This year, I set out to do something I’ve never done before: to write a Sufjan Stevens- inspired Christmas production.
I didn’t so much write a whole production, as I wrote a play, or more specifically, a series of sketches to be performed at our school’s Christmas concert.
The idea of a Sufjan Stevens Christmas musical came to me at some point last year, and with the help of our brilliant music director, Graham, and several other talented staff members, the vision became a reality. During the second week of December, “Christmas Unicorns and Other Yuletide Oddities: A Thought-Provoking Christmas Experience” came to life.
Inspiration for the musical came from Sufjan Stevens’ two Christmas box sets. The idea had been in my mind for a little while, but plans were put into action during the summer, on our return journey from the East Coast. Brendon and I did some script writing in the car, and pinned down a few sketches that stemmed from a handful of Sufjan’s songs. The script was finished with the input and creative insight of a few others, and we had ourselves a collection of six sketches, each named after and based on Sufjan’s songs.
This was mid-October. I thought I was done, ahead of my own personal deadline even, and was prepared to hand over the script to another teacher to carry out and bring to life with her students. It soon became apparent that the teacher I thought would direct the play wanted to step back a bit in her involvement, and that I would need to be involved in the directing role. Thankfully, another teacher, Yvonne, who has an extensive background in drama, expressed interest in co-directing, and we began a crazy season of lunch hours abandoned to rehearsals in order to get enough practice time in with the grade six actors and actresses.
The day before the first concert, we saw the music and dramatic sketches come together for the first time in rehearsal. The result was magical.
The production was held in our school gym over two separate evenings, involving the entirety of grades K-6 (split up between the two evenings) along with the Gr. 8/9 band, which is comprised of over 50 kids. It was a lot of people (and parents) to fit into our gym.
Overall, I was really quite amazed with how things came together. Kids stepped up to the plate when it was time to perform, and fused with the music, I think we put together something really beautiful and thought-provoking. We had our share of minor technical difficulties that arose on both nights, which was slightly stressful, but for the most part, people weren’t phased by them and the production went over well. The chorus of crying babies erupting just as the soft-spoken Unicorn Kid delivers the most pivotal lines of the play was rather unideal, but we had better luck the second night.
The music… was amazing. Graham did a ton of work rearranging the songs so that they would work for the band and the kids, and the variations sounded incredible. A staff band, consisting of Graham, Codi, & Eric, accompanied the class choirs on their songs… it sounded unreal. We have an insane amount of talent on our staff.
My favourite part of the show was the opening song, Barcarola. With Grade 6 actors & actresses singing from the risers, I got to take in the spectacle of the band & lighting effects (thanks Chris Kooman) from backstage and take a deep breath as the show began.
My aim in writing the production was for it to be a venue for thought. I think it’s important to think about why we do the things we do… specifically around Christmas. Though they had their humorous lines, the six sketches raised quite serious questions around topics such as traditions, wealth, appearance vs. reality, family, Christmas spirit, happiness, and hope, just to name a few. In many ways, it was not a play necessarily written for kids, but for the adult audience watching the play.
We got some very encouraging feedback on the production from parents and community members, praising the seamless transitions and teamwork within the production. It was also neat to hear that the production was indeed quite thought-provoking for people.
The post-play lull.
I didn’t anticipate the post-play lull that hit the day after it was all over. In fact, I honestly hadn’t thought about life past the play.
I probably wasn’t completely aware of the amount that I became invested in carrying the play out… Things like blogging, baking, crafting all took a back seat during the month leading up the play, but I didn’t seem to care. Although it involved a whole lot more than I thought it would, most of it was fun, exhilarating even. Upon the abrupt finish, I found myself with a lost sense of purpose for a few days.
Having a big of space to breathe now, it was quite an experience to reflect on. With this being the first time I had ever written or directed a play, I was surprised at how smoothly things came together, and how fun & rewarding the process was. It was neat to apply my creativity to a new realm I had never worked in before.
Even though Sufjan wasn’t there (well, I like to think he was there, dressed in a disguise of sorts), I think he would be proud.
It was an incredible experience to work with this skillful team to bring a vision to life, and have it be successful in its mission to generate meaningful thought and discussion.
Way to go, team. It’s been a pleasure working with you brilliant folks.