For the first time ever, the Standing Room Only theater company will put on a Christmas play.
SRO’s artistic director Nancy Hillman said she had not been planning on doing a Christmas show, but in preparing for the annual Valentine’s Day show, she realized she had never done one for the December holiday.
“I said there’s got to be a Christmas show, and I’m Jewish, but Christmas is everyone’s holiday, it’s a family holiday,” she said. “The response was, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea. Let’s do it, let’s do it.’”
Rather than doing a traditional play like “A Christmas Carol,” Hillman decided to get an alternating cast of writers together about a month ago to create an original one called “A Christmas Carousel” because that is the best way for all her actors to get their moment in the spotlight, she said.
“I like to write for the people, and I knew who my cast was before I knew what was going to happen,” Hillman said. “You have to start with the cast and then I go backward to the script. That’s something that I’ve been doing for years now.”
Zacchaeus Vines and Tyler Hennessy were among the assistant writers.
“By assistant writer I mean I showed up and made jokes and they wouldn’t stop writing them down,” Hennessy said. “The general rule of thumb for writing this particular script was find a way to get from this Christmas song to this Christmas song.”
Vines has script writing experience, having co-written three other shows before for the Drew Harvey Theater.
“I always enjoyed that process of hearing something I came up with said on stage and people laugh,” he said. “Being able to write the dialogue and tell a Christmas story and involve everybody’s favorite Christmas characters was very fun. We laughed a lot.”
The theme of the play is a comedy that celebrates all of the traditional Christmas movies.
“I love to watch the Christmas movies, the Hallmark movies, the Lifetime movies,” Hillman said. “I cannot count the number on both my fingers and toes of how many times I’ve seen ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ those are my two (favorites) and of course ‘A Christmas Carol,’ the one with Alastair Sim.”
Considering those who wrote “A Christmas Carousel” are comic themselves, Vines said, having the resulting script be a comedy could not be helped.
“They’re gonna laugh at us,” he said.
Hillman is directing the show and is co-producing it with Dawn Emilia Young, who is playing the ghost of Christmas future on stage. It is a one night opportunity for those in the Nisqually Valley to see recognizable Christmas characters make up the cast of 25, from Tiny Tim to Buddy the Elf to Santa’s elves and reindeer.
The play is packed full of colorful costumes, dancing and singing of a myriad of 15 traditional Christmas songs like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “The 12 Days of Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Baby.”
“Being Jewish we didn’t celebrate Christmas, and I’ve always envied being able to celebrate Christmas,” Hillman said. “When I got older, when I became an adult, of course then I began to celebrate it and Hanukkah. And that’s why in this show there’s a Hanukkah song as well (“I Could Be Jewish for You”). I had to honor that.”
As she does with everything she puts on stage at The Triad Arts Theater, “A Christmas Carousel” is a statement on the times.
“Comments on the life we live now, the modernity of it and the absurdity of it,” Hillman said.
After a hiatus since the Drew Harvey days, Vines is back on stage in Yelm. Hillman called him the “linchpin” of the show. When he realized his friends were still involved in community theater, he wanted in and is happy to be “back in the swing of things.”
“I enjoy this cast, I enjoy these people,” he said. “We’re having fun being festive.”
The guardian angel, Clarence, from “It’s a Wonderful Life” is Vines’ character. He is enjoying playing his first winged creature who is working on earning his halo, all while wearing a one-piece, long-sleeved pair of long underwear.
“Being able to have mystical powers all over the world like Santa Claus is kind of fun,” Vines said. “Being just back on stage, especially in red underwear, is also quite a delightful romp.”
He is looking forward to the immediate feedback an audience gives during a live performance.
“You can feel their apprehension, you can feel their joy, you can feel their mirth coming at you,” Vines said. “I like that energy that comes from it and of course the ovation.”
In addition to co-authoring “A Christmas Carousel,” Hennessy, 18, is performing on stage, playing the part of Rudolph. With a love for theater that was kindled as a sophomore in high school, he has continued to use his expressiveness on stage with SRO in multiple productions.