Excelsior production celebrates ‘Christmas in July’
Excelsior Arts Academy and Youth Theater will stage “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the DeKalb Outdoor Theater. The show originally was scheduled to be presented last December but was canceled due to COVID-19. The show has been revived as a “Christmas in July” celebration. Pictured are members of the cast.
AUBURN — With just a few weeks until actors were set to take to the stage in performances of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” last December, Excelsior Arts Academy and Youth Theater Executive Director Kent Johnson was forced to cancel the show.
Cases of COVID-19 were on the rise, and while the First Christian Church in Auburn was the perfect setting to tell the Christmas story, there was not the room needed for the cast to socially distance backstage, Johnson explained.
“This was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make. As you might guess, many people were disappointed due to the amount of work that had already occurred,” Johnson said.
“Mary Kay Clark, the director of ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,’ was heartbroken, but certainly understood the situation.”
After the initial disappointment, someone came up with the idea of having “Christmas in July.” With that in mind, the show will be revived at the DeKalb Outdoor Theater Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Overwhelmingly, people thought it would be a cool idea,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the Outdoor Theater stage is a perfect spot to resume production due to the large stage and seating area, addressing any lingering COVID-19 concerns.
Eighteen youth join with nine adults to make up the cast. The play tells the story of a church preparing for its annual Christmas pageant about the birth of Jesus. When a replacement director is overrun at auditions and the cast is taken over by the rowdy Herdman kids, everyone is sure that the pageant will be a disaster. No one is prepared for the delightful outcome involving the Three Wise Men, a ham, scared shepherds and six kids and their outrageous shenanigans.
“Rehearsals have been wonderful,” Johnson said.
Johnson said staging the production at the outdoor theater involved a lot of adjustment, but everyone was flexible.
“We went from one of the smallest spaces where we ever were going to put a show on, which was the front of the sanctuary at First Christian, to one of the largest performance spaces in DeKalb County at the outdoor theater, so there was a lot of adjustment, but everybody was very flexible. Everybody was very understanding and eager and willing to do whatever, because they were excited to let this thing finally be seen,” Johnson said.
“At First Christian, because the church was the background, we had a few set pieces but were able to incorporate everything in the church. At the outdoor theater, we just have a big stage. We’ve done some building and moving and trying to be creative.”
Founded in 2018, Excelsior Arts Academy and Youth Theater offers classes to youth age 8-22 in acting, singing and stage movement. The academy also stages youth theater productions as well as community-wide productions. The academy’s students hail from as far as Fremont to the north, Fort Wayne to the South, Hicksville, Ohio, to the east, and Albion to the west, Johnson said.
Its shows have included “A Christmas Carol,” “Cinderella,” “Pied Piped,” “The Nutcracker” and “Little Red Riding Hood Unplugged.”
The academy switched from a live performance to a taped version of its “Fractured Fairy Tales” production due to COVID-19, which is posted on its YouTube channel.
Cast members of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” are Tucker Payne, Gavin Kling, Maya Sells, Owen Wright, Titus Refner, Grayson Kling, Aubrey Dunn, Aurora Miser-Buhite, Mackenzie Schory, Emma Wolfe, Sally Ann Wiley, Maya Kling, Brooke Culler, Myla Scheumann, Madyson Wilson, Maleigha Kling, Silas Refner, Lennon Cordial, Jama Smith, Becky Wright, David Seiy, Courtney Myers, Cynthia DeCook, Shari Hook, Gail Norton, Thompson Smith and Andrew Hathaway.
“It’s great to be back in action again. I’m really excited about what’s to come yet,” Johnson said.
Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Audience members are encouraged to wear Christmas apparel and help get the community in the Christmas spirit. The gate opens at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Admission is free but donations are gladly accepted.
Those attending are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. The grounds are professionally sprayed for mosquitoes. The event will occur rain or shine.
For more information, visit ExcelsiorArtsAcademy.com or on Facebook at ExcelsiorArts. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is partially sponsored by Specialty Services Security and the Auburn Arts Commission Inc.
EExcelsior to present Christmas in July on July 23, 24 & 25 at the DeKalb Outdoor Theater
Excelsior performed July 2nd for First Friday’s
Performing was – Mackenzie, Tucker, Maya, Owen & Brooke. Pictures show group activity with audience members and Mackenzie performing a monologue.
Excelsior will be holding auditions on Monday, June 7, from 6-7pm at First Christian Church, 910 North Indiana Ave, Auburn. We are looking to fill specific roles for the summer show (Christmas in July), The Best Christmas Pageant Ever! Cuts from the script are available below. Rehearsals are weekdays, 6-8:30pm, July 6 until the shows on July 23-25, at the DeKalb Outdoor Theater.
Roles to fill: 3 boys age 8-122-3 adult women or teenage girls. If you have any questions or need more information, message us through our Facebook page!
Excelsior sings at Memorial Day event
Excelsior gathers with hundreds of others on the courthouse square to honor those who served, are serving or who lost their lives serving our country in the armed forces. Excelsior sang the National Anthem and a medley of armed forces songs. This was a special day for me. My father passed this February and he was one of those whos passing was honored today. He was in the Merchant Marine (a part of the Coast Guard) in WWII from 1944 – 1947.