You might imagine putting on a Christmas play would be a light, festive endeavour.
After all, the plots of most holiday tales are pretty straightforward and neatly conclude in a heart-warming moral. But that hasn't been the case for Between Shifts Theatre's production of A Christmas Story.
"It is the most complex play I've directed," says Kathy Daniels, who's co-directing the play with Amy Reid. "There are 121 sound cues and 68 lighting cues."
It also features seven kids between the ages of eight and 12 and four adult actors—and then there are the complicated sets, ranging from a car to a classroom and a mall. "We couldn't find a place to build our set and didn't find one until September," Daniels says. "That has been interesting as well. Instead of (having) our set in the same place, we cart pieces of set over to a workshop. It's been a bit trying; however, the Brackendale Art Gallery said we could use their workshop in the back of the gallery. It was incredible generous."
And just a couple weeks from opening night on Thursday, Nov. 29, the hard work is starting to pay off. "Ticket sales are going really well," Daniels says. "They're already going awesome."
Part of the reason is because of the beloved '80s movie from which the play is adapted and part of it is because it offers a chance for people young and old to celebrate the holidays in the community.
"The main reason we chose it is because it's so popular. It came out in the '80s, so kids in their 30s now grew up watching this movie, so it really hits that note. Now they're parents and it hits a note of nostalgia for them," Daniels says.
The production is based on the memoir of humourist writer Jean Shepherd and his childhood growing up in the Midwest in the 1940s. Its central character, nine-year-old Ralphie Parker, is on a journey to ensure a genuine Red Ryder BB gun is under his Christmas tree.
"The play is a little funnier than the movie was," Daniels says. "I find I'm laughing a lot more at it."
It also features more young actors than Between Shifts productions usually cast. Pepe Johnson, who plays young Ralphie, has demonstrated a remarkable ability to memorize lines, Daniels says.
"Wait 'til you see these kids," she says. "They're insanely good. Pepe Johnson came in with his lines memorized—and he seems to know everyone else's lines, too."
The actor playing older Ralph is also new to the theatre company's roster. "Peter Slade does the heavy lifting of the show because he also narrates," Daniels says. "He has a novel to memorize. He's new to Between Shifts and acting in this area, but he's done a lot of work in North Van and in other communities. This is his debut in the corridor."
Ultimately, the hope is that audiences from the Sea to Sky corridor will come to see the accessible Christmas play and return for other productions Between Shifts puts on throughout the year.
"We want to get people through the doors and have them say, 'Hey, I think I had a good time here—and I didn't have to look at a screen; what do you know?'" Daniels says. "Plays are a bit more of a raw experience, but it's not always challenging."
A Christmas Story runs at the Eagle Eye Community Theatre in Squamish from Nov. 29 until Dec. 8 with a total of nine shows.
Shows run each evening at 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on Dec. 1 and 8. Tickets range from $5 to $20. They're available online at betweenshiftstheatre.com or at Billies Flower House in Squamish.