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Red Octopus Theatre Company gets back in the swim with ‘The Christmas Show’ at the Newport Performing Arts Center

The holiday tradition returns Dec. 17 and 18 after the theater company went dark for nearly two years due to COVID.

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The last time Red Octopus Theatre Company performed on stage at the Newport Performing Arts Center was Christmas of 2019 with its holiday tradition, The Christmas Show. Within months, the theater went dark and stayed that way. You know the story.

But finally, the lights are up again, and you can bet there’s a fair bit of rejoicing going on as Red Octopus performers prepare to take the stage Friday for the first live theater performance in the arts center in nearly two years.

“We’re definitely excited,” said Darcy Lawrence, writer and production coordinator. “The thing is, when we got together in the Zoom meeting to decide whether or not we were going to go forward with The Christmas Show, we were just real low energy. The pandemic knocked us on our you-know-what. But we all agreed we wanted to do it anyway. We felt the community needed it. We needed to get back to this annual tradition. As soon as we started working on it, our energy came back.”

Melissa MacDonald and Darcy Lawrence appear in Red Octopus Theatre Company’s 2018 rendition of “The Christmas Show.”  Photo by: Chris Graamans, courtesy of Red Octopus Theatre Company

This year’s Christmas show – it’s always The Christmas Show, but never the same performance — features “the hilariously heartwarming” The Lutz Radio Theatre Christmas Show (of 1947), based on a play by Alex Golson and the Orange Coast College Repertory Theatre and reimagined by Lawrence. There will be a 10-minute film of last year’s virtual performance, the Newport-themed Twas the Night Before Christmas, and at intermission, emcee Stacy Fischer and a surprise guest will lead the audience in The Twelve Days of Newport.

The two performances, Dec. 17 and 18, are also a benefit, with all proceeds (except the small amount needed to cover production costs) going to the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts Capital Campaign. The council also will host a silent auction in the lobby. And, as is the tradition, Red Octopus is encouraging theater-goers to bring two food donations (no glass or expired, please) to benefit Food Share of Lincoln County and receive a discounted ticket price.

The city-owned Performing Arts Center sat dark for about a year and a half.

The arts council recently crafted a policy designed to keep the audience, artists, staff, and volunteers safe during the pandemic. Steps include mandatory masks for everyone but performers, and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. Buffer seats will separate audience members from others not in their group.

The policies were implemented in September. Since then, the center has hosted the Oregon Coast Symphony and the Oregon Coast Jazz Party. After each, the arts council surveyed the audience for their thoughts on the experience and so far has received positive reviews. 

“We’re really trying to keep it open and getting feedback wherever possible,” said Jason Holland, executive director of the arts council. “We’ve been very pleased with the results.”

The arts council has left the decision to perform up to the resident companies — affectionately known as PAC Rats. Some are ready to take the stage, others aren’t there yet, Holland said.

“We’re continuing to take it one step at a time. When you’ve been dark and closed for so long, you’re not sure what it looks like moving forward. We want to support companies where they are at,” he said. “Once Red O voted to do the Christmas show, we were very pleased they were ready to do it. Suddenly folks get so excited. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re really going to do this.’ There have been so many moments of hope and then disappointment, hope and disappointment, and now it’s like it’s really real.”

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

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