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.

gift basket

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Hell Week in Faribault

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Michael Lambert (cast as Will Hawes) sent us this message…

Dear Mala and Laura,

It’s Hell Week this week, tech rehearsals culminating in our opening night production on Friday of your The Santa Diaries. Last night was the first tech rehearsal and it went very well, so hopes are high.

Hell week cast

(Thomas D. (Timmy), Cynthia Paley (Jessica), Jerry Fox (Sandy), Michael Lambert who-is-sitting-down/not-that-short (Will), Matt Drenth (Josh), Sydney Place-Sallstrom (Brandeee))

We even have the “real” Santa Claus coming this Friday for the premier! And an opening night reception that may even feature some bites of sweet potato hot dishes. Mmmm!

sweet potato casserole

These are The Merlin Players’ set builders, Matt and Roger, working on the rear projection screens for The Santa Diaries. Everything is good to go for this weekend’s opening.

set build at Faribault

Of course the flu needed to make an unfortunate appearance, sadly with both my leading ladies. Cynthia (Jessica) came down with it over our Thanksgiving break, and Sydney (Brandeee) is bravely battling it right now. Our poor Amazon princess! But as miserable as she feels, she still looks great. Ah, the power of youth … In the meantime, I’m downing vitamins and zinc and washing my hands every chance I get. And no kissing either of them until clean bills of health!

hell week santa and brandeee

I can’t put into words how much it means to me to come back to my small hometown to be in this touching play about a guy coming back to his small hometown to find the true meaning of Christmas. I truly love everyone involved with this show, even the little turkey who teases me each night (I know he secretly admires me … or at least that’s the story I’m going with). Some are people who I went to school with, others are kids of people who I went to school with, some are parents of people who I went to school with. A real “small town” feel to this show.

It’s snowing outside right now (“It’s really coming down out there!”), but the forecast looks clear for the weekend. Hopefully no snow storms for your upcoming trip to Minnesota.

We got quite a bit of press coverage in the local papers and I’ve attached some of the pictures and link.

Safe travels and we’ll see you soon.
-Michael

Note from Mala: I can’t tell you how much Michael’s reflection about coming back to his small town means to me. We all yearn for that community of people who know us and love us anyway. It doesn’t have to be a small town; it could be an urban neighborhood, or a church. That longing is at the heart of The Santa Diaries and Laura and I wrote this play because our Christmas wish is for everybody to find their own heart’s small town.

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.

Michael Lambert

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.

cast of kids 10-17-14 copy

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.

Cream of Lutefisk soup

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.

We Write a Christmas Movie Script

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Below is the blog post for another project Laura and I are writing…a Christmas movie script instead of a play.

Yesterday afternoon writers from our critique group, local actors, and friends joined us at Laura’s house for a table read of our #Santa screenplay. Laura’s terrace was decorated with a crab pot Christmas tree, and a small tree graced the table. The weather was perfect with a light breeze off the Miles River.

#Santa tableread

Our critique group members had read some of the screenplay over the last few months, but for others at the table, it was their first exposure. It was wonderful to see the expressions on their faces as the story unfolded. We were interested in which lines got laughs, and which got awwws. After the reading was finished, we had more critiques about the pacing, the characters, and the unexpected ending for a Christmas movie.

I was particularly pleased by the comments of Mike, a local actor (one of the fabulous leads in the recent Easton production of Kiss of the Spider Woman), who thought the lead character in our script, Scarlett Cross, was strong, independent and feisty. Would Laura and I write any other kind?

After the reading, we feasted on burger and dogs on the grill, drank some wine and had good conversation. Then we cut the cake!

#Santa cake

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!