Pit & Balcony Community Theatre Reimagines the Distinctive Seasonal Magic of a Holiday Classic

    icon Nov 26, 2015
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When it comes to the Christmas holiday functioning as an inspirational vehicle for the performing arts, few productions can top It’s a Wonderful Life - the classic Christmas drama produced and directed by the legendary Frank Capra, which was based on the short story The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939 and privately published in 1945.  Indeed, the film is considered one of the most inspirational and best loved movies in American cinema.

Released in 1946, this tale about George Bailey – a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his Guardian Angel Clarence, who who takes George upon a journey showing him all the lives he has touched; and how differently life would have been in his community had he not been born -  truly crystallizes all the important elements that tend to surface during this time of the season.

As Pit & Balcony Community Theatre embarks upon their own production of It’s a Wonderful Life, which will run from December 4-6 and 11-13th, Director Jessica McFarland is keen on emphasizing the deep contrasts embedded within the script of It’s a Wonderful Life, which she feels contributes to its dramatic stature.

“As a story, people forget how tragic a large part of it truly is,” she reflects.  “Set against the background of the 1940s, a lot of big events were happening then, such as the rise of fascism and World War II; and there is a lot of darkness underlying all the action that takes place in the play. I am really interested in that darkness as a sub-text, not because because this is a nihilistic story by any means – on the contrary, it is very uplifting. But people tend to forget about the contrasts.  Many of us spend all our lives doing the right think and trying to make a difference, but we never really know if we truly have or not, so really this question frames the entire production.”

Because this is one of the most beloved holiday classics, right up there with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, as a director how is Jessica going about the process of breathing fresh life into this well-known tale in order to engage audiences already familiar with this well-established work?   “One of the things I like to do is go right back directly to the script,” she states. “I don’t like to watch movie versions or absorb information from other sources, but prefer to cut away all the things we know and start with the bare-bones of the piece, by looking at the story with fresh eyes.”

Towards that goal, Jessica says that getting the right cast together is of upmost importance. “Getting the character of George down is pivotal, because he’s on stage for the entire play. Towards that goal, we were fortunate to get Chad William Baker to play the role of George Bailey, fresh from his recent stint in Hairspray, where he got rave reviews as Edna Turnblad.  Plus, in this production, I’ve cast Clarence as a woman, who will be portrayed by Diamond Magee, which is another element that changes the dynamic of the production. Our entire cast is fantastic, with Michelle Mersy playing Mary Hatch, Kevin Kendrick as Mr. Potter, and William Kircher as Uncle Billy, to name but a few.”

Because thematically there are so many different elements revolving around loss, despair, hope, and redemption running throughout the play, what does Jessica feels distinguishes it most in terms of its highly regarded status in the ranks of American theatre?

“I think its that core them of self-sacrifice,” she reflects. “George is given so many options and sees all the places where he went back and all the things he was capable of doing; but then the Great Depression hits and the banks crash, so his attentions get diverted. Yet he is the only character consistently trying to do the right thing. That’s a big theme, along with the theme of community. If we don’t have people who sacrifice for each other, where are we really? Nowadays you see a lot of young people leaving our community for other places, but those of us who end up staying need to band together and look out for one another – especially for those working to improve our community.”

In addition to elaborate stage settings, audiences also will be able to absorb a myriad of detailed costuming approaches, which Jessica is handling along costume team members Logan LaBrake and Hadley Wells. “I’ve been involved with the theatre since the age of nine,” explains Jessica, “and also was a singer in high school that got drawn into theatrical musicals because there were no other places for me to sing. But mainly, I like collaborating with talented people to see where all the pieces finally fit.”

Jessica has directed seven other productions and actually co-founded her own theatrical company at Bullock Creek High School. “We did Into the Woods and Little Shop of Horrors with my brother, as one of those foolhardy kinds of endeavors, and it was great,” she enthuses. “We received a lot of support from seasoned actors in the area, plus I’ve also directed for the Midland Center for the Arts Peanut Theatre and Bay City Players Youth theatre, so I have a lot of experience working with younger actors.”

“My generation tends to get ignored in the theatre, I think,” notes Jessica. “I see young children and older adults with time on their hands coming into the theatre, so I think its important to foster older kids from my generation, so as they get older they will have the experience to take over many of the numerous jobs and tasks involved with making a quality theatrical production.  But mainly, my big focus is that I like working with people who enjoy acting and want to get involved within their community to build relationships.”

Pit & Balcony’s production of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ will run from Dec. 4-6 and 11-13th. Adapted by James W. Rodgers and based on the film by Frank Capra. Tickets are only $20.00 and Friday & Saturday performances begin at 7:30 PM. Sunday matinees are at 3:00 PM.  Tickets are available by going to





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