2010 Roger Sturtevant Award-Winner Jessica Taige

Posted On June 17, 2010

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Jessica Taige was a little girl with a big voice when Scott Michal and I cast her in the premiere production of The Last Christmas Carol.  She originated the role of Laverne Spreen the first year and then portrayed Billie, part of a vocal trio, the second (although that’s not quite the way she remembers it).  Although Spreen was a flashier role and she did a fine job, we needed her to anchor the vocal trio the second time around.

Recently, Actors’ Equity announced that Jessica had been selected for the 2010 Roger Sturtevant Award, given to an Equity Membership Candidate who demonstrates outstanding abilities in the field of musical theatre.

In an article posted on the Equity website, Jessica recalled that her interest in theatre began in the third grade.  “My mother always tells me the story of when we went to see SCROOGE at the Davis Discovery Center in Columbus, OH.  Supposedly, I turned to her after the show ended and said that that was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. She helped me and supported me in my theatrical endeavors ever since, and clearly, the dream has yet to change.”

Jessica began auditioning at age 8, but failed to land a role until three years later.   “The show was called THE LAST CHRISTMAS CAROL by David Meyers and I played the role of Ensemble/ Stage Hand Billie. It was a small part but I didn’t care. I got to be on stage and even had a solo, which was extremely exciting.”

Her mother (Patricia?), by the way, was working on her Ph.D. in bio-medical engineering at The Ohio State University.  She would sit in the theater and study during rehearsals, but I would occasionally strike up a conversation with her.  She had come from Germany in pursuit of her education (which is why Jessica speaks German fluently).

After the second production, Jessica and her mother moved to Wisconsin in order to further her mother’s career.  However, Jessica also continued to pursue her dream.  A graduate of Catawba College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater, she has appeared in productions all over the country and has also performed with the Wisconsin swing band, The Mr. Lucky Syndicate.

I am extremely pleased that Jessica is doing so well and that she has fond memories of her time in our show.  Perhaps, she can follow in the footsteps of another local-girl-made-good, Jessica Grove (or, for that matter, one of the Bowen kids).

Check out a few of Jessica’s videos on YouTube.

Possum Point Players, Georgetown, Delaware

Posted On December 6, 2009

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It’s a nine hour drive of more than 500 miles from Columbus, Ohio, to Georgetown, Delaware, but I was eager to undertake it in order to catch the opening night performance of The Last Christmas Carol by the Possum Point Players.  Although I didn’t know a thing about this particular community theatre group, I was impressed by the photo on their website of their newly constructed building and wanted to see it.  Plus, the name itself – Possum Point Players – conjured up images of The Red Green Show. So I dropped them an email to let them know that my wife and I would be there on December 4, 2009.

I have attended enough performances of my show to know that it is something that authors, apparently, don’t do very often.  I also know that it tends to make the performers anxious.  However, it makes me anxious, too, because I really don’t want to be disappointed.  Because when I am disappointed, I have difficulty hiding it.  Fortunately, neither the performers nor I had anything to worry about.  The Possum Point Players acquitted themselves quite nicely.  I enjoyed every minute of it.

The Last Christmas Carol is constructed to be something like a Bad-New-Bears-version of the Dickens tale.  As a result, if you don’t know the show, you are never certain whether the mistakes that occur are part of the script or not.  For example, we once had a kid burst into tears in the middle of the big Cratchett family scene and the audience thought he was just acting.  (I was told of another performance in which a child threw-up on stage.  I doubt that anyone thought that was scripted.)

The Possums added a few touches to the show that I, frankly, wish I had thought of.  My favorite was putting Laverne Spreen (aka The Ghost of Christmas Present) on roller skates.  I also liked it when she took a swig of egg nog from the carton.  The costumes were outstanding and really helped to develop the characters.  It was quite apparent that everyone involved in the production understood my vision for the show and tried their best to put it on the stage.  If the theatre weren’t so far from my home, I would go again this weekend.

The memory of their kindness will remain with me forever.  As Lewis Carroll would say, “I mark this day with a white stone.”

The Third “Last” Christmas Carol

Posted On November 22, 2009

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I have to admit: seeing your name in lights is cool, even if it’s just on the marquee of the Licking County Players Theatre in Newark, Ohio.

The year was 2002.  The previous autumn, The Last Christmas Carol had been published by Dramatic Publishing, Woodstock, Illinois.  However, it was too late in the year for anyone to stage a production.  Coincidentally, I had decided it would be nice to get back in touch with Edie Norlin, an actor who had taken my daughter, Elise, “under her wing” when they were performing together in a Rose Briar Shakespeare Company production of Romeo & Juliet.

Elise was 8 or 9 at the time, but had made such an impression upon the adult actors when she auditioned for the show that they decided to create a role for her.  Edie, who had been a member of a professional children’s theatre troupe as a child, bought Elise her first makeup kit, showed her how to use it, and, generally, watched out after her.  I thought Edie might like to know what Elise had been up to during the intervening years.

Shortly after The Last Christmas Carol was published, Elise and I drove to Newark to meet Edie for lunch.  When I asked her whether she was still acting, she told me that she was on the board of the Licking County Players.  I had brought along a copy of the playbook to give her simply because it had Elise’s name in it as a member of the original cast.  However, Edie said that it sounded like something LCP might want to do and she would submit it to them for consideration.

That is how the third production of The Last Christmas Carol came about and how I met the show’s director, Melvin C. Spring.  I was impressed with the quality of the production, particularly in view of the limitations of the tiny theater.  Mel said he loved the script and would be interested in looking at anything else I might write.  Five years later, I took him up on his offer.

One of the stories I remember about this production is that the actor who played the role of “Blue Christmas” (the Elvis impersonator) was banged up in an automobile accident just before the opening and, basically, came from the hospital to the theater in the best tradition of “the show must go on!”  However, the guy who stole the show was the actor who portrayed “J. Pilkington Burpee” (a theater critic) as Truman Capote.  Now, I wish I had that on tape!

 

 

The Second “Last” Christmas Carol

Posted On November 22, 2009

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Immediately after the 1997 production of The Last Christmas Carol closed, Mike Schirtzinger, director of The Davis Discovery Center, told me he wanted to do the show again.  Although it had been well received, he felt, as did Scott Michal, the composer, and I that we could do a better job next time.  So we turned out attention to getting a director who had experience with musicals and would be supportive of the material.  We were able to recruit a friend of ours, Susie Gehrisch.  Not only is she an accomplished director, but an actor, musician, and singer as well.

Some of the things we wanted to “fix” this time around shouldn’t have been issues the first time.  For example, the original director didn’t want to incorporate any choreography into the show.  She also reduced the main prop in the show – a merchant’s sidewalk cart which was written to have all kinds of doors which opened up – to a tiny wooden wheelbarrow.  However, the biggest change was the attention give to the music.

Scott is a serious composer whose works have been performed by symphonies and chamber groups.  His music for The Last Christmas Carol is sophisticated and challenging.  As a result, Susie brought in Sarah Alderman, a talented music teacher, to work with the cast on the music whenever they weren’t needed to work on their lines.  It was almost like they were rehearsing for two shows at the same time.

As far as the cart was concerned, I built it myself.  I started out with a shopping cart I bought for $15 from a Hechinger home improvement store which was going out of business.  I then built a wooden framework around it which incorporated doors on both sides, the front, and the top.  I trimmed it with Christmas tree lights and placed a small artificial Christmas tree inside which popped up when you raised the lid.  The whole contraption was painted flat black so that it was almost invisible until the lights came on.  It created the “magtical” effect I had originally envisioned.

All-in-all, the second production, although not without challenges, was much more satisfying on a personal and artistic level.  It was also the first production to include a few adult actors with the kids and teens.  The question, now, was what should we do next?

The First “Last” Christmas Carol

Posted On November 22, 2009

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Under the headline, “DAD DECIDED HE COULD DO BETTER JOB,” Nancy Gilson of The Columbus Dispatch wrote: “When a dad has a daughter obsessed with the stage, he spends a lot of time watching children’s productions.

“Last year, I was sitting in the Davis Center and they were doing Scrooge, The Stingiest Man in Town,” David Meyers said. “The kids were trying hard, but I didn’t really like the material. . . . Late in January, I thought, you know, I could probably write something better than that.”

. . . He took a draft of his play to Davis Center Director Michael Schirtzinger, who liked it and scheduled the production. Meyers asked his friend Scott Michal, composer of the opera Christobal and a former cellist with the Columbus Symphony, to create the music.

“The whole idea was inspired by that kids’ production I was witnessing,” Meyers said. “Go to enough of these rehearsals and you realize they never get the right kids to audition and there always are too many girls. Part of my plan was to create something that wouldn’t be gender-specific and wouldn’t be hard to cast.”

Gilson gave my musical its first “ink” in anticipation of the premiere on December 12, 1997, at the Davis Discovery Center.  The Upper Arlington News subsequently named the show the third best way to get into the holiday mood, and then the local government cable TV station, Channel 3, sent a five-camera crew to videotape a matinée performance for repeated broadcast over the holidays.

However, what I failed to do was take any photos of the production.  Scott and I were simply too caught up in getting “our vision” on the stage, especially since the director was less than enthused about the whole thing.  She had never directed a musical before and clearly wasn’t interested in devoting much time or energy to it – which was a little ironic given that the musical is about a jaded director whose bad attitude about staging another production of A Christmas Carol was starting to rub off on the kids in the show.

Several years afterwards, I was given a few photos that had been taken by somebody (possibly Mike Schirtzinger).  This particular photo shows my daughter, Elise, in the role of “Max” conducting a choir at the Open Door Mission.  Although she was the female lead in the original production and sang “He’s Not An Easy Man” to open Act II, I didn’t even get around to taking a picture of her.

I will forever be grateful to Nancy because her article played a critical role in getting the musical published.

A Dickens of a Tale!

Photos from the video of the premiere

THE LAST CHRISTMAS CAROL: A Musical in Two Acts

Book and lyrics by David Meyers, music by Scott Michal.

Cast: 11m., 11w. (22 to 40 or more-approximately half m., extras, chorus. Doubling possible.) The holidays are here again! But is that any reason for another production of A Christmas Carol? Brodwyn Branson, the Scrooge-like director of a local children’s theatre, certainly doesn’t think so. But without the green it brings in, his little drama company would be in the red! Still, Branson can barely conceal his contempt for the whole affair. But just as Branson’s humbug-ish attitude is beginning to rub off on his young actors and threatens to ruin the show, he is visited by a series of Christmas spirits, including his former agent, an acid-tongued drama critic, and an Elvis impersonator whose specialty is smelling like The King. Subjected to an eye-opening tour of his own life, Branson comes to understand that the message of the classic Dickens tale is every bit as relevant today as it ever was. And, miraculously, the kids pull the show together in the nick of time. A witty script, delightful characters, and unforgettable songs make The Last Christmas Carol the perfect show to put any Scrooge in the holiday spirit! Bare stage w/props. Approximate running time: 2 hours.

Available from DramaticPublishing.com