Dancing Through Christmas Spectacular: The Backstage Pass from an Actor’s Perspective

By: Alyssa Wismar

     The weekend after Thanksgiving, people usually start decorating for Christmas or doing various family traditions, but in Warren, Pennsylvania, many residents prepare for a Christmas show they all know and love: Molly Dies’ Christmas Spectacular. The show had four showtimes, one Friday evening, an afternoon and evening show on Saturday, and an afternoon show on Sunday, just to make sure anyone who wanted to come had more than enough options.

     The show has been through multiple script changes throughout the years, and, this year, being its third change, was bound to surprise audience members of all ages. The main idea was that Santa’s elves were snowed in at the North Pole, and unable to get to their trip to the Bahamas. But, through a series of trial and error, one by one they tried different ideas to get to the Bahamas, and, eventually, they solved the ice-cold snow problem, and made it out of the North Pole!

     This year was the fifth performance of the show I’ve been privileged to perform in, and my own experience with the show has always been positive, uplifting, and heartwarming. The show has become a Christmas tradition, with an amazing cast and amazing dances. The whole cast, dancers and all, is really more of a family than anything.

     Before our shows, we would always warm up together. As a whole cast, anyone who was able went to a physical warm up, where we would listen to Christmas music, sing along, and get active and ready for our dances in the show, all while having so much fun. After that warm up, it was time for the actors’ vocal warm up. We would sing, laugh, and do so many rounds; it was amazing to see how unified our voices could be. All of that ended with a mic check, where actors could sing random songs, their favorite line from the show, or anything that pops into their head.

     One of the best parts of being in a show has to be the performances themselves. One way that Dies always made sure we could get into character before shows was by letting us come on stage early, while spectators bought tickets, and without our microphones turned on. This allowed us to just be in character and use our set and props to have fun with the cast before the show started. It was a great way to shake off some nerves, make a ton of memories, and still entertain the audience. Our pre-show sometimes included the limbo, random dancing, runways, wrapping up the elves, and even a rock-paper-scissor competition!

     After all the warm ups, it’s time for the performance. Everyone is anxiously waiting for the curtain to rise, and the magic to begin. However, before that, it’s a rush or pre-setting props, making sure costumes are set and ready, remembering your first line, and wishing that everyone else around you “breaks a leg.”

     Once the curtain does rise, you’re instantly transported into a different world, and, in this case, it’s the world of the North Pole, full of glitter and presents. You aren’t yourself anymore, but instead are completely immersed in your character’s story. The most amazing thing about Christmas Spectacular, is that it was always meant to have the audience members involved in the show the whole time. Whether they were talking to all the elves in a scene, or just clapping along to the dances, we made sure that the audience was having just as much fun as we were on stage!

     A way that director Dies really makes this show heartfelt to people, is that everything is based on her childhood Christmas memories. As she said in an interview with The Squire, “I love Christmas movies, so I channeled my inner child Christmas movie love and took some fun ideas from those thoughts, as well as modern day events.”

    Dies also wanted this show to be an “escape” for people from Covid that is affecting people every day. She included, “It was important to me not to mention anything abut Covid or vaccines or politics, so people could truly escape.” However, she also wanted people to be drawn in, and relate in some ways. She added, “But, snowing in can be related to being quarantined, and facetiming the elves on vacation can resemble the time everyone spent on Zoom this year, incorporating the ‘sign of the times.’”

     I think that it was a really amazing mix, just enough for people to relate to, yet not enough to have people remembering everything bad that happened over the past few years. And, from seeing the reaction from the crowd, I could tell that they enjoyed it.

     That’s another thing I’ve always loved about theatre. Seeing how the people react to it. Some will applaud you on making them laugh, tell you how much they appreciated it, or thank you for doing such a great job. Some of them won’t even know you, but I can speak for everyone who has ever been in a performance when I tell you it is truly an amazing feeling to know that you have made an impact on people in the audience while you’ve been doing what you love.

     If you’ve seen this amazing show, you will know and remember the magic you saw. Even if you haven’t, I hope you will next year, for when asked about doing the show next year with all of the graduating talent, Dies replied there is a plan for a “…change of storyline and we’ll be back in business! When there’s a will, there’s a way.” It truly is spectacular!

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