The minute producer and artistic director Laura Little set foot in Coeur d’Alene, she knew: “Traditions of Christmas” needed to be performed in the area.
Looking to relocate from San Diego, Little and her family visited Coeur d’Alene during Thanksgiving weekend. She loved the parade and fireworks but lamented that there was no Christmas show.
“I thought ‘If we move here, mark my words, one day I’m going to bring that show to Coeur d’Alene,’ ” she said.
It took Little 10 years to save up enough money to put on the Radio City Music Hall-style show, which her daughter took part in in 2001 in San Diego.
The show came to Coeur d’Alene in 2011 and has been performed every year since.
The seventh season of “Traditions of Christmas” opens Friday and runs through Dec. 23.
Rick and Beth Taylor will direct and music direct, respectively, and Brenda Blankenship, Heidy Cartwright and Jonah Taylor have choreographed the show.
Little licensed the show from “Traditions of Christmas” writer Paul Russell, co-founder of Christian Community Theater and Christian Youth Theater.
“He allowed me to flip scenes in and out every year so I could find my own material and put it in and change it up every year,” Little said.
For the most part, “Traditions of Christmas” stays the same each season. The opening number, the main military scene and the Nativity scene, for instance, are “Traditions of Christmas” staples.
The military-related moments, like when the cast represents each branch of the military and asks those who have served to stand, are some of Little’s favorites.
“There are men and women who stand, and they can barely stand. They have to have help but they are not going to not stand for their branch,” she said. “It is the most beautiful thing to watch.”
But from year to year, Little and the creative team take liberties with the smaller pieces in between those bigger acts.
Little looks for material that touches her or makes her laugh, but she finds it difficult to replace scenes because, over the years, audience members become attached to them.
This year, for instance, Little and the team have replaced a beloved piece with a new one. But Little doesn’t want the audience to worry.
“What we’re replacing it with is equally as fun, they just need to see it,” she said. “We’ll bring the other one back in a year or two so they can look forward to seeing it again in a year or two.”
And Little can bet on them returning. It’s what “Traditions of Christmas” audiences have done for years.
Many cast and crew members too have made “Traditions of Christmas” a part of their holiday season, with Little estimating between 35 and 50 percent of the cast and crew are returning to the “Traditions” stage
This year’s production features more than 70 cast members and 20 crew members. There are 13 families involved including six sets of siblings, three married couples and parents singing with their adult children.
Little especially gets a kick out of seeing children return to “Traditions,” having taken dance or voice lessons each year so they can move into bigger parts once the new season rolls around.
Most parts in “Traditions” only require rehearsal once a week, which makes it easier for performers and crew members to come back year after year.
“It becomes a family,” Little said. “You almost are homesick when you’re not there because you want to get back and see the people you’ve worked with all these years and built a relationship with.”
Little is touched that so many people, both on and off stage, have made “Traditions of Christmas” part of their holidays, and that they saw the potential in it just like she did when she first arrived in Coeur d’Alene.
“It brings so much joy to my heart, and it makes the show so much more valuable to me knowing that in 20 years these families will be talking about these experiences that they’ve shared together,” she said. “If you can give people a memory, it’s one of the best gifts you can give somebody.”
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