The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton, Virginia, will launch its holiday season of theater on December 4. One of the plays is called Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!), a fast-paced comedy that packs every Christmas story into an hour-and-a-half show. I spoke with actress Meg Rodgers to learn more about the play and her time so far with the ASC.
How different is it to do a modern play on this Shakespearean stage?
This is my first season and it’s about to be my second for the Christmas one. I also got to experience Jane Austen, next the Shakespeare plays, and a restoration play. Doing this one is much more modern. I guess I’ve gotten the full range of what it’s like to work on this stage.
It’s a lot easier, I think, to do a modern play on that stage, which might sound a little weird. Everyone is within reach and we can all see each other. It’s also a lot easier to play off of people with a modern play because we’re all speaking the same language.
Pulling in your prior acting experience in Houston, Texas, what’s been your favorite Shakespearean role to perform so far?
I would say my favorite role was working on Elizabeth in Richard III in Houston. It’s a very strong female role. There’s a moment in Richard III where there’s just the three women on the stage. Those three women come together, despite their differences, to take down Richard. I think it’s such a powerful feeling to get to do that. I really enjoyed working on that play.
As someone new to the ASC, what struck you about the staging conditions and made it exciting to work on productions this summer/fall season?
I think the most exciting thing for me is the ensemble of actors. We’re all so in sync with each other because we work on all of these shows. If we’re not doing shows, we are working on rehearsals. We’re usually in the same building. I’ve gotten very close to them and I really love the company.
I also really like the feeling of having the lights on because I’ve never worked in a theater like that. It’s always been “what’s on the stage is your world.” Your awareness becomes so much bigger. You have to be aware of the entire space and that you’re sharing with everybody there, not just the other actors. You can see everyone’s expressions and how they are reacting at the moment.
It’s different every time because the audience is different every time. I think that’s really cool and I like it a lot.
Is it challenging for you to work on a repertory schedule, putting on several shows in the same season?
Right now, we are still in rep with our summer/fall. We’re doing four plays: As You Like It, Emma, Richard III, and The Man of Mode. In between all those plays, we are now in tech for the Christmas show! Our schedule is quite hectic at the moment (laughs).
It’s actually not very difficult as an actor. You learn to separate the worlds. When you’re working on something, you’re in this show now. Now it’s over, I need to change my mindset and it’s completely different. I think it keeps it exciting, since you’re not doing the same show over and over again. You get to do something else in the afternoon and then in the evening, you get to learn how to do Christmas shows.
I can see there are over 30 characters in Every Christmas Story. Which skills did you three actors need to bring to pull this off successfully?
(laughs) Well, we are playing everything from Rudolph to the Grinch. There’s A Christmas Carol and [It’s a] Wonderful Life. We’re constantly running on and off stage with a different prop or a different hat. There are so many hats! We leave everything on the stage and run on and off as we switch to different characters. You can see the pile grow of everything we’ve done.
We are trying for each character to embody a different physicality or change our voice in some way that is recognizable to audience members. Everyone knows these Christmas stories. All it takes is one little physical thing to get someone to go, “Oh, I see what they’re doing!”
Do you have a favorite Christmas story?
I really love Wonderful Life. I’m like in love with Jimmy Stewart now, after working on this show. I love watching that movie and eating all the pie. (laughs)
What’s it been like getting to work on Every Christmas Story with your co-stars Benjamin Reed and Chris Johnston?
I’ve gotten a lot closer with them since this started. They did this show last year. It’s been cool that they already have an idea of what works best and how to make everything run smoothly. It’s little things like, “Hey, if you hand me this hat here backstage, you can get on in time to go do this.”
With that, it’s still a lot different because I’m a different actor than [René Thornton Jr.] who did it last year. He’s a man and I am a woman, [which] kind of changes the dynamic of everything. Their characters kind of gang up on my character. It’s like a competition for them to see who can make me break. They just mess with me the whole time and they are very funny guys. I really enjoy working with them. I respect them a lot.
I want to save some surprises for the audiences, but are there any other teasers you can give us about the play?
We do our own music. We’re going to have every Christmas song you’ve ever heard in one song. We’ll have a table of bells that we’ll eventually make music out of. It’s just the three of us playing all the music. We have quite a bit of instruments happening. It’s a really fun time. There’s a bit of a warning that if you’re bringing kids to be aware that there is a Santa Claus talk. It’s suggested that he’s not real, but then we come to an agreement that he must be real.
Good news for the kids. Well, it’s time to wrap up things here. I’ve visited the ASC a few times over the years, so I’m glad you’ve been enjoying your first season there.