Christmas unicorns & other yuletide oddities: A Sufjan-inspired Christmas production.

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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.

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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.

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The process.

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.

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The production.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Way to go, team.  It’s been a pleasure working with you brilliant folks.

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In print and getting close: A thesis update.

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The light at the end of the thesis tunnel is growing brighter by the day.  Brendon’s thesis is in print.  It sits on our table, approximately 3.5cm high.

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The Chicago Manual of Style has been a trusty companion in these last few weeks (or should we say months) of editing and revision.  Brendon has hired an editor in England to do final edits on the document, and hopefully catch anything that was missed.

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Upon completion of final edits, Brendon will submit offical final copies of his thesis to AUT in New Zealand, from where they will be distributed to each of the 3 graders who will be evaluating his PhD.

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It’s pretty crazy to see a project you’ve worked for years on finally come (just about) to completion, and finally manifest itself in physical form.  Brendon is feeling more positive than previously about it, and certainly excited to tie up the final strings of this multi-year endeavour.  Not much more to go now, B!  You’ve got this.

Suddenly: Feet in Red Deer.

Apologies for the lack of updates recently.  Our life’s circumstances have changed quite drastically over the past couple of weeks, so we have more or less been in survival mode, coping with the changes at hand.

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Anything can happen.  Really and truly.  Two weeks ago, the hunt for a teaching job was looking dismal.  I had applied to 6 school boards in the Edmonton area, but even getting on a sub list for September was looking grim.  Then, over the course of several days, I was offered a teaching position- in Red Deer!!  (For those of you who may not be familiar with Alberta geography, Red Deer is a small city of approximately 100,000 people, located about an hour and a half south of Edmonton.)

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It all happened so suddenly.   As much as we were looking forward to setting up and doing life more closely with friends and family in Edmonton, jobs for teachers appear to be relatively nonexistent there at the present time.   24 hours after accepting the job, we were on our way to Red Deer.

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Over the next 4.5 days, Brendon dedicated himself to the task of helping me get my room looking somewhat ready for students.

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Bunting borrowed from a friend added a welcoming touch to my otherwise bare-looking room.  On Tuesday of this past week, I kicked off the school year with my new 3/4 split class.  Although we have only spent a few days together so far, I have to say that my new class is looking like a pretty stellar bunch.

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I can’t tell you how incredibly THANKFUL I am for this teaching position.  With so few teaching positions available, I realize I am extremely lucky to have the opportunity to pursue my calling as an educator.  Having this teaching job, combined with knowing where our feet will be planted for the next year, brings immense relief, and is hopefully the beginning of a restored sense of stability and normality in our lives after several months of living out of suitcases and not knowing what comes next.

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We are also very fortunate to have family in Red Deer (Brendon’s sister Nicole, her husband Craig, and their 4 beautiful kids) who have graciously accepted us into their new home on an acreage for the time being.

First day of school

I got to share my first day of this school year with my nephew, Luke, who just started Grade 2, and my niece, Naomi, who had her very first day of Kindergarten.

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It’s been fun spending time with our niece and nephews, whom we have been away from for quite some time.  It is also awesome that our good friends Heather and Kyle reside in Red Deer with their two little girls, so we are definitely amidst good company here.

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Although we didn’t necessarily end up where he had planned, Red Deer should be a pretty good place to call home for the next year.

Edmonton dream

For now, the “Edmonton dream” sits on the shelf while we embrace this new “Red Deer chapter” of our lives.  Of course, frequent trips to Edmonton shall be scheduled to visit our dear ones in our home city.

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the deer, this fine creature stands in Nicole & Craig’s yard.  Our niece named him “Adam,” and I happen to quite adore him.  His body is made of ceramic, but interestingly, the antlers are real.  You may be seeing a fair bit of Adam on our blog over the next year.