For many decades, the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder have enchanted readers of all ages, harkening back to an era when the sole focus was on family and survival.
Those themes were further reinforced for television audiences of the 1970s and 80s with the popular TV series Little House on the Prairie.
But fans of the Wilder book series may not be familiar with A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas that takes the stage for all for One this holiday season.
growing up with the Ingalls
Tricia Weiss, director of the holiday all for One production, has her own history with the Laura Ingalls Wilder canon.
“We grew up with those books on a shelf,” Weiss said. “My daughters are older now — 18 and 19 — but that was the first series we read when they were transitioning from picture books into chapter books.”
Lauren Nichols, artistic director of all for One, had her own reasons for choosing this as their holiday offering.
“We did the show about 10 years ago, and it was one of the best attended shows we’ve had,” Nichols said. “The script is delightful, and it’s not a familiar story even for fans who have read her books. It’s not included in the Little House series and details a time when the family lived and worked in a tavern. The family went from being on a farm and having all that land to living in this place that was crowded and loud. It was an unpleasant time and were some unhappy memories for her. But it is ultimately a helpful and upbeat message about a family sticking together.
“I chose this last year before I had any idea what 2020 had in store, so it turned out to be more timely than I intended. Every era has its own hardship, but we can get through with the love of family and family working together. And being flexible!”
Dealing with the Pandemic
Nichols knows a thing or two about being flexible.
The company’s first production of the 2020-21 season, The Dreadful Journal of Phoebe Weems, was presented as an online production rather than on stage due to COVID restrictions.
And the current production was postponed and moved to First Missionary Church, positioned across the street from the all for One offices, for a weekend run of three performances.
The production will then move back to the ArtsLab where once again Brock Eastom and his Frosty Pictures production company will videotape the performance for online viewing.
With so much up in the air, Weiss and her cast also had to be flexible.
“The location has been a big hurdle,” Weiss said. “Not knowing what our stage would look like and whether our cast would have to be masked meant we had to be ready for anything. Usually you have a game plan because you know what the situation is going to be, but this meant we had to have a set we could adapt to different situations. The sets are very minimal and moveable.”
Her cast also provided some relief from the worry of distancing, with the cast of four children and three adults containing two familial connections, making it much easier to avoid issues during rehearsals.
Making Family Connections
Weiss herself knows about family connections in theatrical performances.
“I was born and raised in Albion and have two older sisters and a younger sister,” Weiss said. “My older sister got involved in theater in her senior year, and her theater teacher, Tony Howell, just got us all involved.”
Active in performing, Weiss also tackled writing and directing and was key to the establishment of the Albion Community Theatre directing kids and building more experience.
Having recently relocated to Fort Wayne, she contacted the executive director of all for One, Stacey Kuster, which led to planned directorial duties at the company’s annual Young Playwrights Festival last spring.
“Obviously that didn’t happen,” Weiss said. “But the opportunity to direct this Christmas show came up about a year ago.
“My husband and I happened to be coming out of Art This Way last fall as an all for One audience was releasing. I went in and said hello to Stacey and Lauren, and Lauren asked me if I wanted to direct a show the following season. I said, ‘Sure!’ and it all took off from there.”
Although uncertainty can be daunting, both Nichols and Weiss have found ways to present their family-friendly production by remaining flexible. Weiss thinks the theater community has learned some valuable lessons while facing the challenges.
“I went to 1776 at the Foellinger Theatre and thought the cast did a great job,” Weiss said. “It’s great to see theater in a new place. I also went to Love Letters and thought First Presbyterian did a great job putting it outside. I didn’t know how it would be to see a performance in a parking lot, but it didn’t bother me. It’s been good for us to think outside our usual parameters.”
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