I’ll post again once I’ve gotten pictures and have done my post-show revision of Forever Christmastown, my newest play.
Before I get into the summary, I want to take a moment to honor Bill Jacox. Bill was my boss when I was in undergrad, when I tried my hand at team building on a ropes’ course at UC Irvine. The funny thing is that, although what we did often involved dangling from a climbing harness 30 feet in the air, I owe him more of my pedagogy and dramaturgy than he ever knew. He died recently.
I mention him because one of the many things I learned from him was how to productively reflect: Pros, Lows, and Grows. The things that worked, the things that didn’t work, how to get better. Thank you, Bill.
- As it’s set at a ren-faire-like theme park, the play works well outdoors. It becomes immersive. Saturday night was our final performance for a public audience. It was cold, though the lack of wind made it tolerable. (Incidentally, if we’d performed at the times and dates I’d thought we’d perform instead of what the kids wanted, we would have been SCREWED by the weather.) Although it’s set in Bastrop County, Texas, in June, the play has a strong Christmas aesthetic running through it, so as we kept the audience warm with blankets, hand warmers, heaters, and hot chocolate, it still felt right in the cold.
- Y’all, it’s a Christmas play that can be done any time of the year. If it’s done ‘off season,’ borrowing decorations will be incredibly easy – and fun. Our production was, of course, during the holiday season, which meant we ended up buying stuff that we’d otherwise find in dusty garages. That did mean we had plenty of twinkle lights fresh from HEB, making the evenings spectacular.
- Although what makes it a comedy is that it prioritizes the escalation and absurdity of the story, there are moments of heart and desire and sadness. I wanted to make something in the key of Noises Off, and I don’t think I achieved this; however, I think that I do manage to say some things I want to say about toxic nostalgia, the privilege of chasing dreams when most people are trying to survive, the play Everybody, Texas mythos, and Elon Musk.
- My goal for any play is to make sure that every actor has something *interesting* to do. I think I achieved this with this play. I had an actor who was disappointed in their part, but put everything into the role they had, including my favorite fight scene I’ve directed.
- The world is a joy to create. Although we’re making fun of Forever Christmastown, I’d totally visit a theme park based on Christmas in all its dorky glory.
- Forever Christmastown is a comedy before it’s anything else. Although I go for the story before I go for the joke, I certainly go for the joke before I go for the thematic message. I love the play, but it’s never going to become the high school / college / community theatre Angels in America. Most characters simply do not have an arc – where they land is where they started.
- The characters have simple objectives, so theoretically the plot is easy to follow. That said, so many turns happen that if the actors miss a line, a chunk of the story is lost. For example, when the Forever Christmastown becomes a cult, which then declares itself a sovereign nation, an FBI agent disguises themself as an elf. The reveal happens so quickly that the line was swallowed for two performances, which made it so confusing when the character was fed to wild boars.
- I’ll have to cut a couple of the funniest jokes. For example, one of them works only because one of the leads is white, and I hate things that limit casting that much.
- This is a play we produced with thirteen actors (including a chorus of middle schoolers who joined us late in the process). As is, it could easily include a much larger cast, but I think I can get a couple more named characters in there.
- There’s a piss-poor monologue (or two) at the end that I know how to make work now.
- If I were to do this again, I would luxuriate in all of the merchandise we could create. There are so many design elements that could have been fun to build.