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.

 

It Takes a Small-town

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Rehearsal 11-25-12: More people are becoming involved as The Santa Diaries becomes the project of Easton, our small-town.

Laura and I sit toward the back of the auditorium. Behind us is a door to the alley and a bearded guy is going in and out. I don’t know his name, but I think he is one of the set people and perhaps the father of one of the child actors. I’ve seen him at previous rehearsals. Sometimes he’s using a circular saw with the door partially open and the cold air blows in on us. Sometimes the door is almost closed. In any event he’s trying to be as quiet as possible, but like everyone in the theater he has a job to do.

On stage behind the actors a guy is at the top of a really tall ladder. He’s using a portable drill to attach something to something we can’t see. The actors are ignoring the distractions and are running their lines, incorporating some changes Laura and I were asked to make two days ago. This is a good sign. It means the actors are really focused on their characters.

A little later the ladder guy moves to the side of the stage apron and begins drilling. A long roll of something white is at the very back of the stage. Can this be part of the scenery project we’ve been hearing rumors about?

Behind us Marie is putting the finishing touches on outfits for kids and adults walking in the Easton Christmas parade next Saturday evening. In the Avalon entrance hall Cavin Moore is rehearsing a dance sequence. Cece Davis with her new love, Ralphie, a French bulldog in a holiday sweater, is at the sound board inserting sound effects (a door bell, a drill that shorts out, a Santa ring tone, background music) into the scenes—sometimes where they belong, often missing the mark. This is what rehearsal is all about.

But all those details are being worked on and progress is being made. I have loved watching locally produced theater, but I now have a much more realistic appreciation of what is involved behind the scenes of creating a play. This doesn’t take a village, it takes a small town.

A Higgins Family Affair

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Last year two of the Higgins family were in A Christmas Carol. Erik and his son Izaiah continue the tradition this year as both perform in The Santa Diaries.

Erik plays Josh Shankman, the Los Angeles business manager of Will Hawes. Since Erik is the first person to play this role he says that in rehearsals he is still struggling to find “that guy in me”. With Tim Weigand’s and Cece Davis’s help he is trying on different interpretations of the role until he finds the right fit. As one of the writers of the play, I always saw the character of Josh in red hightops. Does that help, Erik? If Italian loafers or Doc Martins work for you, you get to decide. It is your role!

                        

Laura Ambler has written two original songs for the play. In one of them Erik gets to rap! He has an amazing singing voice, so we can’t wait to hear what he does with this.

Erik’s son, Izaiah, age 8, plays ballerina boy, number 1. He has some dance steps and a line of dialogue. This year’s performance follows on last year’s where he played one of the Victorian kids in A Christmas Carol. We don’t know what his costume will be this year, but don’t worry, Izaiah, it won’t be a tutu.

We asked Izaiah how he would know if he is successful in his role and he replied, “The thunderous applause when I bow!” Spoken like a true thespian in training. His father’s reply to that same question was, “I’ll get that tingling feeling.”

When asked what is your favorite thing about the holidays, Izaiah (age 8) told us, “opening presents, being home for Christmas, and remembering the true meaning of this special day.” His father said, “knowing that I’ll get new socks and underwear.” As a man, Izaiah has lots of things to look forward to in his life. Christmas socks and underwear is one of them, but perhaps starring in an Avalon production is another.

Rehearsal 10-21-12

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Yesterday (10-21-12) was the fourth rehearsal of The Santa Diaries. Laura and I sat in the back of the auditorium watching Cece Davis and Cavin Moore putting the kids through their paces. It is truly astounding to see what has been accomplished in such a short time. It’s not perfect yet, but you can see the outlines. We were so impressed.

Rehearsals of various scenes were taking place in three different spaces at the Avalon yesterday. At times, in the theater, Cece Davis was on stage with some kids and Cavin Moore was on the floor where the chairs usually are with another group. Up in the Stoltz Listening Room the main characters were working and on the third floor another actor was getting some one-on-one help.

 Cavin on the theater floor…

while Cece blocks a scene on stage.

 Meanwhile upstairs in Stoltz…

Tim Weigand is directing.

Tyler Sabatino, the boy who is playing Timmy, is adorable with a smile that lights up a room. Like many of these kids he seems born to the stage. He has no fear about being up there. Today he was running a scene that included the live counterpart of his stuffed dog, Marley. His mom, Mindy, was patiently waiting downstairs. When he returned, he got a snack and a hug from Mom.

 Tyler and his mom, Mindy Smith-Sabatino.

Marie U’Ren was around taking measurements of the cast so she can figure out who will wear what Victorian costume in the final scene of the play. Some of the adults and kids will walk in the December 1st Easton Christmas parade. Laura and I plan to march at the front of the group holding a banner of the play poster which Laura has designed. We’ll preview the poster here in a few days.

When Laura and I left a little before six, Marie was sitting in the lobby nursing a hard cider from Bannings. She was patiently waiting to catch Casey Rauch (he plays Will) and get his measurements. We had a short discussion about the Marley dog costume which is currently being used in a local children’s theater production of Annie. In Annie it’s a cat costume but we’ll alter the ears and tail. Recycling is the name of the game in community theater. Tomorrow Marie told us she would be moving costumes from one place to another and might need help. I volunteered my husband and told him over a glass of wine last night. Please tell us somebody is working on sets! This production takes a small-town…

Yes, Maryland, there is a Santa Claus…

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Originally posted on www.doesthisfontmakemelookfat.com on October 10, 2012

Yes, Maryland, there is a Santa Claus. His name is David Foster! Last night was the first (mostly) complete cast read through of The Santa Diaries at The Avalon Theatre. David Foster is playing Sandy Hawes, a small town Santa Claus, descended from a long line of Santas.

Tim called David’s understated and completely mesmerizing read, “Gorgeous!” And gorgeous it was! When you closed your eyes, it conjured visions of Wilfred Brimley and Garrison Keeler – a velvety voice that captured the spirit of a warm, compassionate, yet savvy Santa. You could almost see the twinkle in his eye and hear that he knows exactly who’s naughty and who is nice. It is a brilliant piece of casting by the Avalon!

The adult lead actors rehearsed in the Stoltz Listening Room (2nd floor), while the younger actors worker under the direction of Choreographer Cavin Moore in the main Avalon Theatre on the first floor. Avalon Director Tim Wiegland, Assistant Director Cece Davis and Producer Liza Ledford, were up and down the Avalon stairs all night! I don’t envy them.

Auditions Begin: We Are the Santa Diaries

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Posted originally on www.doesthisfontmakemelookfat.com on September 25, 2012

The Santa Diaries is about a small-town guy who has played Santa for years and really believes he has a calling. He wants his son to continue the tradition, but son Will left home to become a big Hollywood star. In the process, he lost touch with what’s real. The story arc is the son’s recognition of what’s he’s lost and what he wants for his future.

One of the lines in the play is “Welcome to community theater. We may not have a budget, but we more than make up for it with talent, creativity and enthusiasm.” Midway through last night’s first auditions for the Avalon’s Christmas play, I realized that Laura and I are the play. Would the Avalon do justice to our play, our baby? Could the local talent bring our vision to life? We have to rely on the local pool of talent, creativity and enthusiasm.

The first night’s auditions were a little chaotic. For starters, the auditorium keys got locked inside the auditorium. At 5:30 nobody had shown up to audition. Exhausted Tim Weigand, Cece Davis and Liza Ledford were coming off a long Film Festival weekend and gamely plunging into a new project. But the first kid on stage was so good, we immediately felt better; and then another talented performer and another. The local talent really is amazing.

The folks auditioning were asked ot do a simple dance step, read some lines and sing. Most importantly Tim needed to see if they would take direction so they were asked to do a scene several different ways.

Laura, who has written three original songs for the show, worked with Tim and Cece showing them how the duet of “At Christmas I Believe” will work.

Some local dogs will have walk on parts. Will we have a dog audition?