bay, we have crab pot Christmas trees .
After three traveling weekends it was lovely to be home and put away my suitcase. Requests for perusal scripts have been coming in from theaters around the country, so it will be interesting to see where The Santa Diaries finds community theater homes in 2019. We already know one production will be in Tennessee.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sandy, Will, Martha, Brandeee and Josh. Then the Casserole Ladies begin to arrive.
When most of the cast is on stage, it’s crowded, but risers in the back help.
Adorable elves help Sandy read letters to Santa.
Marley Dog, Timmy and Will
There was an after party on Friday night where all the cast and crew gathered.
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.
Reindeer are featured in Martha’s Christmas decorating efforts in the new show – A Christmas Wedding – so the Merlin Players sent out a tweet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Check out our FaceBook page. Anyone can post comments and photos.
Here we go!
I have a Santa decoration that lives in my kitchen year round.
The wine cork ornament was a gift from the mother of the little boy who played Timmy in The Santa Diaries premier in Easton, Maryland in 2012. For Christmas last year Laura gave me the Believe ornament which I immediately hung on Santa’s hand. We believed that our movie script would get bought in 2014. Didn’t happen, but we continue to believe that it will happen at some point. Einstein told us time is fluid… in Hollywood.
When we went to Faribault, MN to see the third production of The Santa Diaries I came home with several additions to hang on my Santa.
The red ball was a handmade ornament by Stephanie Weiss who played Martha in the Merlin Players production. The Santa riding a reindeer hanging below the red ball was a gift from the local thrift shop. Laura and I were perusing their wares and the gal at the counter was so thrilled to meet us she asked us each to choose an ornament to take home as a remembrance. The big Santa hanging on the right was in the large basket of Minnesota goodies that the Merlin Players Board of Directors had put in our room at The Loft.
The only problem now is that it is getting difficult to open the cupboard to the right of the Santa. It’s where the plates and bowls are stored so I am in it several times a day.
Any inconvenience is worth it, however, as I see these reminders every day and remember the joy of each production of our play. It’s a way of celebrating every day of the year.
As Josh Shankman says in our play, “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanza or whatever politically correct holiday you people celebrate. It’s all good!”
Laura and I send our wishes for joy, peace and love in this very special season of the year. Re: selling a movie script…there’s always next year. At Christmas I believe.
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.
We were made to feel part of the theater community. It was a very special weekend.