Unwrap a unique gift from WICA for the holidays

— Created December 7, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Whidbey Island Center for the Arts has teamed up with Wellington Day School for an early gift to the community this holiday season.

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas – 1776” opens Friday at WICA in Langley and runs through Dec. 18. Showtimes Friday and Saturday are at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday performances are at 2 p.m.

The play was written by Elizabeth Itaya, owner of Wellington Day School, with music by Joseph Itaya. Robert Hall is directing this local, all-ages cast that showcases Wellington students. Musical director is Talia Marcus.

WICA has had a long-running collaboration with Wellington Day School, but this is one of their most extensive efforts.

“WICA has not collaborated to this level with the Wellington Day School before, though we have a long history with Elizabeth Itaya, the school’s owner and playwright of this piece,” said Deana Duncan, WICA’s executive artistic director, who explained this show was originally slated to be performed in 2021, but COVID restrictions and policies forced its cancellation.

“I felt a great deal of responsibility to honor our promise this year and WICA is thrilled to support this local school’s holiday production,” said Duncan. “The Wellington Day School children are pouring their hearts and talent into the show and they are a joy to watch! Surrounding their work is a full cast of local adults – some WICA regulars but many newcomers to our stage. There are moments of joy and kindness and deep humanity.”

This seasonal treat is a unique musical that explores the origins of America’s Santa Claus through the classic holiday poem, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but with a historical twist.

“The show is based on the poem, ‘’Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ the time in which it was written and the origin of the Santa Claus myth.” said director Robert Hall. “It includes a subplot about Washington and his soldiers crossing the Delaware and within that, two young lovers.”

“This is a world premiere story and music, this isn’t something audiences have seen before,” said Duncan. “There are parts that feel familiar – we all know the poem, ‘’Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ and we think we know this moment in history in 1776, but we haven’t seen it presented with a deepening of the human story.

“In rehearsals, I’ve laughed, cried, clapped my hands in joy and also been presented with moments that require deep reflection,” she continued. “Our American history is complicated and there are elements of our founding colonies in 1776 that are difficult to admit. I think audiences will appreciate the deepening of themes around history even in the midst of a family holiday musical.”

The cast of this show is large – approximately 40 people, with some actors as young as 6.  Hall said everyone is having fun and is bound to share their enjoyment with audiences.

“It’s a play that has a vintage feel,” he said. “Old school Christmas. It is heartwarming and at times, funny mixed with love. I think they’ll feel the spirit of Christmas and pass that on to everyone who sees it.

“I love the kids,” Hall continued. “I am continually surprised by the little ones. The music is very good. And we have some very good actors. We have some families involved too, and I love to see families take the time to do something like this, where the whole family is involved.” 

Theater, at any age, can be a transformative experience and this production is no exception.

 “There isn’t anyone in the cast that I haven’t seen bloom in one way or another,” Hall said. “Everyone has! It’s part of what I like about the process. It’s a growth opportunity. We create community here. We come together in a common goal. We develop vulnerability in a safe environment. Trust. It’s okay to be yourself here. I still say that there is nothing that isn’t developmental about this process, if its healthy. And by healthy, I mean – caring, good communication, people are listened to, it’s fun, it’s safe enough for real vulnerability – that sort of thing.”

“The arts ignite curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and connection to place and community,” said Duncan. “The arts can be a platform for young people to amplify their voices on issues they feel impacted by. Something I’m witnessing with this cast and creative team through the Wellington Day School is that the parents are so involved and the kids are so well loved by their families and the school, it’s just really held as a school project that brings them together. It’s lovely to witness.”

Wellington Day School is a privately run school in Langley, serving children in preschool through eighth grade. Learn more about it at wellington.school.

Tickets for “’Twas the Night Before Christmas – 1776” are available online at wicaonline.org, as well as information about some of WICA’s other upcoming holiday programming.

“WICA is decorated to welcome the community for a holiday treat,” said Duncan. “There is a hot cocoa “bar” for the youth, the festive piano room is open preshow and at intermission and we have a 17-foot live Christmas Tree in Zech Hall – it’s beautiful!”

“This is an original production,” Hall encouraged. “It was written by a local teacher. It has never been seen before. This audience here in Langley will be the first audience to ever see it. And that’s kind of exciting.”