Is It Really Over?


I knew there would be a letdown when The Santa Diaries was over, but I hadn’t anticipated how abrupt it would be. Maybe I didn’t want to know. Going to rehearsals, doing script revisions, marching in parades, etc. had taken huge chunks of time. The rest of our lives revolved around the play. Then on Sunday, December 23rd at 4:30 pm it was over. Producer Liza Ledford had announced before that last performance that everything would be gone that evening. As Laura and I left, the cast was gathering one last time and the chairs on the main floor were being stacked.

We still have a couple of loose ends. The big banner we had made from the poster Laura designed is someplace at the Avalon and we want to get that back. I bought The Night Before Christmas book used in the show and promised that to Tyler Sabatino who played Timmy.

I’m going to continue to blog on this site for awhile. I got background information about most of the actors just days before the show and there wasn’t time or energy to do more posts mentioning all of them. Every person in the cast was integral to the show and I want as many as possible to be highlighted. The set was spectacular, more than we could have imagined, and I want to blog about the woman who created the original art as well as talk about the technology.

Except for Tim Weigand, we don’t know the names of the guys who moved props around on stage, but they were instrumental in moving the play along each performance. As were the mothers downstairs who wrangled the kids into costumes and got them lined up for timely entrances. To everybody who helped make the magic, Laura and I are so grateful.

People are emailing us, stopping us on the street and in the grocery store, and telling us how much they loved the show. They say they laughed and cried and a number have told me that something about our story has stayed with them and they keep thinking about it. We couldn’t have hoped for a more wonderful response.

My husband and I had Christmas dinner with Laura and her family last night. During desert we went around the table and said what the most memorable thing about 2012 had been. For me it was the show. I’ve done alot of things in my life, but this was a peak experience . This was better than being on Oprah!

Laura and I wish everyone great things for the coming year. I have a feeling that some of the newbie actors may have been bitten by the acting bug and will be seen again on local community theater stages. As for what’s next for Laura and me…we need to sit down and talk about what additions to the play we thought worked and those we didn’t. We’ll do some rewriting before we put it away. Writing this story as a movie script was part of the motivation for writing the play, so that’s on the horizon. It’s reassuring to know that even though the run of the play is over, The Santa Diaries really isn’t.

Feedback Loop


I keep forgetting that live theater is a feedback loop. The actors draw energy from the audience and the audience feeds energy to the actors. Opening matinee had alot of energy. A full house downstairs at the Avalon and. despite some minor hiccups with cues and set changes, the show was very good. You could tell the audience really appreciated the effort of the performers. Monday night was a dinner theater and the energy that rocketed between the audience and the actors was palpable. It was a great show. The actors has settled into the characters and were the most believable we had seen. Everybody left the theater pumped. Just the way you’d want it to be.

Avalon dinner theater

Tuesday night was another dinner theater. Sold out! But it seemed like the audience didn’t react to much of anything. Laura and I were sitting at a table toward the back and wondered if the microphones were on. Cece Davis at the tech table assured us they were. Even if you couldn’t hear all the lines, you’d have to ooh and aah over the cute kids in elf costumes.


It seemed like the only people reacting to the play were Bannings wait staff. Even though the actors were all doing what they had done the night before,  you could feel the energy ebbing by the end of the first act. Cece said it was bad juju because of something positive Tim Weigand, the director, had said to the actors in the green room. “Theater is full of all sorts of superstitions,” she told us. I guess it’s that break a leg thing.

Cece turned the amplification up for the second act and Laura whooped and hollered from the back. The energy began to pick up and the audience got more into the play. They gave the cast a standing ovation at the end, but the performance just didn’t have the energy it had the night before. Tonight is an evening performance. It will be interesting to see what happens between the audience and the cast.

My head knows this is not a film where you get to choose the best takes and edit them into a cohesive whole; my heart wants every performance to be over the top fantastic. I know that’s what the cast wants, too.  They want to audience to love them. I’m hoping for good juju tonight and a rockin’ feedback loop.

Spotlight on Casey Rauch

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Casey Rauch 2What do civil engineering and acting have in common? The answer is Casey Rauch, the male lead in The Santa Diaries. A civil engineer by day and an aspiring thespian in his off hours, Casey says he got involved in acting because he “was looking for an artistic outlet that was completely different from what I do for a living.” He started out by working with Tim Weigand and his theater company ArtHouse Live when he moved back to Easton in 2006. He helped out with shows and played bit parts, but by their final production, Brooklyn Boy, he had landed a lead role.

Casey took a break to help his wife with their two young boys, a job he says was way harder than the limited acting he had done. He was an extra in Cecile Davis’ short film Jolene which premiered at the Chesapeake Film Festival in October 2012 and the acting bug flooded back. Tim Weigand reached out to him to audition for The Santa Diaries and he landed the part of Will Hawes.

Casey said the hardest part about playing this role is making the audience hate his character at the beginning of the play, but like him and root for him by the end of the show as his character undergoes an emotional shift. He says he will know he’s successful if his three year old son enjoys the play. Casey loves that The Santa Diaries is a family show. He hopes all the kids who come will leave feeling happy, energized and in the Christmas spirit.

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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.


Spotlight on Dale Rauch

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Dale Elaine Rauch, mother of Casey Rauch who is the male lead (Will Hawes) in The Santa Diaries, has an impressive list of acting credits. Among them are performances in The Wire, Failure to Launch, Wedding Crashers and Syriana. However, being an elementary and middle school teacher for 30 years put her on stage daily. We would be willing to bet that she made learning fun and all the boys had crushes on her.

In the play Dale plays Frisbee, one of the three carpenters/actors involved in putting on the town’s annual Christmas play. In the original script these three characters also made appearances in a dream as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Yesterday we rewrote that dream sequence at the request of Director Tim Weigand and Producer Liza Ledford. Now Dale additionally plays the ghost of Will’s deceased mother in this new scene. Tonight’s rehearsal will be interesting as the actors will just be receiving the script changes.

Changes in the script ripple forwards and backwards. Rewriting this one scene meant we had to tweak some earlier scenes and some dialogue that happens after. I’m getting ready to print out my new (latest) copy. Is there a point when changes have to stop, I wonder?

We asked Dale what she hopes people take home after seeing The Santa Diaries, and she replied, “a lighter heart.” We applaud that wish.

Use Your Imagination: November 18, 2012


Use your imagination. Can you see it? The costumes, the scenery, the acting, the live animals? It’s The Santa Diaries!

Yesterday afternoon the Avalon Theatre sprouted walls from electrical cords and a metal ruler laid on the stage and doorways materialized from pieces of masking tape. In the back of the auditorium Marie U’ren was fitting cast members into costumes, and a dog waited patiently for his walk-on during the second act. Al Bond and Jessica Rogers were on a laptop working on sets and scenery which they told us would be like nothing that has been done at the Avalon before, and cautioned everyone not to say anything. We can’t because we have no idea what they’re doing, but Jessica promised spectacular.

On stage Director Tim Weigand was doing the first run through of the whole play. Assistant Director Cecile Davis and Producer Liza Ledford were tracking lines and reading the parts of people who couldn’t make rehearsal. All in all it was chaotic, but you can begin to see what it’s going to be like. Actors had a hard time remembering that the metal ruler represented a wall so it got stepped on alot as people transported themselves through the invisible walls. We heard actor’s calling out, “Where’s the door?”

Cece Davis posted a photo gallery from rehearsal on The Santa Diaries Play FB page. When she took off her Assistant Director hat and put on her photographer hat, she took some beautiful black and white pictures

Most of the people are off book by now, but not quite 100%, so there were some improvised lines. That’s a problem when the line you are supposed to say is important to the dialog that follows. Cues get missed.  Picking up the pace is an ongoing issue. It will be helpful when people know where the walls of the set are, but despite all the moving parts we could feel a coalescence of the effort of so many people. We are using our imagination and the costumes, the scenery, the acting and the live animals will all be where they are supposed to be when the play opens on December 16th.

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.