American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
Box Office: 608-588-2361
Christmas Carols and A Christmas Carol. Tracy builds a holiday wreath, and Mrs. Cratchit builds a vlog (and an identity).
In APT’s new holiday extravaganza, Holidames: Tangled in Tinsel, Tracy Michelle Arnold, Sarah Day, Colleen Madden and director Keira Fromm sifted through their favorite holiday songs, stories and activities and distilled them, with love, into this joyful new event. We recently had a chance to chat with all four of these talented Dames of APT about how the show was created, what they love about it, and what their hopes are for 2021.
APT: What was it like coming up with the idea for Holidames, and developing the show together?
Colleen: We knew we wanted to give something to the APT audience, but at first we hadn’t a clue what it would be. Brenda and I had a million ideas. She wanted me to write something, and we were thinking of a full-length riff on A Christmas Carol. But soon we got hooked on this idea of a variety show, like the Carol Burnett Show, or Sonny and Cher; something fun, funny, a bit of music, uplifting. We knew we wanted a skit—just silliness—but also something that echoed APT’s focus on the classics. And we realized that this time of year needs a bit of nostalgia, but that this year in particular was going to require a shot in the arm to get us hopeful about the future.
Tracy: Oh, it was FUN! We started with a basic concept: find holiday stories, songs, poems and offer up general ways to make merry at this time of year, and then we threw a bunch of ideas at the proverbial wall to see what stuck. It was truly collaborative.
Keira: There's nothing better than collaborating with artists who both inspire you and whom you trust. I've seen Sarah, Colleen and Tracy in countless productions and have always been impressed with their deep and profound connection to the emotional lives of the characters they created. But the thing that excited me most about working with them on Holidames was how very funny all three of them are. I knew we wanted to create something festive that allowed us to tap into all those wonderful sentimental nostalgic feelings of the holidays, but it also needed to be fun fun FUN! We had a blast reading through all our favorite holiday themed short stories, plays, poems and songs and coming up with a holiday show that could make an audience guffaw one minute and shed a tear the next.
Sarah: It was a fun little treat to be able to play around with this show. It reminds me of the type of shows that were on when we were kids. And I kind of miss them! You know, where people sing a song, and then chat with each other, and then some skits or some poems. So it was such a treat to work together on this. I just think it's so wonderful. And it was lovely to work with these women, and we would all sort of put our two cents in about the segments. You know, Keira is the only one I hadn't worked with before, and it was nice to get to know her a bit. And Colleen and Tracy, these are people I've known for 20 years. And it’s a wonderful thing to be able to work with people you’ve loved and respected for so long.
APT: What was the most fun for you? And/or do you have a favorite segment?
Keira: Picking a favorite is impossible, they're all so different and endearing. But I will say that Colleen Madden wrote an amazing riff on A Christmas Carol called Penny Puddings that makes me both double over with laughter and sigh at its intuition and empathy for the female characters in the plays of Charles Dickens. I don't want to spoil it for you, but it's very clever, and Colleen's quirky sense of humor as a writer and a performer are on full display here!
Colleen: My favorite segment is Penny Puddings, because I love the goofiness of it, as well as the anachronism of a 19th Century character having a video blog. I also think self-acceptance is quite a brave thing, and very necessary before stepping forward into a better future, and I like watching people navigate that.
However, I’m also in love with Crafting Corner with Tracy. She is a wonderful weirdo and I’m glad everyone gets to see that side of her.
Sarah: Oh, it was just a treat to work together. And then Colleen wrote the most wonderful piece, Penny Puddings, and the idea of the Cratchits, figuring out how to deal with their circumstances. I just think it's so wonderful. It’s pretty amazing, all the wonderful work that went into it because you know, a lot of wonderfully creative people who enjoy doing this work, and we're so lucky to be able to have had this opportunity.
Tracy: It was pretty fun lip syncing to ourselves singing 'Deck the Halls'—we were allowed to go bananas with dance moves and props and lots of silly mugging. And we did it over and over, which ultimately led to some slap-happy giggles.
APT: What was the biggest challenge?
Colleen: The biggest challenge was trying to lasso all of the content into a structure. Keira was amazing at figuring it all out. She’s great to work with!! Keira has the soul of an artist and the mind of a ship captain.
Keira: It won't surprise anyone when I say that the technical aspects were the most challenging. We created Holidames sort of like a short movie, because we wanted to have some fun by including some songs and live singing which required editing (thank you to sound designer Jeffrey Levin and Asa Derks!) This meant that we had to record all of our segments rather early in our process and string them together in a post-production process. It all came out beautifully, but there were some technical mishaps along the way, which required us to re-record a couple segments.
Tracy: Hmmm. Probably recording the music. We weren’t able to be in the same room, for obvious reasons, so our “harmonizing” was done by mixing our individual singing tracks together. We also tried lots of different keys in which to sing, as were each of us comfortable in different ranges.
Sarah: The challenge is always going to be technology for me. When I went into classical theater, I wasn’t expecting to work on computers; that wasn’t part of the program. But everybody was wonderful and supportive and patient as they held my hand through the tech stuff. It’s a challenge, but it's like learning any new skill. And now, I do feel better about it all. I can say, ‘Oh, I think I can figure this out. And, oh, that makes sense. And, oh, I can do that.’ So, while I’m still not a technophile, I'm no longer completely technophobic. And to be learning new skills and learning things that I never thought I would - it's a fun challenge.
And the singing all had to be done separately. And that was the magic of Jeffrey Levin, who did a beautiful job because on a Zoom platform, obviously only one person can speak at a time. But we had a metronome going, and each of our parts was fed into our ear, and then we sang into the microphone. And then Jeffrey put it all together. He's the one who did all the hard work of mastering it, you know? It’s pretty great. He was wonderful.
APT: What’s your fondest wish for APT’s audience this year?
Keira: I hope everyone is staying safe and socially distant so that we can come back together healthy and ready for all the APT programming we know and love next summer and beyond. All of us artists miss our audiences so much. We miss your warmth and your feedback and your desire to engage. Happy holidays and we hope you enjoy APT's Holidames: Tangled in Tinsel!
Sarah: I just want everybody to feel safe being up the Hill next summer. And those kind of Christmas card wishes about having a healthy and prosperous New Year – those are not little words anymore. I mean, for me, the simple question of ‘how are you?,’ now that question really means, truly, from the bottom of my heart, ‘I hope you’re healthy, and I hope you’re working, and I hope you’re safe.’
Apart from that, my biggest hope is that next year Colleen will write more on Mrs. Cratchit’s vlog!
Colleen: I hope we find the fertile ground in our souls. I’ve been quite blue some of the time during the isolation, but I’ve also found some self-truths. And there’s been a lot of growth following the realization of those truths. I hope that when we all meet again we are all a little more ourselves. It will be interesting to meet each other after a year of growth.
Tracy: My fondest wish for the APT audience is that they stay healthy and are able to celebrate the holiday despite the distance we need to keep this year—for me, this season is all about giving and gratitude. I am so grateful to be a part of the APT family, and my hope is that we’ll all be reuniting on the Hill this summer.
I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to be a part of something so joyous, and particularly delighted that I got to spend a few weeks with Coll, Sarah and Evelyn [Production Stage Manager, Evelyn Matten], who are all like sisters to me, and with Keira, who made every rehearsal stress-free and full of laughter. I also want to publicly state that Nate and Bill’s This Wonderful Life is a treasure and I hope you’ll watch it! Happy Holidays to the greatest audience in the world and here’s hoping the New Year will merry and bright! xoxo