C.S. Lewis hamming it up with 'A Tuna Christmas'
BY SETH GORDON
Newberg Graphic reporter
In taking over for friend Amberly Orr as theater director at C.S. Lewis Academy, Tiffany Rousseau was looking for something simple for her first production to help make for a smooth transition.
While "A Tuna Christmas" certainly has a straight forward plot, over-the-top characters and minimal production requirements, it also has 22 characters, all of which were played by just two actors in the original production.
C.S. Lewis will split those roles between four actors — seniors Meghan Cammack, Anna Virginia Millage and Thomas Millage, as well as freshman Hannah Galambos — for its upcoming production, which has been equal parts hectic and energizing for the performers.
"It's been extremely fun," Cammack said. "I have enjoyed having so many different aspects. It's kind of been like eating only certain parts of an Oreo. You get to enjoy those individual pieces as well as the whole."
The play is both an homage to and a roast of small-town southern life in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas (the third smallest in the state!) where each year the local radio station throws a lawn display contest.
Each of the town's colorful characters have their own holiday aspirations and the mystery of the "Christmas Phantom," who has been vandalizing the displays for year, hangs over the town.
"It has a lot of clever aspects to it, as well as some true notes as far as the meaning of Christmas and life in a small town and friendship and caring for one another," Cammack said.
For this production, the troupe has replaced the radio station with a television news show akin to the long-running "Weekend Update" skit on "Saturday Night Live," although none of the actors had seen any sketches before and had to get a crash course from Rousseau.
"It's been really fun to modernize it in that sense, but keep the rest of the old-fashioned humor," Cammack said.
After the sale of a portion of its Wynooski campus over the summer, C.S. Lewis Academy no longer has a dedicated practice or performance space. The show will be performed at the Chehalem Cultural Center's Black Box Theater, with 7:30 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday, and a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, but up until tech and dress rehearsals began last week, practice has been limited to classrooms and the school's chapel space.
"It's a challenge, but it's not too hard," Rousseau said. "I feel like it's a realistic challenge, so the kids are experiencing what it's like to be a theater artist because in Portland and the surrounding area, you don't really have a reliable space most of the time. We have a space, it's just different some days."
Roussau, a native of Forest Grove and a 2013 George Fox graduate, has been intentional about keeping many things the same for the students before she begins to put her stamp on the program. She is also a veteran of Valley Repertory Theater and a teacher for the Journey Theater program in the Portland metro area.
"The kids have been super thankful and supportive and welcoming to me," Rousseau said. "I feel really connected to them. I feel like the kids and I both have similar expectations. Amberly and I are very similar in what we studied and were skilled at."
The feeling among the students appears to be mutual.
"I really like her because she's really upbeat and energetic," Anna Virginia Millage said. "I feel like if your director is not upbeat and energetic, the play can be kind of a drudge. But she makes it really fun and she's been helping us learn a dance for the end of the show."
Galambos added that she enjoys that Rousseau gives specific direction and Cammack added that Rousseau has created a safe and comfortable space for the actors.
"She has a way of making me feel like, if I make a mistake, it's not the end of the show but just a normal human thing," Cammack said. "Then we move on and we learn. It's a lot of fun to just be loose because it makes practicing more fun."
Cost is $8 for adults and $5 for students and children under 10.