Embracing the Chaos
- By gentleguide
- On Sat 02 Dec 2017
Some theatre productions are designed like a carefully oiled machine - perfectly planned, and executed with no faults or error. Others are more welcoming of their imperfections, and use those moments as inspiration and creativity. But all theatre people have had that one show that seemed to be where disaster is the default for the show, where mistakes and mishaps are all you can see. And what you hoped to be a shiny present becomes A Christmas Chaos.
Beginning Friday December 8th, Ankeny Community Theatre will gift us with their production of A Christmas Chaos. This wonderfully theatrical comedy presents audiences with a “typical” community theatre in a bit of a bind, as the professional theatre company they’ve booked to come in and perform is suddenly not available. And with just a few hours before an audience shows up expecting Dickens’ beloved tale of Scrooge and midnight visitations, they have to conjure up their own version. With no rehearsals, barely a script, and a tremendous helping of hilarious “inspiration and creativity” born of desperation, the show must go on!
We’ve Been There
“This is an actor’s and/or director’s worst nightmare come true,” says Barb Wagner, one of the cast of the upcoming show. “I’ve had some of those nightmares in real life, so I’m speaking from experience. A Christmas Chaos is the inevitable bad nightmare that all actors have on what could go wrong with any show they are a part of at that particular time. Missed lines, cues, entrances... they are nothing compared to the extremes that this show goes to.”
And the extremes extend to the various characters involved. Those of us who have been involved in theatre for any length of time will easily recognize some of the typical “types” involved: the harried director trying to shape this mess into something resembling theatre; cast members whose personal issues arise as the worst possible moments; and even the backstage crew who get to have their moment in the sun (although they’d probably prefer the darkness of the control booth instead!)
The play itself isn’t spared in the least. While audiences know the traditional story of A Christmas Carol, this improvised and comedic version will subvert a few of those expectations for laughs. Cast member Doug Moon explains, “My favorite part is the dramatic scene when Scrooge is at his own headstone, a spot that would ‘normally’ be a time that tugs at the hearts of people. But this production kind of takes that into a different direction. There are other spots in the show where this happens. It loosens the tension of the moments.”
Who Are You?
This loving spoof of small theatre is layered with levels upon levels. Besides the “play-within-a-play” structure, the production adds one more trick. Back when auditions were held for A Christmas Chaos in Ankeny, the typical cast list was posted. But none of the character names were given, only the names of those who had received parts were announced.
There was method behind this madness. Barb shares the secret on exactly why. “The whole cast goes by their own names, and the majority of us ‘play’ it as we are in real life. For instance, my character in the script is described as ‘tends to go overboard’. I can’t imagine WHY I got that role! Ha!”
“The ‘tech people’ in the show, Matt and Bekah Tuttle, are regular tech people at Ankeny Community Theatre. They have both done numerous shows in that capacity.” And now they get to strut their stuff for the audience as well, dealing with the comical disasters in the way tech and theatre people can understand far too well. All from the comfort (?) of the real light booth at Ankeny Community Theatre!
This adds to the playfulness of the piece, as people get to really exaggerate their parts and characters to humorous extremes. And as the characters get wilder, so do the mishaps along the way.
Barb continues, “The ‘director’ in the show (within the show) is a regular director for ACT, but in this show, he is very cynical and yells a lot... in real life directing, he is NOT like that. I have a feeling he’s getting out the frustrations in this that he would actually like to do when he is really directing a show!”
That ‘director’ is Doug Moon, who agrees wholeheartedly. “Having directed four previous shows at ACT, I wanted to play the role of the director. I am portraying the character as a person who is nervous about what is going on stage and stressing out over the things he can’t control, although he tries at times.”
“As a real live director, I go through the nervousness and stress, I just have to keep it inside of me and not let it be seen. So, being able to ‘let that out’ has been a lot of fun, as what you will see ‘me’ in the show is NOT how I would direct a ‘real show’.”
“I think this production really shows the great amount of time that is necessary to put on a production. The ‘show-within-a-show’ was slapped together in six hours. And, you see the results of that. To put on a ‘really good’ production, you really need to spend the quality time to perfect it.”
Making the Hard Look Easy
With the “play-within-a-play” setup, the assembled cast and crew in the tale have to come up with everything for their improvised production of A Christmas Carol with no time to plan and create. That curtain is going up soon, and people will be here to see it whether they’re ready or not. And they’re really not....
Making it look like it’s all improvised is harder than it seems. And you have to be very good at something to be able to deliberately do it “badly” when you want to. Doug sees the kinds of obstacles he and his fellow actors have to deal with. “What is challenging in this production is that actors work very hard to be spot on with their lines and their characters. Having to purposely act poorly, or miss a line, or even break character, is completely out of the norm.”
“As fun and as easy as that may sound, it’s very challenging to go against the grain on purpose instead of ‘doing it right’. But, it sure has been fun watching actors, very good actors, do things on stage that you would never expect out of them in a production.”
Barb adds, “I have been involved in live theatre for 41 years and I can honestly say that part of what I have to do in this show is one of the trickiest things I’ve ever tackled. I can’t give anything away, so you’ll just have to come see what has given me those ‘chaotic’ nightmares again this time!”
Come see what she’s talking about, and the rest of the hijinks that ensue when Ankeny Community Theatre presents A Christmas Chaos, running from December 8 - 17. Tickets are available through the ACT website or by calling Midwestix at 244-2771.