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.

theatre exterior

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.

bahl-auditorium-300x195

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?

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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.

crab cakes

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…

binkleys amuse bouche

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.

Christmas Movies as Research

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At Christmas We Believe

Laura and I believe that 2014 is the year The Santa Diaries will be made into a Christmas movie.

Believe

Twenty-one Christmas Movies

In the last month I watched twenty-one Christmas movies in the name of research. Ten of the movies were new in 2013, four were from 2012 and seven were from years 2003 – 2009. There are still three movies recorded that I haven’t watched, but I just don’t know if I’m up for it.

Hallmark Channel and LifeTime channel show Christmas movies all December.  I know there were more that I didn’t get recorded and Laura watched a bunch at her house, too. We watched many of them together. She’d bring lunch and assume the position on the love seat in my family room. I loved having them recorded because I could fast forward through the commercials.

Laura watching Christmas movies 2

Movie Watching as Research

This research has a purpose.  We are finally getting back to our screenplay of The Santa Diaries, using the play as the story arc. We wanted to know was there anything out there like our story (not really) and we needed to know what was getting made. Three quarters of the way through the line-up I had to watch Bad Santa as a Christmas movie mind-cleanser. (Bad Santa 2 is scheduled for production in 2014.)

We didn’t watch all those movies for life lessons, but from a writing standpoint entertainment blogger Melissa Locker has summarized many of the themes, conflicts, and turning points in many of these movies.

20 Valuable Holiday Lessons Learned from Watching Lifetime Christmas Movies

1. Never EVER fire Santa Claus.

2. If you accept a bottle of champagne from a stranger, be aware that it just might send you back in time to help your younger self make better choices.

3. The Grinch isn’t necessarily a green monster.

4. Sometimes a head injury can lead you to your heart’s true desire.

5. Christmas is the perfect time to re-evaluate all your life.

6. If you ever wanted to rekindle an old flame, Christmas is definitely the time to do it.

7. It never hurts to have straight talking friends/guardian angels/in-laws.

8. If you’ve got incredible vocal talent and want to work on your acting chops, Lifetime holiday movies are the place to do it.

9. Planning a Christmas wedding is a recipe for disaster.

10. Love after death is possible if you believe in worm holes

11. Be suspicious of old white men with beards named Nick who play Santa Claus at community functions.

12. It’s never too late to look up an old flame.

13. When in doubt, sing Christmas carols.

14. If you don’t believe in Santa Claus, he will track you down.

15. Always, always go home for Christmas.

16. Love is everywhere.

17. You can’t chase happiness, you have to find it where you are.

18. Christmas dreams can come true.

19. If someone gives you a pep talk, be sure to really listen

20. Finally, there’s always a happy ending at Christmas.

What We Watched

In case you have an inquiring mind and really want to know…here are the movies I watched along with the log lines.

2013 Movies: There were twelve new movies for 2013. Somehow I missed two of them.

Christmas in the City – A woman tries to bring the Christmas spirit back to a department store. (I couldn’t resist using this photo from the movie. There can never be too many gratuitous almost naked Santas. That’s Ashanti in the middle.)

naked santas

Hats Off to Christmas – Mia does not like Nick’s unreliable ways until he helps her disabled son.

Christmas on the Bayou – A man tries to rekindle a romance with an executive who’s spending the holidays with her mother.

Let It Snow – An executive with plans to update a rustic lodge has a change of heart when she falls in love.

The Christmas Spirit – Charlotte’s spirit tries to change a developer’s mind and stop development in her hometown.

Dear Secret Santa  – A woman in mourning receives a surprising Christmas card from a secret admirer.

Finding Christmas – Sean and Owen swap homes and open their hearts to two women.

Window Wonderland – Two store employees compete for the window dressing job and find they have a lot in common.

A Country Christmas Story – A country singer reunites with her father while appearing in a competition hosted by Dolly Parton.

Christmas Belle – The sudden arrival of a longtime suitor complicates a woman’s budding relationship with a client.

2012 Movies

Christmas Song – Romance blossoms between two music teachers who compete for the same job.

A Bride for Christmas  – A man bets his friends that he can convince a woman to marry him by Christmas.

Christmas with Holly – The owner of a toy store falls in love with a man who cared for his orphaned niece.

It’s Christmas, Carol – The ghost of her former boss shows a ruthless CEO her past, present and future.

Previous Years

Fallen Angel – Reluctantly returning to his ohometown, a man reconnects with a young woman he knew as a child.

Bad Santa – A con man/thief masquerades as a department store Santa.

When Angels Come to Town – A mistake places a holiday angel’s job in jeopardy.

A Boyfriend for Christmas –A woman waits 20 years for a holiday wish to come true.

Crazy for Christmas – A limo driver tries to help a wealthy man find his long-lost daughter on Christmas Eve.

A Christmas Wedding – A real estate developer embarks on a wild cross country odyssey to get home in time for her wedding.

12 Men of Christmas – A public relations executive uses her media savy to stir excitement in a small Montana town.

What’s Next for Us?

We pull out The Santa Diaries screenplay and read it again. (We’ve been away from it for a couple of months.) Perhaps that marination time will prove useful. It’s already been through three major rewrites. Script doctor Dara Marks had us remove the magical elements from the script. We’re now thinking we might want to put some of that back. We’ll look again at the arc of the story and the arc of each of the main characters. Sometimes a few tweaks in the dialogue can enhance a backstory.

We’ve discovered that we are never quite satisfied with our scripts, but at some point you have to say it’s the best we can do for now and move forward. When we get there we’ll send it off to be read by some industry colleagues. There is an implicit timeline for buying scripts and getting them into production.

One of the things we noticed about the movies we watched was that some of them seemed to be filmed in spring and summer in California. I could tell from the vegetation. The most egregious production error was the film that was supposed to be set in fall and winter Connecticut and had people driving through California brush. Come on, people! Did you think no one would notice? Set the damn movie in California.

Laura and I will keep working to make our dream come true – 2014 will be the year The Santa Diaries screenplay will be turned into a movie.

Thanks to Cast and Crew

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We Thank the Cast and Crew cast-and-crew-for-web-2

The cast and crew made the Liberty Showcase Theatre’s production of The Santa Diaries so very special and Laura and I are grateful for all their hard work. I was ill and unable to get to the last performance, but Laura attended with her husband. Despite some weather issues the Saturday evening performance and the Sunday matinee were packed. Laura said people laughed and cried. When that happens we know we’ve done our job as writers. Immediately after the last performance, volunteers began breaking down the set. In community theatre everybody gets to do a little bit of everything. My belief is that this is part of why participating in community theatre can be such a bonding experience. As some previous blogs have indicated, participation often spans generations.

Hiccups

In this production there were a number of hiccups. One was replacing the person who was to play Josh two weeks before the show opened. Although this is a male role, the person who knew most of the lines already was the female music director who heroically stepped in to fill Josh’s size twelves. Josh became JoJo and there was some hurried rewriting of the final scene in which Will calls Brandeee in the middle of the night and Josh answers. Did we want JoJo to be in Brandeee’s bedroom in the middle of the night? This was a family show, after all. Even having Josh in her bedroom was a bit of a stretch, but lines were finessed and everything worked out just fine. The snow/sleet/rain hiccup on the show’s last weekend was more problematic. The Liberty Theatre website home page was amended with the announcement: 12/14/2013 – It may be snowing outside, but the show must go on!! The Santa diaries will still be performed tonight at Glyndon United Methodist Church! Come out and get in the holiday spirit!!

People got the message and the cast performed to a full house. Last year at the Avalon Theatre the last show was on December 23. That was a burden on the cast and crew as it was so close to Christmas. The Liberty Showcase Theatre’s production ended on December 15 which gave people a little time to breathe before the last reindeer dash to the 25th.

Liberty Showcase Thanks Us

At the last show Lori Chapman, the Assistant Director, gave Laura two wrapped packages. She brought them to me a few days later and we opened them together. They were framed photos of the cast and crew of the this production. We were thrilled. On the first Sunday performance Laura and I were given one of the posters signed by everyone. Mine will go on my Santa Diaries wall! We have felt very thanked and appreciated by Liberty Showcase Theatre. The are such a professional group. We’d love to work with them again.

Post Production

We need to know how the play could be tweaked to make it better. What could be done to make it easier to stage? Liberty had a cast of about 25 as opposed to the Avalon’s cast of 65+. Most of those additional people were children which is its own special challenge, but when writing for community theatre it’s good if the cast number has some flexibility. You want to be able to showcase especially talented people and need to plan for that. Laura and I will have a post production meeting with the Director, the Assistant Director and the Producer after the holidays so that we can make useful changes to the script and notes that would help with the direction and staging of future productions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if The Santa Diaries was produced somewhere every year!

Our thanks and excellent Holiday Wishes to all the cast and crew and to the audiences who enjoyed the show. Find your inner Santa and celebrate with family and friends.

Break a Leg!

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Break a leg! Why in the world would theater people say this to one another before a show starts? I went to Wikipedia for an explanation of the derivation of this expression, but although there are many ideas, there is no conclusive evidence as to why it’s “break a leg” instead of “may you be attacked by hippos” or some other ill wish. But I will not be one to mess with traditions. Theater people are a superstitious lot.

The Santa Diaries opens tonight at Glyndon United Methodist Church. Last night was the final dress rehearsal in full makeup and costume. Assistant Director, Lori Chapman, sent me this photo of Lizzie as Marley and I just had to share it.

Marley-Lizzie-for-web

The costume is wonderful as is the make-up.

So, from Laura and me goes a shout out to all the actors and behind the scenes crew…

Break a Leg!

Be Thankful for Community Theater

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Today is a day to be thankful for many things. One of them is community theater and the people who work so hard to bring live theater art into our lives.

I blogged recently about how impressed Laura and I were that so many people do so much more than perform. It takes a lot of people to get a play to opening night and one of the important tasks is getting the word out about the show. Thatcher and Melita Brinton have two small daughters in the show and have generously donated signage made by their company, Signs by Tomorrow (Timonium location). We are thankful for the Brinton family.

Lori-Chapman-with-lawn-sign

The two-sided yard signs, one held above by Lori Chapman, are a brilliant idea.  They get information about the show into neighborhoods. We are thankful for Lori and all the others who will spend Black Friday hanging the show.

Lib-Showcase-sign-Laura-Mal

Here Laura and I are holding one of the street banners. How cool is that! I am thankful to have such a wonderful writing partner. Laura Ambler is my BBF.

Thatcher and Melita Brinton, like other parents of kids in the show, know that driving and waiting are a fact of life when you have kids interested in theatre. But they, like other parents, are doing more than just that, and I wanted people to know about their business located at 2105-B Greenspring Drive in Timonium, MD. Check out their website to see everything they do, and if you need their services, consider sending them your business. The Brinton’s can be contacted at timonium@signsbytomorrow.com or by phone at 410-252-8235.

I am thankful for Liberty Showcase Theatre and it’s production of our play, The Santa Diaries.

Performances dates are as follows: Friday, December 6th and 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/.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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/.