Project Roles: Writer / Composer
Location: Chicago / Kansas City
A show I co-wrote that premiered last year at The Living Room Theatre is has returned for an all new run!
It’s a musical comedy called Milking Christmas which I created originally with my frequent collaborators Brian Huther, Seth Macchi, and Ryan McCall. You can read more background on that in my post from last year.
It was a hit in 2017. The run became The Living Room’s highest selling show on record in their 8 year history. The reviews were good, the cast was having fun, and despite my own misgivings about a few script elements that still, to me, felt half-baked, audiences by and large were eating it up. I think we decided more or less right away to do it again next year, though we didn’t get down to brass tacks until months later.
So, why do this again? It may seem like the answer to that is pretty simple; it sold well. It’ll probably sell well again. Cheers to selling things! But the truth is, that barely factors in - at least in the short term. Yes, big adventury holiday musical comedies are the types of things that have a wide draw, but they’re also expensive to produce. And The Living Room isn’t some big for-profit joint. They are, as the wonderful playwright John Kolvenbach once called them, “theatre pirates.” The money that gets made in a place like this goes to keeping the ship afloat, not padding anybody’s pocket. Most of that money doesn’t even come from sales, it comes from grants and donations from folks who just wanna keep good theatre in their community. Maybe - hopefully - in the next few years, we can get some more regional theatres interested in this piece and start selling the rights. For now though, substantial profit is out of reach, and that’s totally fine.
Because the main reason we decided to give this another go is easy: we like it.
When we laid it out last year, our goal was “make something good enough that we’re interested in revisiting it.” That being accomplished, our goal this year was “make the show more complete.” The 2017 version ran about 85 minutes with no intermission. This year we set out to create a more standard ~2 hour, 1 intermission experience, with more fleshed out character arcs where needed, more exploration of the world, and better communication of the themes and messages.
Missing from the mix this go-around was our co-writer Seth. Seth has spent most of 2018 on hiatus from theatre work, so he gave us his blessing and joined for a couple of phone meetings but had to mostly bow out. We missed his off-the-wall concepts and how-the-hell-did-you-think-of-that contributions. But we did have the advantage of starting from a solid base rather than from scratch this time, which helped compensate a bit.
The revision process was a little more harried and extensive than we’d anticipated. Scenes were cut, story threads were replaced, the ending was reworked about a dozen times, songs were added, then one was removed again, and by about two weeks from opening, we realized the damn thing was just too long and it was time for some brutal edits.
We worked mostly from Chicago, spending a few days in KC at the theatre to sit in on rehearsals and sort out the types of music questions that you just can’t manage on google docs.
This rehearsal process - like so many do - had plenty of challenges. In addition to the standard new work issue of constantly making adjustments, there were things like good ol’ winter illness, rehearsals cut short for bad weather, and a death in the KC theatre community that left many shaken.
In the end, despite it all, this incredible group of people pulled it off. I knew they would, because they’re amazing, and because they’re the type who will sacrifice just about everything - including sleep - for a project they care about. I wasn’t in the room most of the time, but every moment I was, I saw joy and fun on the faces of these beautiful artists despite whatever obstacles that day has brought.
The two-act version of Milking Christmas opened December 7th, 2018. The first weekend saw large crowds, great energy, and positive reviews. I’m so, so proud to and floored to get yet another opportunity to collaborate with this incredible crew. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come give this show a chance. It runs all the way through December 6th!
Directed by Missy Koonce & Rusty Sneary
Musical Direction by Ryan McCall
Accompanist Jeremy Watson
Starring Elise Poehling, Bob Linebarger, Ellen Kirk, Mike Ott, Nellie Maple, Hollis Wilhoit, Pancho Javier, Enjoli Gavin, Maragret Veglahn, Haddy Wilczewski, and Eli Black.
Shawnna Journagan - Scenic Artist / Prop Designer
Technical Director - Kyle Dyck
Lacey Pacheco - Stage Manager
Emma Dodge - Assistant Stage Manager
Alisa Lynn - Production Assistant
Nicole Jaja - Lighting Design
David Kiehl - Sound Design
Nancy Robinson - Costume Design
Regina Weller - Scenic Artist
Emma Carter - House Manager