I’ve had a problem since I was a wee little lad that led to me getting into a lot of trouble during the early years of my life.
At the age of seven, this problem convinced me that I was an electrical engineer and I could plug my remote control truck into the wall to make it go faster. Unfortunately, doing this resulted in a spicy electrocution experience for my body and an exploded electrical transformer for the neighborhood. In third grade, this problem made me believe that I was an astronaut, which caused Miss Davis to beat me with a meter stick after I pretended to lift-off from my pretend-rocket chair in the class. At the age of ten, this problem made me believe that I was a professional wrestler, which resulted in me performing a suplex on my sister and I thought I killed her. This problem was that I truly believed that I could do anything I put my mind to do…anything!
In October, this “can do anything” attitude flared up again and I believed that I could put on the greatest Christmas show ever. The brilliant kids that I teach happened to also have this “can do anything” attitude, so we formed a superteam and designed a show.
We brainstormed and decided that the show would answer the question, “What if the first Christmas took place in 2022?” We designed the show to have everything that great shows had, including acting, dancing, singing, multimedia displays, lighting, smoke, and most importantly, food! In our minds, we were already convinced that we were directors, producers, actors, dancers, singers, artists, lighting designers, set designers, and chefs, so this seemed like a piece of cake.
We met twice a week every week between mid-October through mid-November to plan the show. Our Friday meetings focused on logistics, where we organized all of the behind-the-scenes details required to make this show work, including ticketing, marketing, concession stand foods, merchandise, roles, and even the traffic flow in the parking lots. On Sundays, our meetings focused on everything that happened on stage, including lighting, sound, stage props, and performances.
The show caused me to get really good at soliciting feedback and making quick changes. I had the responsibility of writing the script for the entire show, so each week I presented the latest revision of the script to the team for their input. In the script, the main character’s best friend was named “Jeffrey,” but this happened to be during the same time that “The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” became popular on Netflix. Two weeks before the show, everyone already had their lines memorized and one of the kids brought up a seemingly minor, yet important detail. She said, “every time you mentioned Jeffrey, I couldn’t help but think about Jeffrey Dahmer and it made me think that he was going to eat someone on stage.” Since this wasn’t a show about cannibalism, we immediately changed the character’s name to Luke, even though it required a lot of modifications to make it happen.
We put together a “behind-the-scenes” vlog that was released each week to show some of the preparation that took place leading up to the show. We were able to release three episodes of this vlog, but the night before the final show, we completely changed the final scene and all of the associated graphics. This required total focus, lots of design changes, and barely any sleep, so we could not release the final episode. However, I was able to piece together all of the episodes of the vlog, including the minimal footage from the unreleased fourth vlog and release it in this video:
A big part of the show was the massive LCD screen on the stage, and I wanted to use it instead of building large sets. As a result, I had to learn VFX design and I created a collection of pictures, videos, and animations that were projected onto the screen for the performers to interact with. Here is a snippet of some of these moments in the show:
Since a large part of the show was based on an emotional feeling of the main character being rejected by everyone, lighting was really important to establish the mood. The existing system in the theater wasn’t good enough to make people tear-up, so we purchased $3,000 worth of equipment to completely overhaul it. As a result, we programmed a fully automated lighting system that mapped the lights virtually on the computer screen and we mounted extra stage lights to make the cast shine bright like a diamond.
The show also needed to be as efficient as possible, so we used automation wherever possible. The music, sound effects, lights, LCD projection, and smoke were all automatically controlled by an iPad, which I operated. Since there were scenes where I needed to be on stage, I wrote the script to incorporate an iPad with me when I had to be on stage. So while the audience saw me with my iPad and assumed that I was acting as “Joseph at work,” I was simultaneously also playing the role of “Geremy with the most important iPad in the room.”
All of our team members pushed themselves beyond what they previously thought they were capable of. Everyone on stage and backstage had multiple roles and they performed them masterfully. We were like the ’96 Chicago Bulls, and we were focused on getting the non-existent championship ring! The person who starred in the role of Mary also choreographed her own dance routine, the person who played Martha did two spoken word selections and a dance routine, the Luke/Jeffrey character doubled as the photographer, and everyone else had a minimum of two roles. Also, when one of the singers was unable to perform, we had a last-minute soloist who stepped in and learned two songs within two weeks. We were the ’96 Bulls and everyone on the team was Michael Jordan.
In the end, the show went well and the entire team was thrilled with the outcome. We nearly sold out the available tickets, we received rave reviews from those in attendance, and most importantly, we proved that we could truly do anything that we put our minds to! Before the show, I looked at this “can-do-anything” attitude as a problem, but yet it wasn’t a problem at all…it was the solution to the greatest Christmas Show Ever!