The Birth of the HGWP Holiday Letter by Barbara Biddison
A group of women and a few men gathered some months ago at the Warehouse to consider what might be put together for a Holiday Program in early December 2023. How about three 10-minute plays with some vocal and instrumental interludes? Oh! and some "Holiday Letters" like the ones that some people send out (full of way too much detail about family doings and challenges and pets and so forth). So, we offered "Holiday Letter Writing Workshop" for HGWP's "Holiday Shorts and Sweets," and got our people to write such letters just for fun, and then we chose the best ones for our December show. We did all that, and now we are rehearsing six (6) holiday letters with six readers who did not write the letter they read aloud. Sometimes you might even think that the family dog wrote the letter. Sometimes pets do that you know. I once had a dog that could have--his name was Chance, and all 80 pounds of him rode in my convertible with the top down. He probably had many stories to tell. But back to the Holiday Letter.
We did have auditions, and those that seemed to relate to the letter of the moment were cast as a reader. We were auditioning for three 10-minute plays at the same time as we auditioned for letters. Somehow a few women and one guy were cast in both play and letter. So far everything seems to have worked out well. I don't see the play rehearsals, but I'm "directing" the six letter readings. We have managed to keep the letter and play rehearsals moving forward without anyone having to be in two places at once.
You might think that just reading a letter out loud would be easy. But it actually requires practice and thought. So we practice, and try different ways of expressing thoughts, and we try to figure out what importance there might be to certain references. For example, in one letter there is reference to Christmas ornaments made here. We discussed the value of knowing that is historically true. Another letter, actually written by a Jewish woman, is read aloud by a woman who is not Jewish. So the writers (on paper) are never the same person as the actor reading aloud that piece. It is a very interesting acting experience as the reader takes on the writer's identity which is never quite the same of course. And then the whole thing can get more complicated as the letter writer appears to be the family dog!
Our most recent. rehearsal, when five of the six were present in the same room, was quite lively. All five "read" their practically memorized letter to four listeners plus me. I was so pleased with their listening skills as expressed in comments/suggestions for the reader. Lots of smiles and genuine laughter too. They were great audience members as well as good readers. And all were willing to offer feedback, and look at possible clothing choices, ranging from "hmmmm" to "the color is right" to whether or not a dog collar would be appropriate. These readers have varying degrees and different types of theatre experience, and whatever they have they bring to this project. So we'll be reading these letters aloud as each reader gives life to the person inside the letter. Keep your eyes glued to the stage right side of the stage where our small table and chair will mark the letter-reading spot.
[Note: HGWP's Holiday Shorts and Sweets runs December 8 at 7:30; and December 9 at 2:30 and 7:30PM at the Warehouse Theatre. Sponsored by Larry & Marian Miller; Hilma Cooper; and Deb & Greg Calkins.]