Traditions of the traditions
Every holiday has its traditions New Year's Eve parties, Fourth of July fireworks and picnics, Thanksgiving dinners and football but when it comes to tradition, no holiday can beat Christmas. A veritable industry has grown up around the yuletide, and the performing arts are as much a part of it as candy canes and mistletoe. For many families, it simply wouldn't be Christmas without a visit to the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Land of Sweets or seeing Scrooge haunted by those Christmas spirits or hearing a rousing rendition of Handel's "Hallelujah Chrorus." Performing arts groups oblige us by reviving these holiday-themed shows December after December, and sometimes they develop their own traditions within these annual performances. We checked in with five local productions about the things they always do while serving Austin audiences their Christmas cheer.
No show in Austin, Christmas-related or not, has been revived more times than Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. This year marks its 43rd go-round for Ballet Austin, and it's here that you'll find Austin's most well-established Christmas tradition in the performing arts. "The character of Mother Ginger appears in the second act," says Christian Meyer, Ballet Austin's public relations manager, "and each year we invite prominent community leaders and local celebrities to be Mother Ginger. They have to climb onto a platform five or six feet off the ground, put on a big large hat, blue eyeshadow, and red lipstick, and wear a gigantic red skirt that 14 children are underneath. The children come out and do a dance, with Mother Ginger in the background, doing whatever she wants. We've been doing this for nine years, and this year some of our Mother Gingers will be Nyle Maxwell, Turk Pipkin, Will Wynn, and Marcia Ball."
Next in line, at least in terms of longevity and longevity is unquestionably a major tradition qualifier is the Zachary Scott Theatre Center's Rockin' Christmas Party, now in its 12th year. "For the last four years the Rockin' cast has sung live in the Chuy's Children's Parade," says Jim Reynolds, Zach's marketing director. "This has been sort of a kick-off for us each season, singing on the Santa float. It's quite a wonder to see all of Congress Avenue, adults and children, doing the YMCA as the float goes by."
Pro Arts Collective has produced Langston Hughes' Black Nativity for four years running, but a tradition has made itself evident only just this year. "This year we've started something that we plan to do every year, which is invite soloists from area churches to sing a song in the production," says Lisa Byrd, Pro Arts executive director. "Last week we had a soloist from Metropolitan AME Church, and this week we'll have Jacqui Cross."
The State Theater Company is in its second year of producing Neil Bartlett's adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but that's enough time for at least one tradition to have established itself. Says actor Rick Roemer, "One silly ritual that Bernadette Nason and I do as the Fezziwigs, and have done since the show last year, is we always bump our portly stomachs together right before we go on." "It's a good luck thing, and we do it every night," says Nason.
Rob Nash is also in his second year of performing A Christmas Carol Roasting on an Open Fire, his solo adaptation of the Dickens perennial as if it were being performed by Hollywood stars, so there hasn't been a lot of time for tradition. "Well, we don't do Christmas carols before the show," says Nash, "but that could be arranged. We do have 30% more comedy and 30% more lines from movies this year. And I came up with an opening night idea when I was performing Holy Cross Sucks! in New York. I paint-penned the letter 'U' on a bunch of rocks. I gave them out to the production staff and said, 'You rock!'"
Black Nativity runs through Dec. 18, Thursday-Saturday, 7:30pm, Sunday, 3pm, at Austin Playhouse at Penn Field, 3601 S. Congress. For more information, call 474-TIXS.
A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 18, Thursday, 7:30pm; Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 4 & 8pm; Sunday, 2pm, at the State Theater, 719 Congress. For more information, call www.austintheatre.org.
The Nutcracker runs through Dec. 23, Friday-Saturday and Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30pm, Saturday-Sunday and Friday, Dec. 23, 2pm, at Bass Concert Hall. For more information, call 469-SHOW or visit www.balletaustin.org.
Rockin' Christmas Party runs through Jan. 1, Thursday-Friday, 8pm, and Sunday, 2:30 & 7pm, at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center Kleberg Stage, 1421 W. Riverside. For more information, call 476-0541 x1 or visit www.zachscott.com.
A Christmas Carol Roasting on an Open Fire runs through Jan. 7, Thursday- Sunday, 8pm, at the Vortex, 2307 Manor. For more information, call 478-LAVA or visit www.vortexrep.org.