An Impressive Rehearsal

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Yesterday Laura and I drove to Glyndon, MD to attend a rehearsal of The Santa Diaries – an hour and a half drive from Easton. We arrived a little before the time rehearsal was to start (one o’clock) but the parking lot already had cars in it. Inside we saw why. Dan Lohrfink and his son, Philip, were busy screwing casters to platforms that will carry sets. I recognized them from the photos I’d used on the blog about the Lohrfink family. On the stage, ladies were on ladders painting. I recognized some of them as well. The participants in this show don’t just show up and say their lines. They are helping with everything. Somebody even brought in pizzas and soft drinks. Sustenance is really important when you’re putting on a play.

actors building sets

painting-sets-1

We were impressed at how organized the Liberty Showcase Theatre people are. Promptly at one o’clock the music directory, Liz Kanner, gathered people around the piano and began a vocal warm-up.

vocal-warm-up

Then they went all the way through Act 1. Seriously…all the way through. There were a few hiccups, but opening night is two weeks away. Plenty of time for tweaking. At the end of Act 1, the director, Barb Gasper, sat everyone down and gave notes – praise where due and suggestions, blocking issues and reminders to everybody about not clomping up and down the stairs to get on stage.

director's-notes

There was a ten minute break and the cast went all the way through Act 11, followed by more notes from the director. Because there still was a little time left before the scheduled end time at 4pm, the director asked for a run through of one particular scene. While that was going on children were being fitted into elf costumes by the costumer. We couldn’t get over how well behaved and professional these kids were. They knew their lines, where they were supposed to be on stage and we didn’t see any drama. You’d have to be a real Grinch to resist these cuties.

wardrobe-mistress-and-elf  elves-for-web

It’s just two weeks to the opening and according to Lori Chapman, Assistant Director, everything is on schedule. They’ll hang the lights on Black Friday and the final week will be all tech. She told us there would be two complete dress rehearsals. Laura will be there opening night, Friday, December 6th at 8PM. I’ll go the next day. We are over the moon that The Santa Diaries lives on.

Other show times are as follows: Friday, December 13th at 8PM; Saturday, December 7th at 2PM and 8PM; Saturday, December 14th at 8PM and Sunday, December 15th at 2PM.

The venue is Glyndon United Methodist Church, 4713 Butler Road, Glyndon, MD 21071.

For tickets visit the Liberty Showcase Theatre website
at http://www.libertyshowcasetheatre.org/.

The Lohrfink Family Takes the Stage

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The Chapman family is not the only family to have multiple generations involved in the current production of The Santa Diaries.

Kimberly Lohrfink tells me that their family first got involved in theater in 2004 when older son, Nick (now married and out of the house), was cast as Daddy Warbucks in his school’s production of Annie.  As Nick went through high school, he was in various productions, and the acting bug took hold of the whole family. The kids became involved with STAR, LTD., a  community theater in Relay, MD, in 2007 – Nick was 16, Sarah was 8 and Philip was 4.

Kimberly took on many  roles such as costume coordinator, make-up artist, stage manager – “anything and everything offstage,” she said.  In 2008, STAR announced that they were doing an “all ages” production of Scrooge and Marley, and Kimberly, thinking that it would be a great family bonding experience,  convinced her husband, Dan, to audition. She thought they would just be in the ensemble, but were cast as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit.  Kimberly said,”It was a wonderful show, and we had a blast.”

Lohrfink family

In 2010, Sarah and Philip were both cast in St. Gabriel’s Miracle Player’s production of Wonderland. Kimberly was again behind the scenes as the Stage Manager for that show, and Dan helped out with lights and sound.

In this production of The Santa Diaries, Dan Lohrfink fills the role of Sandy Hawes, the small-town Santa who comes from a long time of Santas and hopes his son, Will, will put on the Santa boots.

Lohrfink, Dan as Santa  Lohrfink, Dan

Normally, when Dan takes the stage he’s not wearing a red suit, he’s playing bass  or guitar with a band.  He said, “my stint as Bob Cratchit was quite a change from playing a dumb ol’ shepherd in my 1st grade Christmas play.”

Kimberly Lohrfink is playing Edna (one of the Casserole ladies) and also appears in the ensemble cast. Offstage, Kimberly works as a Program Director for Johns Hopkins CTY, volunteers as a Girl Scout leader, chauffeurs her kids to their various activities, and she makes the BEST sweet potato casserole. Can we get the recipe, Kimberly?

Lohrfink, Kimberly

Dan and Kimberly’s son, Philip, is a 6th grader at St. Agnes School.  He enjoys playing the piano and trumpet and singing.  He’s in his school choir and band. Clearly this kid loves the stage!

Lohrfink, Philip

His previous roles include Colin (Secret Garden), Tiny Tim (Scrooge and Marley), the Red Knight and the Lion (Wonderland).  In his free time, Philip enjoys Origami, drawing and Legos. In The Santa Diaries production he is playing Boy Ebenezer, and five different ensemble roles. Keeping track of those costume changes is going to be a challenge.

High school Sophomore, Sarah Lohrfink has been cast as Rose, along with two other ensemble roles. Sarah is no stranger to the stage. She’s been involved in theater since she was eight.  Previous roles include Biddy Haggerty (The Ghost of Rhodes Manor), Little Boy Blue (Babes in Toyland), Ruth Taylor (Don’t Say No to the USO), Captain Bree (Lady Pirates of Captain Bree) and Alice (Wonderland).  In addition to theater, Sarah enjoys singing, and she plays flute in the TCHS Band.  Her dream is to someday be on Broadway.

Lohrfink, Sarah

Due to schedule conflicts, jobs, etc., the Lohrfink family has not been able to all do a show together since 2010 – until now.  Sarah, Philip, Dan and Kimberly are having a great time taking the stage together again in The Santa Diaries.  One of the themes of our play is family coming together. What better way than parents and kids participating in this wonderful family show!

The Chapman Family

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Community theater is a multi-generational affair for the Chapman family.

Lori Chapman is a lady who wears a lot of hats. She is the Assistant Director of The Santa Diaries as well as the choreographer. She’s also playing Alice so she says life has been a little hectic lately. Lori is excited for Laura and me to see what Liberty Showcase does with the show. We’re excited, too, but quite calm – we know our baby is in good hands.

Lori Chapman

Another hat Lori wears is that of VP of Liberty Showcase Theatre. She says this theatre has always been such a huge part of her life that moving into the role was just natural. She literally grew up doing her homework and sleeping in various auditoriums as her parents were very active in community theater.  Both of them started off as performers and her father moved into technical theater (sound) and her mother became a professional costumer. Her dad was president of the theater for many years, and her brother, who also performed in shows, is now a high school drama teacher.

Lori made her stage debut as a bunny rabbit in 1978 in Liberty Road Community Theatre’s (now Liberty Showcase Theatre) production of Free to Be You and Me.  On top  of all of this, she has a full-time day job where she works for The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Nursing Homes Division.

Lori told me that Liberty Showcase Theatre has faced huge venue challenges over the past several years and became a fully sponsored program of Baltimore County Recreation and Parks in the hopes that would help. “Unfortunately the local schools do not want the hassle of having theater in their auditoriums and several of them have even cut their drama departments completely,” she said. What a tragedy. Not all kids are cut out to be rocket scientists!

So Liberty Showcase is a group that has been around for 40 years and has no permanent home – yet.  Lori and her board are hopeful that, with this production, they can secure a home for their Fall and Spring productions, but they are still looking for a venue to do their big scale family musicals in the Summer.

Echo Chapman

Lori’s youngest daughter, Echo, has been cast as Tory, one of the teens in The Santa Diaries. Echo has truly grown up in the theater/music world.  When she was a baby, she came to rehearsals in a front carrier while her mother taught choreography, danced, ran lines and sang. Not quite born in a trunk, but close. Echo attended many performances that her mother was in and she made her debut as a baby angel in a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Her father is a musician and she had the opportunity to hang out at band practices and go to some of his gigs when he was playing and opening for national acts.

Echo

Echo has taken dance since the age of three and has studied ballet, jazz, hip hop, tap, lyrical and musical theater. She loves to sing and plans to audition for the X Factor.  She is in the theater magnet at Deer Park Middle Magnet School and wants to pursue a career as an actress and/or a singer.  She is active in Girl Scouts and a straight A student. Besides being in The Santa Diaries, she is also in rehearsal for her school production of the play Big Bad.

Lori’s older daughter, Kaylee, who is 15, is not in this show, but Lori wanted to mention her. Proud Mama says Kaylee is an amazingly talented artist who attends George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, MD.  She wants to be a comic book artist and hopes to attend MICA. She also grew up performing but chose to focus on her art.  She still loves musicals though.  Kaylee will be in the audience for several of The Santa Diaries shows, and no doubt will be on her feet with the rest of the audience for multiple curtain calls for her mom and sister.

Multi-generation family involvement in The Santa Diaries is not new. Last year we had a three generation family all with speaking parts in the premier production at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, Maryland. Love of theater is often a family affair, and it just so happens that’s one of the themes of our play.

Staging

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When Laura Ambler and I wrote The Santa Diaries we thought about the Avalon stage. It’s not so big. There is some room in front of the curtains if they are pulled, but if you are in the balcony you might not see the very front of the stage. We also took into consideration that the budget for sets might be minimal so the original play was written with just a few set changes, mostly done by lighting different areas of the stage. The Avalon, however, had more ambitious plans.

We don’t know who came up with the concept, but it made a huge impact on the show. Floor to ceiling white screens were placed at an angle on the stage and set walls were projected onto the screens using rear projectors. This allowed local artists Maggii Sarfaty and Katie O’Neill Theeke to create multiple set images, adding a richness to the play that was better than we could have imagined and would not have been possible with physical set changes. When Sandy’s living room is on screen we see actually see snow falling outside the windows! The drawings were evocative, adding to the magic of the show. This YouTube video shows some of the set changes.

For the opening monologue a film was made and projected onto the two screens. The prerecorded voice over is of Sandy Hawes (David Foster) writing in his diary. Laura created a montage of Will Hawes’ life in Hollywood by photoshopping actor Casey Rauch’s face onto purchased images. In about three minutes we were able to get a huge amount of backstory into the play visually. In the dream sequence the same technology was used with incredible effect. At one point we see flames turning the theater into an inferno and Will’s dream becomes a nightmare. I don’t know how they did any of that, but the result is spectacular. We actually see a Victorian village scene being painted before our eyes by Bud, Frisbee and Woody (played by Tom Barwick, Dale Rauch, and Mark Ledford).

Using rear projection and only two blank screens meant the room on the stage was reduced to a large triangular area. This called for some creative blocking, but it all worked. It also created some behind-the-screens issues. The actors couldn’t get in the way of the projectors. During rehearsals the kids learned that they could make awesome shadow puppets by getting close to the screens. That discovery was put to good use during the dream sequence. The Avalon’s vision and the hard work to make the rear projection system function made the show spectucular in a way we could not have imagined.

Is It Really Over?

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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

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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.

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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.

Premier of The Santa Diaries

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Today is the premier of The Santa Diaries. At last night’s dress rehearsal I was glad I did not have heart problems. Missed actor and tech cues, kids who were in the green room when they were supposed to be on stage, props that stayed in the middle of the stage where they DID NOT BELONG – a long list.  The director reminded us about the old adage that a terrible dress rehearsal means you’ll have a fabulous opening. I wish we had another week of rehearsals, but we don’t and the show will go on at 2pm. Live theater is not for the faint of heart.

dress rehearsalEveryone has worked hard for the last three months to get to today and here’s the wonderful news. This community has embraced our play and pulled so many people into the effort to make the words we wrote last summer come to life. It is the actors who make the characters live on stage, but the unsung heroes are those who attend to the million of tiny details behind the scenes. We, the writers of The Santa Diaries, are grateful to all of you.

Break a leg!