'What Makes the Season'

Dec 03, 2020

The show goes on for the theater program, which mixes talent and technology to prepare Cal U's annual holiday performances.

  • - Shane Callahan works on his snowman makeup.

  • - Elijah Gilbert (left) and Shane Callahan in a scene from the show.

Showtimes are 7 p.m. Dec. 18, 7 p.m. Dec. 19, and 2 p.m. Dec. 20.
To register for the 7 p.m. Dec. 18 show, visit https://calu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_iNchMhlRQVuWD3pPvgS9aA
To register for 7 p.m. Dec. 19, visit https://calu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_cxSnQEwrTLu83NV9bWpg9A
To register for 2 p.m. Dec. 20, visit https://calu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_fXoeC4u4RHKnPCOJculZtA

Registration is now open. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


What makes the season? 

At Cal U, it’s partly the annual holiday show featuring the talented students, faculty and staff in the theatre program — and that show will go on, virtually, Dec. 18-20. 

Dr. Michele Pagen, holiday show director and theater professor, explained the relatable premise, as the University, region and country wrap up a year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Titled, appropriately, What Makes the Season, the play follows a group of out-of-work holiday musical theater characters who are attending a therapy session to deal with their stressful situations. The therapist gives them homework to remind them that they aren’t responsible for giving people the holiday spirit. Everyone has it, inside.

The show opens with familiar faces, as Buddy the Elf, from the 2019 performance of Elf The Musical at Cal U, finds an empty campus before meeting Santa, the Grinch and other well-known holiday characters. 

The cast includes 30 actors, roughly half students and half community members, continuing a tradition of outside participation in Cal U’s holiday show. 

Filming locations were set up in Steele Hall at Cal U and at the home of the Kovscek family in Brownsville, whose members are holiday show regulars. 

Actors filmed their scenes individually, or, if they shared a home, those from the same “bubble” were allowed to film together in accordance with COVID safety recommendations. 

“It was safety first for filming,” Pagen said, noting that they did send one film kit to Philadelphia. “Grinch was bubbled with the student who designed the makeup, so she was able to put that on for him.” 

Daniel Nuttall, aka the Grinch, is a junior theatre major with a concentration in musical theatre. 

“This year has been challenging for everyone,” he said. “I think Christmas and the holiday season is all about hope and joy, two things that are desperately needed right now. That’s why being a part of this show is so important to me. It’s a way to bring those feelings to people — even if I DO play the Grinch!” 

Michael Meketa, a 2016 Cal U theatre graduate with a master’s degree in musical theatre writing from NYU, contributed to the uplifting theme with his original song for “What Makes the Season?” Another alumnus, Dom Carrolla, wrote the title song.

It’s called ‘Christmas in Our Hearts,’ and it’s a boppy, swingy, Huey Lewis number,” Meketa said. “It’s meant to be a big, rousing number that would lift everyone’s spirits just before the actors walk off the stage.” 

Once filming was complete, scenes were sent to Gary Smith from CUTV to edit. The finished show is expected to include a few magic-of-technology surprises that wouldn’t be possible ordinarily, Pagen said. 

It’s a quirky plus side to a challenging semester that ultimately proved satisfying. 

“Once we finished with rehearsals and started filming, our students got more and more excited,” Pagen said. “Of course, theater isn’t meant to be performed this way, but we have learned a lot and we’re proud of everyone’s efforts.”