Saturday, November 29, 2014

Theater Anonymous’ One-Night-Only “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Amy Hill Danneker and Daniel Christensen in the 2013 performance (Truman Buffett)
For several years now, Theater Anonymous (from The 14/48Projects) has presented a very unique performance on only one night. They perform It’s a Wonderful Life (essentially the movie script) but never reveal the actors, even to all the actors!

This year, it is going to be December 6th at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center. Those that know about it and have seen or participated in past years know to attend in costuming that makes it appear you might be an actor in the play. It helps confuse the audience and amps up the confusion over who exactly is going to act with whom. It even fakes out the actors, scattered in the audience, as well, if they see other actors they guess might be performing.

Daniel Christensen was last year’s George Bailey. I spoke to him about his experience. A funny fact for Daniel is that he had never, ever seen the movie before he put his hat in the ring to do the show. He says, “I wasn’t even sure who George was! I don’t know why. If there was one movie tradition, it was A Christmas Story, not that one.”

Since Daniel had performed in 14/48 before, he was in their database when they sent out an email asking who was available to be cast, and who would be interested in what size role. He said, “I remember them saying they had a huge response from actors and had to work hard to cut it down to the characters in the play.

“I got an email saying they’d like me to be George Bailey, and they sent the adaption they’d written. I first read it through with the producers and the director. When we read it through I cried at the end because it’s such a beautiful redemption.”

One reason they have to adapt it is they have to take into consideration a structure so they could reveal the actors in a metered fashion – a series of reveals. Daniel says, “They warned me that each ‘reveal’ would get an audience reaction and I might have to make room for that before we continued to perform. Sometimes, even I had to process who was coming on stage before continuing to perform.

“(For instance,) Roy Stanton was playing the mean bank president, Mr. Potter. When I saw him coming up on stage, it pleased me, and tickled that Roy was going to be my nemesis. But I’m not supposed to be happy when I see Mr. Potter, so it took a second to process.”

It is memorized and rehearsed, but the rehearsals include only the director and a few support people. For some actors, they memorize during the rehearsal process. Here there is no acting partner to work with, so Daniel says, “you drill it like crazy. I record all my cue lines for all my plays so I can rehearse to a cue line. Everyone does it differently, though. They do give you permission to call ‘line’ if you need it. But I didn’t need it.”

Daniel explained that the director (last year was Erin Kraft) has so much more responsibility than usual, because she has to rehearse with all the actors individually, because they can’t know who else is in the show. “The director’s responsibility for this kind of show is astounding. When she was blocking everything, she had to imagine more than a dozen other characters on stage at the same time, and who were not present.

“There are scene changes and set changes, but more minimal than a full production. At one point, when George and Mary were on the porch, they ‘flew in’ a swing for us to sit on. I did a tech rehearsal where that happened. God bless the crew for that show. Their tech was just a few hours. Shows like this normally get a week of tech.”

Inevitably, things can go wrong, but everyone has to adjust and keep going. Daniel says, “Last year, as soon as we started performing, a whole bank of lights started going crazy, turning on and off. They ended up shutting that down and operating on house lights, I think, for the second half of the show.”

That adds to the charm of the event, though. Daniel says things going wrong was liberating. “We didn’t even blink,” Daniel says. “We just kept telling the story. The audience was with us the whole time. It didn’t matter that things went wrong.”

This year, Daniel can’t say whether he is in the production or not, of course. But, “I’m going to want to witness it. It’s more exciting now that I know what it’s like to be in that position. The best and worst thing is it only happens once!”

Tickets are available here.


Shawn Belyea (2014 director) acting with nobody (Joe Iano)