The month of December is typically overrun with Christmas oriented traditions. But a new holiday play in Eugene shares how various cultures celebrate the winter season.
Theatre producer and director Carol Dennis has been working in theatre for about 45 years. With her friend Stanley Coleman, they started Minority Voices Theater in January 2017. The project does stage readings of plays most people do not think can be produced in Eugene due to a lack of actor diversity. As a result, the group also develops an audience of people who don’t typically see themselves reflected on stage.
For this season, the Very Little Theatre selected Dennis’ idea to have a performance of a holiday play that represents the myriad ways people celebrate the holidays.
“I know a lot of people who [celebrate Christmas], but I know a lot of people who don't,” said Dennis. “They celebrate either other kinds of holidays, they don't celebrate at all, they recognize solstice. They have other rituals that get them through this darkest time of the year.”
But as Dennis searched for a play, she wasn’t able to find one. With an idea in mind, Dennis commissioned a playwright to create a new holiday play.
From there, playwright Rachael Carnes interviewed seven people from a wide range of backgrounds to hear their experiences so their stories could inform the fictional characters she created. In fact, several of the people who were interviewed are now playing the fictional character that was based on themselves and their worldview.
The story is composed of seven travelers, a ticket booth operator, and a narrator. The group of strangers are trapped in an airport by a winter storm for 36 hours during the winter solstice.
According to Dennis, one character is trying to get to the birth of his first grandchild and another is trying to get to the death of his father, but they are unable to leave do to the storm.
Dennis says the story isn’t about the meaning of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays, but how people who even celebrate the same holiday, don’t celebrate in the same way.
“The play isn’t a series of monologues about what I do for the holidays,” said Dennis. “It's just this group of people have a different way of getting through that time. And so as they get to know each other, they kind of share those experiences.”
The actors come from a wide range performing experiences and ages, including someone who's never done a play, and another who is 80-years-old. Playwright Carnes said she hopes the play will help audience members have more inclusive holiday celebrations.
“With the plethora of Christmas representation—in stores, on T.V., on the radio, and in theatres—it’s too easy to overlook the beautiful diversity present in America,” said Carnes. “Not just during the holiday season, but year-round.”
Carnes said the goal of the play is to recognize and honor the many events—whether spiritual, religious, or tradition-based—that are celebrated during the winter holiday season.
Performances of At Winter’s Edge will be held at the Very Little Theatre until December 15.
The play is also in memory of a Latinx performer selected to be in the play, who died during the first week of rehearsal.