With ‘Deck the Halls,’ Florida Studio Theatre celebrates the holiday season — Florida style.
For Floridians, it can be tough to relate to a lot of the things that get people in the holiday spirit.
Dashing through the snow, evenings by the fire and the sound of sleigh bells don’t exactly hit home when the average temperature is in the 70s.
When Florida Studio Theatre actor, playwright, teaching artist and Write-A-Play Program Coordinator Patrick A. Jackson and Director of Children’s Theater Caroline Kaiser teamed up to develop the theater’s holiday production, “Deck The Halls,” they wanted to offer local families a show that reflected the season as Floridians know it.
“The classics, like ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ are great,” says Jackson. “But we wanted something new and specific to what the holidays are like in Florida. It’s important for kids and families here to feel proud of where they’re from and to see something that reflects their experiences.”
They came up with “Deck the Halls.” The variety-show-style performance, which is part of FST’s new children’s theater series, features song, dance, jokes and sketches — even some improv — all with a local focus.
Being a variety show, the production doesn’t have a narrative arc. Rather, it follows a group of elves, Jingle and Jangle, who, along with their friends, Louie, Pickles and Pepper, are debuting their traveling show in Sarasota.
“Deck the Halls” features both Hanukkah and Christmas themes, using fan-favorite holiday songs with the lyrics modified to relate to Florida and Sarasota. The elves are dressed not in North Pole-garb, but in their beach-day best, and improv elements and sing-alongs encourage attendees to participate in the fun.
Director Jason Cannon says the show has come with a particular set of challenges.
“The inspiration is based in those classic Dean Martin-style shows,” says Cannon. “It’s a very particular style of storytelling. It’s presentational, as opposed to plot-based, but it’s still honest. These elves have to really believe in the holidays. When young actors are dealing with honesty or truth in a scene, they’re not usually dressed as an elf, attempting to appeal to both children and adults.”
Cannon has worked with the actors, who are professional trainees at Florida Studio Theatre, to strike the right balance in their appeal. The idea is to entertain the children while offering a more sophisticated layer for the adults.
“You want there to be something for everyone,” says Cannon. “But it’s not about talking down to the children or patronizing them. They’re some of the smartest, most attentive audience members you can ask for. So when the elves do a play on ‘Tradition,’ from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ the children won’t get the reference like the adults might, but they’ll be just as invested.”
For Jackson, the show marks the first that he’s co-written to be produced on a professional stage. But beyond that milestone, he says “Deck the Halls” is about reminding families what the holiday season is really about — wherever you live.
“That’s what this time of year is for,” he says. “You’re approaching a new year and reflecting on the last 12 months. It’s about being thankful and happy to go into the next year with your loved ones, whether you’re on the beach or in giant, sleeting snowstorm.”