Tree House taps into history with Christmas production

Tree House Youth Theatre is gearing up for another compelling and completely original Christmas production, with a few historical touches, to run at the Scott Block.

The talented troupe presents Winter Wonderland 2.0 – Christmas at the Lyric Theatre, which runs Dec. 6-7 and 13-14 with doors opening at 7 p.m. for the evening shows and 2 p.m. on both Saturdays for matinees.

Following on the heels of their exceptional presentation of Red Deer’s official centennial play, Red Deer River Stories, the holiday presentation follows in that historical vein as well. It was a fitting course to take with the end of the City’s centennial celebrations nearing as well, explains director Matt Gould.

It is the winter of 1914 and the ‘Great War’ has begun.

Mavis Sullivan is ill and in bed in the infirmary of the Alberta Ladies’ College while all of her classmates are performing at the Red Deer Home Front Society’s Christmas Social at the Lyric Theatre.

Will Mavis have to miss all the fun, the hot chocolate and the sleigh ride from Exhibition Park – and, most importantly – her solo? The one she has been working on for months?

“There’s the format of a show within a show – this time with a bit of a dream/fantasy element,” says Gould. “Does Mavis appear in the performance? Does she not?

“It has a gentle, old-fashioned kind of feel to it.”

Not to worry – there’s still elements of that starkly original Gould-esque sensibility woven into the unfolding drama of the production.

“There’s still a few curveballs because I wouldn’t write a play without a couple of curveballs. But they’re very small – like ‘sponge’ curveballs – not golf curveballs,” he adds with a smile.

The cast numbers nine (mostly nine to 11-year-olds) and the older cast of Tree House Youth Theatre’s Sweeney Todd production – set for next June – also join in as elves and to sing a handful of Christmas carols.

“So it’s a nice full complement of performers. There are stories, poems, sing-alongs, a carnival to start it off and some great food. It’s really just a lovely event, and a charming little piece.”

This past June, Tree House Youth Theatre presented a very unique interpretation of Red Deer’s history called Red Deer River Stories which opted to reflect on the City’s history in unconventional ways, and it worked particularly well.

As with the Christmas show, The Lyric Theatre was also the setting and audiences watched students from the High School Literary Society present ‘An Evening of Entertainment’ to mark Red Deer’s shift change from town to City status.

“I thought why not continue in kind of a similar vein? It takes place in December of 1914 so the war has started. There’s a slightly dark undercurrent as the community comes to grips with the war as well.

“So the kids who are performing at the Lyric Theatre are putting on a series of plays and poems, and one of them is The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. It’s exciting because we introduce it by saying this is something new and modern – written in 1905. It’s great, because we remind people that The Gift of the Magi was this modernist piece when it was written.

“I love the kind of twist that presents – doing something that for the time was modern. It’s a very moving story, so we’ve adapted it and turned it into a short dramatization.”

Gould is well-known for staging intricate, thoroughly original productions – whether they be Christmas-themed or otherwise. His approach is always inventive, and as he explains, the ideas often materialize unexpectedly.

Tree House Youth Theatre was created in 1988. The aim of the program was to build theatrical interest and foster skills in the young people of Central Alberta. Tree House productions ran during the College’s off-season using RDC theatre staff and students to support most elements of the production.

Gould, an accomplished and multi-talented artist in his own right, came onboard in 2005.

For tickets to Winter Wonderland 2.0 – Christmas at the Lyric Theatre, call 403-986-0631.