There may be no better showcase of the wonder, chaos, and downright absurdity of the holiday season than the iconic Warner Bros. movie A Christmas Story.
The 1983 flick is on TV everywhere during the holiday season (the frequency of which is rivaled only by It’s a Wonderful Life and The Twilight Zone).
So it only makes sense, according to SLO Repertory Theatre Managing Artistic Director Kevin Harris, that the theatrical production of A Christmas Story is one of the most popular and beloved shows the theater company puts on.
“Most of the people that come and see the play know the lines by heart because they are just so familiar with all of the scenes,” Harris said. “When you are that familiar with the movie version, seeing it performed live in front of you is an amazing experience.”
A Christmas Story starts its run on Nov. 17 where it will be performed Wednesday through Sunday at 7 p.m. with a bonus showing on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. (showings on Thanksgiving or Dec. 1).
“For a lot of people, this is their first time seeing a SLO Rep production so the show sticks with them,” Harris said. “A lot of people bring in their kids or even grandkids because it’s fun for everyone at all ages.”
The production is more than just a celebration of a holiday classic, according to Harris, who told the Sun that it’s also the 10th anniversary of the show for SLO Rep.
“As far as I know, no one had really done it at the time we started back in 2013,” Harris said. “The play version of the movie had been adapted before we put on the production [by Philip Grecian], but when we had the opportunity to do it we jumped at it the first chance we had.”
Part of the reason Harris felt so strongly about putting on the play then and now was due to a couple of unique factors that SLO Rep has going for it.
“We knew almost immediately that it would work well in the smaller space that we had and that because of the nature of the movie, we could utilize the younger actors who took part in our Academy of Creative Theatre Program,” he said. “And the response we got was just off the charts, I mean it really took us by surprise.”
He said that in that first production—and the current production—the stage was designed to fit all the scenes from the movie, including the main family living room, the snowy outdoors, the store that main character Ralphie eagerly wants a Red Ryder BB Gun from, and more.
“Seeing all of the scenes in front of you is such a unique experience because the stage is shifting and sliding for the number of scenes that take place,” Harris said laughing. “This year our tech director utilized that sort of black box theater space we have while also making different levels to accommodate for each of the scenes.”
Harris said he’s seen families come back year after year for the production, making A Christmas Story just as much a staple performance of the local holidays as its movie counterpart.
“It’s why we are starting the run two weeks earlier than we normally do,” he said. “We want to give people the chance to see it and start the tradition for themselves.”
But that tradition also extends past the audience, as Harris said the cast changes every year, and a new iteration of the play follows.
“It’s unlike any other production we do. Every year it evolves in some way with a new cast and alternate takes,” he said. “I give a speech at the start of every year’s rehearsal, and I tell them how it’s such a treat to see how the story resonates with the year’s particular actors.”
Harris said the production is a sort of homecoming for previous actors and stage designers as SLO Rep often gathers together before and during the run to celebrate the legacy of the show.
“We have worked with over 80 young actors in these productions and almost all of them come back at some point during the run,” he said. “Now a lot of those actors are in their mid- or late-20s—some of them even have kids themselves—so we usually try to get the whole big family together for a potluck.”
Whether you are a longtime enthusiast of the classic film, or (somehow) have never seen the original, SLO Rep’s A Christmas Story is something Harris hopes will become part of people’s family traditions for years to come.
“If you have a bunch of family coming into town to visit or you just want to see one of the productions we are most proud of, this is the one to see,” Harris said. “It’s just a great chance to get out of the house, see the lights they put up across downtown, and enjoy a new—or old—holiday tradition.”
New Times Staff Writer Adrian Vincent Rosas, from the Sun’s sister paper, is laughing at that damn lamp scene again. Reach him at [email protected].