Lo­cal play­wrights pre­miere mul­ti­state ‘Santa Di­aries’ theater pro­duc­tions

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE - By KAYLA RI­VAS kri­[email protected]­dem.com

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

Christ­mas Wed­ding.’”

“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.

COUR­TESY OF LISA COSBY

From left: “The Santa Di­aries” di­rec­tor Keith Strain, writers Mala Burt and Laura Am­bler, and Craw­fordsville, Ind., Mayor Todd Bar­ton.

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