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"It was like finding yourself in mid-air without a parachute," Hal Cropp said. "We were all ready to start three weeks of rehearsals but we suddenly didn’t have a play to rehearse."
Cropp is executive director of the Commonweal Theatre Company in Lanesboro. The Company had made plans to perform a sequel this holiday season of their highly successful Bullshot Crummond of a couple years back. The play, to be called A Crummond Christmas, was written by Cropp and Matt Tallman, a writer and actor who has appeared in numerous Commonweal productions.
"We contacted the licensing company twice for permission to use the Crummond name and when we didn’t hear back that we couldn’t do it, we were confident that it would be okay," Cropp said.
That wasn’t the case though, in October, when Cropp received a call from a New York based attorney who represented the authors of the original Bullshot Crummond. The attorney said that the authors had come across the Commonweal’s planned production of A Crummond Christmas by randomly surfing the Internet.
"He asked to see a copy of our script and said that it was possible we might be granted a one-time license," Cropp recalled. "But the playwrights then decided that they wouldn’t be willing to do this for us."
The attorney advised Cropp to cease his efforts to produce A Crummond Christmas immediately, otherwise legal proceedings would take place."My initial response was anger, but something about having a short deadline moves you through the stages of grief pretty darned quickly," Cropp said. "I went through anger, denial and bargaining in one afternoon, then it was time to get to work."
At the first rehearsal, three weeks before their play was to open, Cropp and the assembled cast and crew spent the day in discussion trying to figure out what components made for a successful holiday production. The next day the actors went around the room reading aloud passages from their favorite Christmas stories. Each actor then picked a character from the stories and assumed how they might interact when put into different situations.
"We eventually came up with a structure by incorporating the text from three different authors: Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde and Damon Runyon," Cropp said, while pointing out that the stories "borrowed" from were in the public domain.
The play started to take shape and form and soon even had a title: The Giving Star. The design crew, responsible for the set and costumes, worked at a feverish and inspired pace, making changes to the stage right up to opening night.
"Nobody panicked," Cropp said. "The process of creating this play was wonderful and I think it’s really come together remarkably well."
And so do the critics. Andrea Faiad, of the Rochester Post-Bulletin, wrote that The Giving Star is "filled with laugh-out-loud one-liners and knowing holiday-story jokes, (this) original production offers all the characters and themes of sacrifice love and divinity that we’ve come to expect from a family holiday story, but in a fresh form."
Contributing Fillmore County Journal writer Jill O’Neill was impressed by the play’s "ability to bridge multiple sub-plots into one concise story." O’Neill writes that, "In just over an hour, five different story lines unfold and come together in an inspiring conclusion. The Giving Star is truly unique, if not somewhat bizarre. Expect plenty of laughs and perhaps even a few tears, but overall, be prepared for a lesson on how miracles are really made."
The Giving Star runs through December 23, at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro.
By Al Mathison