From Christmas Survival Guide cast-member Carmen Vreeman:
I grew up in the Chicago area and am the youngest of six kids. Christmas was always a very special time for my family, with feelings and traditions that no other holiday brings. Here are just a few of the traditions and favorite memories of Christmas that I grew up with:
~Buying the Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving
~Decorating the tree on a lovely evening: dim lights, old (sometimes falling apart) ornaments, hot chocolate, cheesy music (the Oakridge Boys), singing carols a capella by candlelight, and dancing.
~All 8 of us (parents included) piling into the old Ford van to go shopping for each other in Michigan late one night, which culminated in breakfast sometime between 3 and 5 am at a restaurant where the waitress remembered us each year.
~Christmas caroling at nearby nursing homes
~Taking trips downtown Chicago to see the lights and decorations
~Opening presents late on Christmas Eve night after a church service, wishing “Merry Christmas” right as the clock struck 12.
~Waking up on Christmas morning to the smell of homemade cinnamon roles and opening the stockings above the fireplace in the basement
~Knowing that we were all together
It’s certainly accurate to say that I do love all those Christmas clichés. When I think of Christmas, I reminisce about my childhood holidays in Chicago. But it wasn’t long before most of my siblings moved out, got married, and started new lives. Another change happened when I was 12 and we moved away from Chicago. Since then, I have spent Christmas seasons in New Mexico, Washington, L.A and Colorado. Sometimes I feel like nothing will ever beat my perfect childhood Christmases. I’m sure many can relate.
Last year at Christmas time, I was filling out college applications, preparing for auditions for schools, and dreaming about being away at a university somewhere east of the Mississippi for the start of the season and coming home for Christmas. But the year brought disappointment and a major change in plans, and obviously I am not away at college. In these months following graduation, I have struggled to dream and keep my goals alive. (And I think every artist can attest that when you’re not dreaming, you’re not thriving.) Then, miraculously- this show: a reason and spark to dream again. When I was offered a role in Christmas Survival Guide, I was ecstatic and terrified. Knowing that I would get to do my favorite thing in the world (performing, and not just another typical Christmas show) around my favorite holiday brought me goosebumps of joy. Yet, I knew a great challenge was before me. As one of the youngest in the cast, I worried about not having as much to give. But my fellow actors and friends have embraced me, quite literally, in affirmation of my gifts (some that I don’t get to use very often; for example, pointe) That’s not to say it hasn’t kicked my you-know-what. I think it’s fair to say that we all have been challenged, but for the best and so much fun. Being a part of this company and production has blessed me beyond belief. I can’t thank Michael and everyone involved enough for this opportunity.
This show: its content and the people I have been so privileged to work with have brought hope back. I’ve started dreaming again. As I’ve become more familiar with the meaning and characters within Christmas Survival Guide, I have become more aware of the fact that I am not the only who sometimes stops dreaming, or feels stuck where they are, or even dreads the holiday season because they know it won’t be what they expected. Some of my Christmases, like so many others’, have been dampened by many different elements: broken relationships, financial struggle, deferred dreams. And while we actors portray certain individuals in different circumstances, they represent thousands of journeys and feelings toward the Christmas season. I think everyone in the audience will see themselves in the characters on stage, comedic or dramatic. That’s part of the beauty of theatre: there is always some truth (and heart) even in the comedy and drama. It’s particularly poignant in this show.
Christmas happens in the middle of dreams and disappointments. It can also be a cause for both. My hope and prayer is that you will come to this show and participate from where you are in your journey- dreaming or dreading- and find the hope that Christmas can offer in the midst of the frantic rush of life… Hold on. Dream again and keep dreaming. Wait and hope with us. Christmas is coming. And it just might be the best one ever.
P.S. A more detailed note about the process of the show: Tonight, Michael took 2 turns OUT of a number! What is the world coming to?! Thanks for the extra oxygen, Michael.