Sacramento-area theaters take their holiday offerings seriously. From annual revivals of perennial chestnuts to original productions receiving world premieres, the works combine the spirit and celebration of the holiday season.
Across the region are numerous traditions unique to the area, and others, such as STC's "Christmas Carol," that have been exported to other theaters around the country.
Rodger Hoopman has been performing his own version of "Scrooge" for 33 years around Sacramento. In Folsom, Mike Jimena and Connie Mockenhaupt keep a localized focus to their "Holiday in the Hills" shows.
B Street's Buck Busfield has written 17 holiday plays, by his count, while Christine Nicholson has revived the spirited panto celebration at Sacramento City College.
We asked playwrights Nicholson, Busfield, Jerry Montoya and Richard Hellesen (see Q&A on Page 10 for Hellesen) to tell us a little bit about their works.
'A Pail of Grace'
B Street Theatre Mainstage
When writing a B Street holiday show, I am ever mindful of the audience. I think of them constantly. Will they follow the story? Will they laugh at this line? Will they feel at that moment?
But, regardless of all technical effort, I am at the mercy of my ideas. Good ideas will usually be well- received, bad ideas, not. I have had both. The holiday season, rightfully, asks for certain thematic ideas, and it is my aim to provide. However, for me, redemption is more satisfying in small ways than big.
To watch a parsimonious curmudgeon enact a tiny kindness has greater impact than watching a lost soul find luminous salvation. That is why most of my holiday plays are about ordinary people suffering from ordinary problems seeking ordinary solutions.
But if a little of the divine creeps in, that's just fine, too. "A Pail of Grace" is about redemption. Financial redemption, marital redemption and even spiritual redemption. It is also about failed redemption. I hope they all blend into a funny and unusual evening of holiday theater.
'The Gift of the Magi'
B Street Theatre B3 Stage
Creating a holiday show for the B Street Theatre Family Series is a special challenge. I wanted to create something that would be a highlight of the season for families, a show that would be entertaining and accessible for children of all ages, parents and grandparents alike.
I chose to adapt "Gift of the Magi" because of its focus on the true spirit of the season: giving of ourselves. We've changed the setting of the story from Edwardian times to a world of forest animals. It's a little bit of the holidays meets "The Honeymooners."
'Alice in Wonderland: A British Panto'
Sacramento City College
The British tradition of pantomime harkens back to the 19th century (although the roots of it probably date back further, to the heyday of commedia dell'arte).
It's been a staple of holiday performance for about 150 years, and is found throughout most English-speaking countries/cultures. In Britain, panto season lasts from November through January and almost all major British actors have spent time in "pantoland."
Conventionally, there are several constants in panto: The dame the over-the-top "narrator" who is played by a man in drag; the prince played by a young woman in short pants and boots; the triumph of good over evil; and usually at least one animal, often the traditional panto horse.
Every production is different, even if using the same script, depending on location and current events.
And, of course, lots and lots of audience interaction, which always lends a kind of carnivallike, friendly chaos to the proceedings which brings us back to the holidays, which, at their best, often are carnivallike and chaotic (hopefully of the friendly sort).