What do musical theatre, kids, and pizza have to do with plotting a novel about Christmas?
For decades now, I’ve worked in theatrical costuming, mostly as a dresser for Seattle venues like the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle Opera, and Pacific Northwest Ballet. One of my favorite jobs has always been working December shows at the 5th Avenue because downtown Seattle at Christmastime is something kind of magical.
Back in 2013, I got to dress the Fagin’s boys in the 5th Ave’s production of “Oliver!”. Because nothing says Christmas like starving orphans, the kids were invited to sing as part of the big show that precedes the lighting of the downtown Christmas tree. I should say “used to precede,” but I’m getting to that.
Because the kids were in costume, the dressers got to go as part of the adult “kid wrangling” crew, and it was a highlight of the production for me. Not just because the kids were great and I loved going with them, but because it felt so special getting to be a part of that scene up close.
In the picture above, if you look to the right of the tree you can see how they made the food court balcony of the Westlake Center into a stage. The crowd gathered around the tree and looked up to watch the entertainment in anticipation of the switch being flipped. It was a perfect set-up. A section of the food court was curtained off as a backstage/VIP party space. Since we were with the kids, we actually got to stand out on the balcony, off to the side, during their performance. The kids brought a ton of enthusiasm and Christmas spirit, and the whole experience was pure magic.
Then we went back to the theatre to have pizza before getting ready for that night’s show.
When I started to plan the plot for my Christmas novella, which I had set in downtown Seattle, I couldn’t stop thinking about how to incorporate the tree lighting into it. Somehow, my characters had to finagle some VIP passes so they could go backstage.
Sadly, this special Seattle experience is currently a thing of the past. Its organizers say that the cancellation has nothing to do with the group of protesters who cast a pall over the event in 2014, or the fact that moving the stage down to ground level in 2015 stripped it of about two-thirds of its specialness. They say that they replaced the live performance with piped-in music in order to free up funds for other holiday events, and that might be the case. At any rate, my memory of the experience is extra special to me because it very likely won’t be one that I get to repeat.
So, if you’d like your own backstage pass to this special show, you’ll have to read CHRISTMAS BELLS ARE RINGING, because as it turns out, that’s the only chance you’re going to get. If you read the book, I hope you enjoy this little piece of Seattle Christmastime history.