Bath, Maine Welcomes The Santa Diaries in 2018

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

At Christmas I Believe

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I have a Santa decoration that lives in my kitchen year round.

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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.

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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.

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