Local playwrights premiere multistate ‘Santa Diaries’ theater productions
EASTON — Writers Laura Ambler of Easton and Mala Burt of St. Michaels have had a small taste of fame recently, traveling to Indiana, and soon to Maine and Minnesota, to watch state premieres of “The Santa Diaries” productions in community theaters.
“It’s incredibly exciting for us as writers to have our words on stage,” Burt said. “It’s magical for us to see how another director envisions our words on stage.”
The Avalon Foundation approached Ambler and Burt in 2012, requesting the writing of a Christmas play to be produced and performed that year. The pair agreed, and already had an idea based on meeting St. Michaels’ Santa, Tom Campi, when they wrote a Bay Hundred Christmas memory book the year before to benefit Christmas in St. Michaels.
Campi told them he had a calling to be Santa, as did several other men in his family, and that was the seed that grew and bloomed into the play.
In “The Santa Diaries,” a successful and self-absorbed Hollywood actor is forced to return to direct the community holiday play in his hometown, where he rediscovers the joy of Christmas and learns to embrace his inner Santa.
Dramatist Guild members Ambler and Burt centered “The Santa Diaries” on a small-town community theater — just like the Avalon — because they wanted to celebrate the role these theaters play in their communities. The play was to written to accommodate a large cast of all ages and talent levels. The goal was that anyone who wants a part gets a part in this family-friendly Christmas comedy.
Burt’s background is in novels, and Ambler focuses on screenplays. The two have been working together for the past 10 years.
Directed by Tim Weigand, “The Santa Diaries” featured a cast of 45 and crew
of 14, and more than $31,000 for the Avalon Foundation in 2012 through ticket sales and dinner showings, the writers said.
“I think (community theater) provides a creative outlet for young people,” Burt said. “Sometimes it provides a place for kids who are marginalized by society.”
This holiday season, “The Santa Diaries” made its Indiana premiere at the Vanity Theater by the Sugar Creek Players, Crawfordsville,
on Nov. 30.
“We all need and seek a time to celebrate what I regard as the three key words of the season: love, joy and hope,” director Keith Strain said. “So when the theater was searching for a play that would allow us to do just that, we found this play.”
“I became enamored with this work, because it lifts up, honors and celebrates the best virtue of community theater — providing a place where anyone, everyone can explore being on stage,” he said.
Ambler and Burt were presented with a proclamation from Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Burton, mark-
ing Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 as The Santa Diaries-Community Theatre Weekend.
“’The Santa Diaries’ creatively captures the spirit and virtues of community theater and its role in bringing a community together, providing a place where anyone can explore being on stage,” part of the proclamation reads.
“It was overwhelming. It was so touching,” Ambler said of the proclamation. “It was quite a surprise.”
Ambler said whole families join the cast; and with grandparents, parents and children all assigned roles, it allows for quality time spent together leading up
to the holidays.
The show is a six- to eightweek commitment, Burt said, with performers’ ages ranging from 5 to 85.
“The first experience in theater for little kids should be welcoming and should give them confidence in their abilities,” she said.
“The Santa Diaries” will premiere in Bath, Maine, on Dec. 14 at the historic Chocolate Church Arts Center.
In Minnesota, Ambler and Burt were commissioned to write a sequel — “The Santa Diaries II: A Christmas Wedding” — by the Merlin Players in Faribault, where it will make its world premiere
Friday, Dec. 7. “The Santa Diaries” premiered there in 2014.
The actors in the original show were eager to reprise their parts in the sequel, which follows the same characters five years later when a small-town Christmas wedding is derailed as it becomes an appalling reality TV show.
“As always, I look forward to a new season for the Merlin Players,” Merlin Players artistic director Julianna Skluzacek said. “This past April, I flew to Maryland to meet with playwrights Laura Ambler and Mala Burt to work on the new script for ‘The Santa Diaries II: A
“They have once again written a funny and touching story about what the holiday season truly is. We look forward to having Laura and Mala with us as we present the world premiere of this new play,” she said.
The Tennessee premiere of “The Santa Diaries” will be produced in the 2019 holiday season by the Encore Theater in Mt. Juliet.
“It’s incredibly exciting for us as writers to have our words on stage,” Burt said. “It’s magical for us to see how another director envisions our words on stage.”here.
From left: “The Santa Diaries” director Keith Strain, writers Mala Burt and Laura Ambler, and Crawfordsville, Ind., Mayor Todd Barton.