Around this time of year, some familiar titles start to pop up: “A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Nutcracker,” to name a few.
Members of the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild’s latest production, however, would be surprised if audiences came in knowing too much about their show: “Closed for the Holidays.” That’s what Rick Olson, who plays a sheriff in this holiday production, said.
“’A Christmas Carol,’ everybody knows. ‘A Christmas Story,’ if they haven’t seen the play, they’ve at least seen the movie,” Olson said. “This they haven’t seen. It’s a different story, but it’s a story that, in some form, audience members will identify with.”
“Closed for the Holidays” is a comedy that takes place on Christmas Eve. A group of travelers finds themselves stranded at a community center after a blizzard shuts down the roads.
These groups of people, some total strangers, have to find some way to enjoy a happy holiday in unhappy circumstances.
CVTG will open the show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Grand Theatre, 102 W. Grand Ave. It runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16.
Director Michele Langhough said the show has only been around since 2015, and she’s only seen it done in small theaters.
Still, Olson said audiences should be familiar with the concept of coming together — a holiday constant that he thinks, amid the hustle and bustle of the season, can all too easily get lost.
“Even though this show takes place in one community center, it does show that hectic franticness of the holidays,” he said. “Yet, at the very end, without it being a spoiler, there is some calming that takes place. You do get an understanding of what it’s all about.”
Actress Sarah Stackhouse, who plays Deputy Dot in her first-ever theater show, said that’s what got her interested in the script. That, and all of the laughter.
“The show is really relatable, but it also has such a spark of emotion,” Stackhouse said. “You can really feel what the characters are feeling, relate it to something you’ve experienced. And it’s so funny.”
The guild’s play-reading committee members chose the show because they wanted something centered on the holiday season that would fit well on the Grand Theatre’s smaller stage, Langhough said. The 20-member cast is made up of kids as young as middle school up to well-seasoned actors with years of experience.
She hadn’t even read the script when she signed on to direct the show, but Langhough said she didn’t need to.
CVTG’s executive director Ann Sessions told her the script was loved by theater-guru Lois Hodgins, known around Eau Claire for her work with Fanny Hill Dinner Theater and the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Chippewa Valley before she passed away in April. That was all Langhough, who also worked many years at Fanny Hill, needed to hear.
“Lois Hodgins is a dear friend of mine,” Langhough said. “If Lois liked it, then I knew I would.”
So far, she hasn’t been disappointed, though the play does have its challenges.
“Closed for the Holidays” draws its humor from quick-witted one-liners, which actress Anna Lucas, who plays a Jewish drama teacher, said she thinks have been the hardest part for the cast.
“There’s a lot of comedic timing in the show,” Lucas said. “Keeping that at a good pace has probably been one of the biggest challenges for everyone involved.”
But it’s one they have been working to overcome with each rehearsal. Stackhouse said she thinks good casting has helped each actor mold into his or her character easily.
“Everyone is really well-suited for their character,” she said. “You can see that in how well we play off each other.”
In addition to the message of slowing down and relaxing during what can be the busiest time of the year, Stackhouse added the show has a deeper message that is relevant no matter the season.
“I think it’s so beautiful how people can all be strangers at the start and then build those bonds,” Stackhouse said. “That’s what life is about — it’s about the connections and the people you meet.”