When Ahwatukee composer David Coste starts organizing his annual Christmas show at Esperanza Lutheran Church, he follows an approach to casting that is just as original as his productions.
He doesn’t have anyone audition.
It will be no different – except for a larger cast – this year when he presents “Noelophobia” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Esperanza, 2601 E. Thunderhill. Tickets are $5.
“We offer a unique theatrical experience which allows actors to take part with no auditions and no up-front fees,” Coste said. “Naturally, we hear from a lot of people who are curious about being in a large-scale stage show for the first time. Our cast list has grown over the last four years.”
That growing cast presents some challenges.
In last year’s production, he said, “we barely fit all the actors on stage.”
“Esperanza Lutheran Church has responded with some capital improvements, including adding platforms to the stage for more space and installing a state-of-the-art digital sound system. Even so, our resources and manpower are strained,” he said.
“We’ll figure out what to do about this next year,” Coste added. “Ideas include adding another performance weekend and running rehearsals for two full casts. We’ve heard from some actors who missed this year’s production and are already looking ahead to next year. We have never turned away actors, and we don’t plan to in the future.”
This year’s production, written by Coste, premiered in December 2009.
For this year’s production, Coste said, “the script has undergone significant changes. Some songs were dropped, others added, and the ending was completely re-written. Part of the need for revision comes from specific cast requirements. Other revisions were made to improve the script.”
Coste said his inspiration for “Noelophobia” was the claim – principally by disgraced former FOX Network commentator Bill O’Reilly – that there’s a “war on Christmas” and “suggestions that people’s behavior can significantly change or otherwise invalidate certain Christmas messages and traditions,” Coste explained.
Directed by David Kruse Coste and Kathy Tuszynski – who both attend every rehearsal, switching off between stage blocking and coaching actors – “Noelophobia” tells an unusual story that mixes mirth, melody and message.
A newspaper staff played by Tatum Willis, Lani Kujawski and Danny Tuszynski are at Vertical Studies Charter School investigating a peculiar set of symptoms that Shelby, played by Bella Klein, is experiencing: She appears to be afraid of Christmas.
Alex, played by Zac Chapman, thinks that Shelby is faking it, but he himself comes up with some strange symptoms. Meanwhile, the two school Christmas productions are falling apart. The competing shows are headed up by hard-driving savant Bobby, played by McKinley Sydnor, and the shell-shocked Karly, played by Samantha McDaniel.
Both productions look like they will bomb. In the middle of it all, Santa Claus, who is said to be angry at the world for ignoring his message of peace and giving all year long, is rumored to be planning revenge on Christmas Eve.
The songs are original and were written by Coste. This year’s performance will debut three new songs.
Moreover, unlike earlier productions, such as last year’s “The Thingy That Cracks Nuts,” which featured more traditional sounding music, “Noelophobia” will have a modern, electronic musical score.
Also, unlike “The Thingy That Cracks Nuts,” which involved a good deal of set construction and costuming, this year’s production “is set in the present, so sets and costuming will be minimal,” Coste said.
Additionally, he added, “For the first time, we’ll run our scenes with all the actors on stage for the entire show.”
Solos will be sung by Bella Klein, Danny Tuszynski and Tatum Willis.
The cast has been rehearsing since August and Coste said that just as it has grown over time, so has the audience.
“I think your church has been doing these Christmas productions for a while now, so do you see them growing in popularity not only in terms of audience but also in the number of kids who want to join the cast/crew,” he said.
And despite the challenges, he doesn’t tire of these shows.
“It’s been fun to watch our actors grow, both physically and in theater experience,” he said. “Up to this point, adults have taken care of directing and producing, but very soon we’ll see veteran actors begin to take these roles.”