Every Christmas, cable network TBS airs 24 hours of “A Christmas Story,” the beloved tale of Ralphie Parker and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun. The movie is a holiday fest for all kids of a certain age.
This holiday season, that tradition is starting a little early — up close and personal. Beginning Nov. 18, Western Washington Center for the Arts (WWCA) in Port Orchard is presenting “A Christmas Story” this holiday season show.
“We normally run a musical in this slot, but I really wanted to do this show,” show director Soozie Hummel said. “The story is the same as the movie. There are two versions (for stage), and we’re doing the non-musical version.”
Even though the theater is small, with room for just 79 audience members, the team at WWCA got creative with show sets and props to make sure every important and memorable moment from the classic story is accounted for.
“We have everything — the snowball fight, Flick getting his tongue stuck to the pole, the Red Ryder BB gun,” Hummel said. “We actually have the actual gun, box and everything.”
One of the actors in the show bought the infamous toy for his son several years ago and offered to supply it to the show. And although the storyline centers around they boy’s prized possession, one can argue that the most important story line involves “The Old Man” (Mr. Parker), who gets the leg lamp as his “major award.”
And WWCA has that important show prop.
“If you buy a leg lamp online, it’s $220,” Hummel said. “Our set designer, Tina Henley-Hicks, said, ‘I could build one.’”
So they got to work. Hummel ordered mannequin legs online, and they made four trips to Goodwill to get the right lamp shade, parts and shoe.
“I walked into Goodwill carrying a mannequin leg to try on shoes and asked, ‘Can I bring this in?’” Hummel said. “So we were able to make our own leg lamp for probably $75.”
With the small space the theater has for its sets, Hummel and Henley-Hicks were able to get creative. They created the Parker’s living room, the classroom, the mall where the boys meet Santa (equipped with his silver slide), the Parker’s car and several outside settings to provide a striking visual setting.
“We did the sets very small,” Hummel said. “Nothing flies, and it’s a different shaped stage. We wanted simple so there weren’t long scene changes.”
To save time, keep the audience engaged and not sitting in darkness while sets were rearranged, Hummel had everything interchangeable with 20-30 second switches.
“We wanted things to move,” she said.
And that was no easy feat, seeing as they had about two weeks to get the staging set up to start rehearsals. While auditions for “A Christmas Story” began in August, because WWCA ran the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” production through October, it prevented the sets from being set up until the first of November.
“We had two weeks of scrambling,” Hummel said, “but it turned out wonderful and everyone pitches in.”
While sets were being built, rehearsals had to take place. Originally, he cast only met on weekends to accommodate the younger cast members busy schedules.
“They have homework, soccer, swimming and a million other things,” Hummel said. “It seemed to work because the kids were all experienced (actors), but this week we went every night.”
Hummel has her hand in every aspect of the play. From casting to sets, transitions to the authenticity of props, she wants the show to be as authentic to the beloved movie as possible.
Having moved to Port Orchard from Pennsylvania 10 years ago, she became a part of WWCA and has worked on 35 different productions, at last count.
“Sometimes I work on two or three at a time,” she said. “It’s not always acting or directing, sometimes it’s the box office. But if there’s a show I can cast myself in, I’ll audition.”
They recently completed auditions for Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” to be presented this winter, and Hummel will be playing the lion.
“I like to be involved any way I can, so I do a bit of everything,” she said.
Although this time around she will be behind the scenes instead of on the stage, Hummel said she couldn’t have asked for a better cast.
“All the kids had acting experience, they all did some of our summer workshops,” the director said.
The lead actor playing Ralphie has been involved with WWCA for a few years. He played Mushu the Dragon in the playhouse’s production of “Mulan” over the summer.
“Kody is perfect,” Hummel said. “When you see him, he reminds you of Ralphie. He has great energy.”
There are several other young cast members from the Port Orchard area in the show. In fact, there is a family in the play, as well.
Ronni Wolfe and her two sons, Tyson and Colin, play Mrs. Parker, Randy Parker and the bully Scut Farkas, respectfully.
In addition, Michael Schmidt is playing the role of “The Old Man,” and newcomer Greg Heilman will play several small roles.
Heilman’s son Quinn was auditioning when he asked his dad to also read for a part.
“He wasn’t sure, but I told him I needed a bad Santa, and that seemed to pique his interest,” Hummel said. “He had no acting experience at all, but he is wonderful. He’s caught the theater bug and will be in Midsummer’s with us.”
To round out the cast, Kitsap theater veteran Eric Richarsdson plays the important role of the narrator.
“With him it was, ‘Here’s the script. Memorize the whole thing,’” Hummel said.
“It’s such a big part. You feel like he’s telling the story to you. He sucks you in.”
Hummel describes the cast and everyone at WWCA as one big family. When she moved here, she didn’t know anyone in the area, but quickly found home at the theater.
“I’m old enough to be some of these actors’ great-grandma, but the young kids don’t treat me any different than anyone else,” she said.
“It’s a nice family atmosphere.”
“A Christmas Story” opens Nov. 18 and will run through Dec. 18, with shows every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday shows start at 5 p.m., except for the final showing at 3 p.m. on Dec. 18.
“It’s a fun show, a kids show,” Hummel said. “Everyone knows the movie. It’s a familiar story. And it’s going to be really fun.”