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Syracuse writers' group brings holiday theater to the WAER airwaves

Armory Square Playwrights collaborate with WAER on holiday radio show.
Chris Bolt/WAER News
Armory Square Playwrights collaborate with WAER on holiday radio show.

Whether it’s a holiday movie, a Christmas card, a gathering with friends, or a family tradition, this time of year can stir our emotions. That’s exactly what we hoped to do with this special WAER presentation: Holiday Theater from Studio C and the Armory Square Playwrights.

Several members of the group submitted plays for consideration to WAER this year for this inaugural project. We chose four to produce for this holiday special. The authors recruited actors, who came into the WAER studios to record the touching, humorous, creative plays – all with a holiday theme.

The Plays touch on belonging, loneliness, hope, humor

The plays selected were:

  • Christmas at the Golden Dragon by Rachel May
  • Midnight at the Black Diamond Trestle by Donna Stuccio
  • Why did they get me a Roomba? by Johanna Beale Keller
  • Christmas Tree Confidential by Len Fonte

After the actors voiced the parts, WAER staff went to work creating the plays with appropriate sounds and music. Dan Gurzinski, Cal Dougherty and Chris Bolt were the production crew.

Holiday Theater Studio C - web.mp3
Listen to Holiday Theater from Studio C here

In Christmas at the Golden Dragon, A lonely Jewish doctor in a small town goes out for his usual Christmas dinner – Chinese food - and gets a surprising holiday gift. The voice actors are: Dr. Kaufman - Lanny Freshman; Mr. Chen - Lining He; Mrs. Chen - Elaine Yu.

The next play is Midnight at the Black Diamond Trestle by Donna Stuccio. Two cops with a complicated history cross paths on Christmas Eve while investigating a mysterious call. They find themselves at the Black Diamond trestle taking a look around. The call throws the pair into a complicated search for more than the subject of the police call … as clues merge with memories and questions of hope.
(note: there is some in-character profanity in the script). 
Donna voiced the part of Sarah Sabatini, joined by Brendan Cole as Charlie Kowalski and Moe Harrington playing the Dispatcher.

The premise behind Johanna Beale Keller’s Why Did They Get Me A Roomba? is a scene not uncommon as aging parents who face holidays without their children, busy with their own families. When Terry’s kids can’t come home for Christmas, she’s lonely. And when they send her a robot vacuum cleaner as a gift, she both reminisces about her family and finds a little companionship. Carolyn Reid played the part of Terry.

The final play is Christmas Tree Confidential by Len Fonte. A newly unwrapped angel on top of a Christmas tree surveys her world. Her neighbors on the other branches are a motley crew of ornaments, full of complaints and fears … still traumatized from eleven months in the attic and nervous about the cat that threatens to bat them around and break them. The angel ‘knows she’s got a mission’, but being new, she has no idea what it is.

Armory Square Playwrights

The group dates back some 30 years with writers getting together and sharing what they have written. Current President Len Fonte says those who spend creative time developing stories and characters want the feedback … but ultimately, just want to find an audience for their works. Donna Stuccio, whose work we’ll hear a little later, gets a chance to feed a passion.

“Personally I will do anything to be involved with the theater. I will sweep the floor; I will clean the toilets if I have to; I will to the P.R.; I will direct, I will act, I will write. So to be part of this group where we have this rhythm where we get together, and whoever ahs something, we rally around it. We take turns on bringing things (plays) and I just love the process.”

The Armory Square Playwrights traces its history back to David Feldman, former New Times Theater writer and critic. Len Fonte says the members of the group are all writers. But there’s still a baring of one’s sole, if you will, when they share a work.

“We write our pieces and bring them in. When we write a long play the members have to listen to us dealing with that play for years. When we write short plays, We’re a little more merciful because we don’t bring it back up again and again. But it really is kind of like a family. We’ve been together so long. We know each other’s styles. We know where to find support. We know when to pull back. And it's really still exciting.”
They’ll continue to meet regularly, writing, re-writing, sharing each piece with the group for feedback with one real hope:

“… that it does have an audience. That’s the difference with playwriting (compared to ) poetry and writing novels, looking at art can be an individual pursuit. But (with plays) you need a collective bunch of human beings all breathing at the same time, watching at the same time, all watching your work of art,” says Stuccio.

And there’s an important takeaway, according to Fonte.

“… finding out if what you gave birth to deserves to be ou in the world. I think an exciting thing would be to let a whole crew of people who didn’t see it happening, didn’t see it being born, take the play and let it run somewhere,” adds Fonte.

Holiday Theater from studio C … and the Armory Square Playwrights is a production of WAER Syracuse Public Media. Thanks to Johanna Beale Keller, Len Fonte, Donna Stuccio and Rachel May for writing the plays .. and all the members of the group, as well as other actors, who helped perform them. Further thanks to Dan Gurzinski and Cal Dougherty for production help.
Music used in Holiday Theater from Studio C came from Dee Yan Key at Dee Yan-Key - my christmas music - Free Music Archive

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.