The Wonder of it All
Part of what we do here is theatre. Good theatre. Quality theatre. But so often it goes beyond that. Far beyond that. It goes to the heart. It massages the soul and makes life a bit lighter for those attending. And that's what happened this year as we presented our Victorian Christmas Show for the fifth year.
As would-be audience members climbed the steps, I think for many, the thought was, "This better be worth it!" Once on the third floor, we greeted them with mulled cider and a maid to take their coat. As they walked down the spectacular hallway filled with Dickens diorama scenes, lights, Christmas trees and the aroma of cookies & hot chocolate, you could almost see the difference in their gait. They were allowing the wonder of Christmas to coax the inner believer into the joy & innocence of childhood.
The audience is seated and I (Charlie) walk onstage to give a bit of introduction to what they are about to see and do.They are about to enter a time in which people did not celebrate Christmas by opening gifts, eating too much and watching football. But rather it was a time when people prepared for the Christmas celebration for days or weeks or sometimes even months. They would practice and rehearse songs, stories, poems, readings or music to present to their friends and relatives. In other words, they brought themselves and their gifts AS gifts. It was a celebration of the holiday but also a celebration of one another.
The audience is intrigued by this but you can tell they remain a bit nonplussed. The play begins and everyone is entertained by the music and meeting each cast member as they make their way onstage. But what really "turns the corner" for those attending is the singing of "The 12 Days of Christmas." lThe lucky ones with cards on their seats learn what part they have in the song; a partridge in a pear tree or one of the 12 drummers drumming, etc. Everyone begins laughing & talking nervously thinking about having to stand and sing out their parts. Then it happens. The song starts and people rise to sing their parts as each is needed for the song. We are no longer actors and audience. We are a family of humans enjoying one another and playing like children. Christmas has arrived.
Joy in one another, even in strangers, takes hold and we are transported somewhere between the 19th Century and Never Never Land.
We are more than blessed to be a part of this minor miracle. We are amazed; we are humbled. This is what I mean about the way our theatre goes beyond just theatre. It is much more... it is a taste of community. A taste of joy and acceptance. We are also humbled as the audience files out after the show to greet us in the hallway. The comment heard most often this season: "You have MADE my Christmas. Thank you." Another popular comment, "Before I came I was not in the Christmas Spirit... now I am. Thank you." These short-lived victories are... well... short-lived. But it is magical to be there and experience such a wonder.
But let's talk specifics of this year's show. First, for those of you who don't know, we (Peculiar People) made a commitment last year to include diversity in our casts. We want to involve people of all races in our shows. So when it came to Victorian Christmas, we had a bit of a challenge on our hands. How could we include people of diversity in a show that traditionally had "all white" casts. Let's face it the Victorian Age is known for many things but cultural diversity is not one of them! Well since I am the author of the play, I decided a rewrite was in order. We added a visiting soprano from Kenya, Kamali. And an African-American singer-song writer from Tin Pan Alley, Gussie Davis.
Our Cast & Crew
Kamali was played by Jaala Siler, a theater major at UNCG. We have known Jaala for a couple years and to hear the voice that rises out of this woman is amazing. She is also one of the most encouraging women I have met. In an emergency, she filled a part in last year's Merry Christmas & All That Jazz with great aplomb. She is a joy to work with and made so many rehearsals a joy. Thanks Jaala.
Our next star and talent is the incredible Mr. Van-Arc Wright who played the part of Gussie Davis. Van-Arc is a baritone with an operatic flair. He is getting his doctorate in Musical Performance from UNCG. We had never met Van-Arc before someone recommended him for this play. He is a delight to work with and does NOT suffer from ego-mania... even though we have met people with much less talent afflicted with this disease.Van-Arc has been performing with many groups and in many shows in his career. One night a few days before our last show there was a videographer here recording some footage and doing interviews. I happened to be walking by when the video guy asked how he liked being in a Peculiar People production. Van-Arc said that this was the most amazing cast he had ever been a part of. He said the love and care between the cast members was unlike anything else he had ever seen. He said usually in a show like this there was loads of "drama" and arguments but being in Victorian Christmas was different. We were so glad to hear this because our prayer for all of our productions is that first & foremost the cast would love another. That love will then translate to the audience. Go, God!!
The other great actor with us this year was Eamon Bryant. We have known Eamon almost since moving here. He and his wife came to see "Talent Show at Stinkin' Creek Church." Some time after that we had them both in an evening of One-Act Plays we
performed here. Since then Eamon has been our go-to guy for lots of projects. He was in our show Pilgrim, an adaptation of Pilgrim's Progress. He is one of the most talented actors we know. So happy to have him in our sphere.
Our youngest actor this year was Miss Hannah Osborne. We directed Hannah two years
in a row while teaching and directing some homeschool students at a Classical School, Faith Academy. Hannah's talent is much greater than her years would imply. She can sing, act and as we found out during rehearsals, draw! Her patience and the patience of her parents was really extraordinary as she had to wait for pages of dialog before each of her scenes. But when she did come onstage... it was wondeful. She was our little Christmas Cracker!!
In our community of actors, last but not least, we have Lisa Upper. We had directed Lisa's son Joey in a show
two years ago. When auditions came around for Victorian Christmas, they both came. We knew of Joey's talents but we needed a different type of vocals than Joey could supply. But his Mom really impressed us with her audition piece from "Fiddler on the Roof." So we hired the Mom but not son (yikes!) but there were no hard feelings. Lisa was an uncomplaining, hard working trouper and we so enjoyed having her in our show. By the way, the Uppers had us for Christmas dinner yesterday and it was sumptuous and the conversation most stimulating (as Chesterton would say).
Every time we do a Christmas show we are always wondering, "Who can we get to do the music??" Music is such an important part of any Christmas presentation. Few actors have both acting abilities and skill on a musical instrument.
This year we were truly blessed with the talents of one of the best pianists in the Triad area: Mr. Ed Limon. Ed is one of those rare musicians who knows his keyboard so well that all one has to do is mention a song and he begins to play it. As we ran through the show the first time, we came to the point where Van-Arc was to sing, "O Holy Night." Ruth said, "Oh, sorry we haven't got the sheet music for that yet." No sooner than the words were out of her mouth, Ed started playing "O Holy Night" and we used his rendition from that point on to the end of run... without ordering the sheet music!! His gifts and talents are amazing but his jovial spirit made the cast complete.
And now we come to the two stand-by actors, Charlie & Ruth Jones. Actually, that isn't right. Charlie is the stand-by and Ruth is the star. I have heard it for all the 26 years of our marriage. "Charlie you're good but Ruth is great!!" And she is. But that is really the least of her talents. If you could live along side us and observe this woman, you would be amazed at her heart, her compassion, her patience, her passion and her love for God. Let's face it... I am smitten.
Thank you to all who make our lives
such a Joy