Television has been around long enough that bona fide traditions have emerged, particularly around the holidays. The annual watching of films and TV specials like It's a Wonderful Life to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or How the Grinch Stole Christmas is part of many families' holiday traditions.
For the first time ever, the Lexington Children's Theatre is bringing a staged adaptation of the televised family favorite A Charlie Brown Christmas to the Opera House for its annual holiday Discovery production. Discovery productions are designed to put the spotlight on young actors (and sometimes, their parents) rather than LCT's professional actors.
"We've never done A Charlie Brown Christmas before," says Vivian Snipes, who directs the play and also serves as LCT's artistic director.
Snipes says the play is faithful to the plot of the television show, but since the show was based on Charles Schultz' comic strip style, staging it required some innovative thinking.
"The trickiest thing was how to stage the transitions," says Snipes.
"In a comic strip, or even on television, the scene can just end and a new location appears. One minute you're at the skating rink and the frame can just end and suddenly you're at Snoopy's Dog house. You can't really do that on stage" says Snipes, who adjusted for this challenge by sliding sets to pay homage to the comic strip while allowing organic movement on stage.
Snipes also uses the magic of theater to create the play's ice-skating scenes. Since placing a real ice rink on the Opera House stage is not a realistic option, costumers created faux "blades" that fit over roller skates, which the cast wear in lieu of real ice skates.
"We're still practicing, and some of our cast members had never roller skated at all, but we're having a lot of fun with it," says Snipes, who is trying to capture the familiar comfort of the Peanuts world while bringing a few surprises to the stage.
Cavan Hendron was one of the kids who didn't know how to skate but was happy to learn.
"I'm really starting to get the hang of it," says Hendron, who is also getting the hang of his first title role playing Charlie Brown.
"This is definitely a dream role for me," says Hendron, a dedicated Peanuts fan who went so far as to make a Lego replica of Snoopy typing on top of his dog house for the show.
Hendron is a terrific example of LCT fulfilling its mission to create imaginative, compelling theater experiences of young people and families.
Hendron got involved with LCT when he was 7 years old, taking classes and eventually joining LCT's educational youth companies, joining its Junior Company as a middle schooler and earning a place in Company B, LCT's rigorous training program of high school students. LCT has been such a big part of Hendron's life that in addition to his Lego Snoopy creation, he also built a Lego reproduction of the Lexington Children's Theatre itself, complete with staff offices and staff members
"I've had the opportunity to do so much here," says Hendron, who cites the opportunity to master back stage roles, such as assistant stage managing, as a vital part of his theater education.
"When you're behind the scenes, you get a larger sense of everything that goes on to make a show "work," says Hendron, "but when you're onstage acting, it's just you and the rest of the cast."
Hendron says that although he likes working backstage, he's probably happiest on stage.
"I still get butterflies before I perform," says Hendron, "but once I walk onstage, all of that goes away."
Hendron also says he likes playing Charlie Brown because he is an enduring character that most young people can relate to.
"Despite all the 'Good Griefs,' Charlie Brown is kind of this eternal optimist," says Hendron. "He's just a really good guy and really loyal to his friends and will always stand up for what he believes in."