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This is the story of how I came to write the script of A Cascade Christmas and what I learned from it. Notice the emphasis on the word “story”? This is to clarify that I am not a journalist or a reporter. In fact, frequently my world is a landscape of exaggeration, hyperbole and flat-out make believe. And I like it here. So, if someone tells you that I am incorrect and they believe in a different sequence of events, well, they might very well be right. Perspective is a fluid thing.
I must also admit that I am not a singer, dancer, actor or believer. Therefore, I thought from the beginning that I was kind of an odd choice for a scriptwriter of a Christmas musical. But they said, “Come on, it will be fun, it will be easy, it will be a collaboration . . . ”
What grabbed my attention was the collaboration part. Since I am not a theater person (aside from buying tickets and watching) and had never written a script before, I liked the idea of someone else inputting all the stage directions, lyrics, etc. My idea of collaboration beyond that was something like, “Oh goody! I get to create a story and write brilliant dialogue while other people applaud my genius ideas.”
Yeah, I do live in a fantasy world.
But the real reason I agreed to do it was simple: It’s a family affair. Five years ago, I saw my first Cascade Christmas when Olivia, my granddaughter, performed. I was awed by the quality of the production and have been a fan ever since. Whitney, my daughter, got involved with costuming the next year and in ensuing years my grandson, Jack Michael, also performed in Cascade Christmas and more recently, OLIVER! This year Olivia (15) has graduated to adult dancer and Whitney is costume supervisor.
Here is a photo of the dancing reindeer. That’s my Olivia in the middle.
Because of this, I have been privy to some inside details of the countless hours of hard work that goes on to bring a play to life long before the show even opens. And the drama; oh, the drama! I suppose it’s not surprising that people in the theater love drama. But some stories are best left untold; if I tell you my story, that’s my prerogative, if I tell other people’s stories, I believe that is known as gossip. Or possibly libel. I may tell tales, but not tattle-tales. But I digress.
My work began in July; that month that began so well and ended so catastrophically. The original deadline was mid-August, when auditions would begin. For a few weeks it was fun and it was easy. I already had my basic idea approved and I was delighted with the time-travel theme and the deliciously misanthropic character, Jack Frost. Here’s the preamble to the action: Jack Frost, the centuries-old descendant of Mother Nature and Father Winter, has deliberately set off an avalanche (he’s angry about global warming among other things) and has inadvertently destroyed his own ice palace. Friendless and homeless, he grudgingly accepts Santa’s invitation to shelter at the North Pole. The conflict begins immediately. Jack Frost is bipolar (he migrates between both North and South poles) and speaks only in rhymes. He is consumed with envy over Santa’s popularity. In the hierarchy of mythical characters, Jack now ranks several steps below the Tooth Fairy. And Santa? Well, he’s Number One. After his ignominious arrival at Santa’s workshop on December 23rd, Jack manages to alienate almost everyone, and especially Mrs. Claus, who is not impressed with a holiday house guest that seems intent on insulting everyone. Channeling JF was super-easy for me as I’m an old curmudgeon myself. Writing the repartee between Frost and Mrs. Claus had me chortling as I typed and their competitive rhyme-off is my favorite part of the script.
I’m not going to share the rest of the plot because I don’t want to ruin it for you and I really, really think you should go see the show. Word on the street is that it’s absolutely fabulous. (I say this without blushing because it long ago morphed into something far greater than what I wrote.) If it’s not, it won’t be for lack of effort, by many, many people. When you go, take a moment to look at the program to appreciate all the crew and cast who have worked so hard. And remember, nobody gets rich doing community theater. Most of the people involved are volunteers, or, if paid, make about a quarter an hour. It is truly a labor of love. In times like these, the gift of entertainment in a town that’s endured so much should mean a lot.
My labors were mostly finished in September. And yes, there were delayed deadlines and many, many rewrites that I cried over and made others cry over, too. (Perhaps not my finest moment.) But there was a whole lot of drama going on. Flaming red-hot drama with lots of smoke. Many of us were evacuated and some were working with the firefighters. Then, the brilliant Jana Leard moved to San Diego. (Although she remained as a long-distance executive producer.) And in came the lovely and savvy Jill Brown as producer and the incredibly talented Tom Kirschman as director. But fancy this: They had their own ideas. And it didn’t involve applauding me! What I wanted were sycophants. What I got were seasoned professionals who knew way more about theater than I did. Oh, the angst, oh, the agony. These are wonderfully nice people, but for a few weeks of painful revision I viewed them as harpies tearing “my” script apart. As I said, not my finest moment.
I prefer to focus on what happened next. With the script finished I could watch what the pros did with a bit more detachment. What I know best, of course, is from my daughter’s point of view.
This is a photo of her domain—the Cascade Costume Storage Room.
And here she is, hard at work. Her team includes Bonnie Pike, Jan Combes and Carrie Murphy. Note that both of Bonnie’s daughter have parts in the play as does Jan’s granddaughter. (It’s a family affair for many of us.)
And here she is, not-so-hard at work. This is Santa’s new sleigh created by the Sets Team of Matt Goodman, Skip Barker, Doug Goodman and Jill Rose. It’s fabricated around an electric wheelchair so it can actually move through time and space—or at least around the stage. Wait until you see the painted version—magical! Shari Rouiller, in charge of props, has also done a wonderful job.
Because Olivia is a performer, I can also speak to the hundreds of hours of rehearsal involved. And this is not just cast but also the vocal director, Katie Narf, the dance director, Michele Marks, as well as the producer and director who for the past couple of weeks have practically lived at the Cascade.
A Cascade Christmas opens the Friday after Thanksgiving as it has for many years. For Cascade regulars, it is the kick-off to the Christmas season. If you have never gone to the show before, this might be the year to start. A lot of folks have given it their all. Yes, it’s a Christmas musical (and did I fail to mention that the song and dance numbers are fantastic?, but this is one of those instances when the sum total adds up to be a lot more than the individual parts. The goal of the Cascade Christmas cast and crew is not just to entertain you for a couple of hours, it’s to imbue the audience with the warmth, the joy, and the inspiration of Christmas. We want you to walk out of the theatre smiling. And maybe humming. And then maybe you’ll feel inclined to do something nice for someone else. And they might pass it on. Peace on earth, good will to men, and all that. One can always hope. And for me, that’s the real message of Christmas.
I promised you I would tell you what I learned from this experience. Beyond the whole epiphany that I’m not a very good team player and I have trouble with the concept of collaboration is this: Christmas is more than the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is about getting together with friends and family. It is about giving to others. And, yes, I acknowledge that’s fairly obvious, but I must add that the extension of family is community. And just like family, community is there for us, and we need to be there for them. So, let’s celebrate this season of sharing and caring with some entertainment, a bit of levity and a dash of community theater magic.