WT Productions delivers 'Seasonal Gifts' for the holidays
A meaningful tradition stands the test of time while growing each year. WT Productions' "Seasonal" tradition continues on for its sixth season with "Seasonal Gifts."
The tradition began with "Seasonal Ties" at Vero Voce Theater's original location in 2017. It continued as Vero Voce moved to a new venue in 2019. It returned in 2021 after theaters reopened after being closed due to COVID. It continued in 2022 as STC Theater took over Vero Voce's location. And now it comes to Marquee Theater in 2023.
"Seasonal Gifts" is a collection of six short plays that takes Christmas and looks at it from different perspectives. It contains light comedy, dark comedy, and drama as the finale combines characters and plot lines from the previous five plays in the original Seasonal style.
While these productions have been based in St. Charles each year, cast and audience members have come from all over the Chicago area to experience the "Seasonal" fun.
Two such audience members are Tom Ochocinski of Forest Park and Robin Todus of River Forest. They have attended every production so far and look forward to the new one. "The formula has stayed the same. And I mean that in a good way. It's comforting to know that there is going to be some silly stuff, some somewhat serious stuff, and some touching stuff. Going to the show is like listening to my favorite Christmas carols. I never get tired of hearing them," Ochocinski said.
"The creativity. The humor. The tradition. And wanting to support people that are really cool," Todus added when asked why she comes back each year. "I like how the show always ties together Christmas themes. I also like that there are funny and sometimes serious topics."
"Seasonal Gifts" is written, produced, and directed by Debbi Dennison (Streamwood) and Carl Zeitler (Glen Ellyn). The cast includes Gail Cannata (Aurora), Dennison, Danny Glenn (Schaumburg), Katelyn Lane (Chicago), Betsey Milord (Joliet), Paul Milord (Joliet), Stephen Pickering (Fox River Grove), Debbie Roberts (Lockport), Kate Roberts (Lockport), Eric Wang (Chicago), and Zeitler.
The fan favorite Santa puppets Troy & Roy (hometown is a mystery) always manage to appear at some point during the "Seasonal" productions.
"These productions have been a wonderful experience. They've given us the opportunity to write a variety of offbeat, untraditional, and quirky scripts about the winter holiday season. That's been there since the first year," Zeitler said. "The finale has really evolved over the years in terms of expertly incorporating the characters and plot points from the other plays that evening. The finales have grown to be what people talk about most. Audience members always look forward to seeing the next one."
"That is another way our show has grown. The audience. I am overjoyed by the people that come back year after year. Our show is part of their holiday tradition, and that is probably what I am most proud of," Dennison added.
Pickering is in his fourth "Seasonal" production and that includes the first one of the series, so he has a good perspective of how the shows have grown.
"The first thing that I notice is how consistent these shows are. Every year, I'm impressed by how good the scripts are, how much thought they put into creating these characters. With each 'Seasonal' show, the audience knows they will see these very clever short plays. But there are always twists and surprises to give them a little more than they expected, which is just delightful," Pickering said. "The biggest evolution, I think, is that the connective tissues between these plays get tighter each year. There are fun little Easter eggs for returning audience members that add to the overall experience. But they're done very cleverly, so new audience members don't feel that they've missed something," he explained.
"Seasonal Gifts" runs Friday to Sunday, Dec. 1-3 and 8-10, at the Marquee Theater in St. Charles. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m. while the Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m.
To further get into the spirit of the season and the show, WT Productions will give away a seasonal gift each performance. The variety of prizes come from the generous donations of Marquee Theater, Riverside Pizza & Pub of St. Charles, Pinot's Palette of St. Charles, The Bit Theater in Aurora, North Avenue Pub & Grill of West Chicago, as well as from WT Productions.
In those rare, lucky occasions, a cast feels like a close-knit family. In the case of "Seasonal Gifts," it's factual.
Debbie and Kate Roberts are mother and daughter and Betsey and Paul Milord are newlyweds. Betsey is appearing in her second "Seasonal" production while Paul is making debut with WT Productions. They relish the opportunity to work together in this production.
"Since we met doing theater, I appreciate any time we can be on stage together. We have great chemistry and I think it really comes to life through our characters. Plus, rehearsing at home is fun," Betsey said. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity for us to be together on stage," Paul added.
Since each "Seasonal" production has six plays in it and this is the sixth production, WT Productions decided to do something special this time around.
They selected one play from each of the previous productions and crafted a new finale to bring those characters and storylines together. "Seasonal Gifts" will consist of "Wrap Man," "Three for the Road," "Branching Out," "In Cahoots," "#HolidayHookUp," and "The Gift that Keeps on Giving."
"We decided to celebrate the sixth anniversary of doing the 'Seasonal' shows. Why six and not a traditional five? We thought it'd be fun to pull one play from each of the first five years and then the sixth one would be a whole new 'Seasonal' style mash-up of these five plays. So, it's an 'all-star' show with a new finale," Dennison explained. "Recognizing six years instead of five is not traditional, and that's right in line with our 'Seasonal' mission."
"Wrap Man," written and directed by Dennison and Zeitler, is about the holiday hero Wrap Man and what he has to contend with this Christmas. "Three for the Road," written and directed by Zeitler, focuses on a man who struggles with a painful memory that happened just before Christmas 10 years ago when two unexpected guests arrive. "Branching Out," written and directed by Dennison, looks at five Christmas type trees on a tree farm who discuss getting chosen by humans for the holiday season and what happens on "the other side."
"In Cahoots," written and directed by Zeitler, is about people who go to extremes to win a holiday-themed event. "#HolidayHookUp," written and directed by Dennison, deals with finding a holiday date on the hottest local cable TV show. "The Gift that Keeps on Giving," written and directed by Dennison and Zeitler, features the mayhem that ensues at the 'This Doesn't Suck' awards show as the "Seasonal Gifts" Universe collides in the WT Productions' signature style.
"It's such a privilege to work with great cast members each year. We typically have those who have done prior 'Seasonal' shows return, but we get just as many or more new people depending on the year. Having a growing high-quality ensemble makes these productions really shine," Zeitler said.
Members of the current cast agreed with that sentiment. "My first 'Seasonal' show was an absolute delight and I made lifelong friends. It feels like belonging to a special 'club' to be a 'Seasonal' alum. It's the only show I've ever done where there was zero drama and absolute magic, so that made it a very easy decision to come back and do it again! The scripts are so clever and we have such a talented group of actors. It is just pure fun," Betsey Milord shared.
"Debbi and Carl assemble absolutely brilliant casts, year after year, and what's more, they are, each of them, just delightful people," Pickering added. "I am very lucky to have worked with so many incredibly talented artists in the past 'Seasonal' shows, and I'm especially lucky to be able to be with several of them again this year! Plus, I get to work with a couple of people in their very first 'Seasonal' show! How lucky can I get?"
"Doing the 'Seasonal' shows is a pure joy for me. They are a lot of work, but a lot of fun. I take pride in knowing that our show is all original, and there is nothing like it out there. To have people look forward to our show year after year, whether as an actor or as an audience member, is the best gift I could ever receive," Dennison said.
"Seasonal Gifts" is appropriate for PG-13 audiences, due to language and content.
Marquee Theater is located at 619 W. Main St. (Route 64) in St. Charles. Free parking is available. Tickets are $25 (all fees included) and are available at wtproductions2.weebly.com.