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.

 

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!

 

 

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.

Paradise Theater Marquis

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Congratulations Merlin Players

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Merlin Players director, Julianna Skluzacek, emailed us to say that The Santa Diaries has been cast and rehearsals begin October 13. Congratulations! We hope to have lots of updates and photos of the cast to share.

The Merlin Players website mentions that Michael Lambert has been cast as lead male, Will Hawes. So I went looking and googled “Michael Lambert Merlin Players.” That led me to a stuntman who I didn’t think was the right one, but I found a Michael Lambert on LinkedIn from the right area of country. And there was a photo.

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My apologies if this isn’t the right Michael Lambert, but I’m hoping it is. He’s got that Will Hawes look.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.