An Inside Look at Nashville Rep's 'A Christmas Story'

Based on Jean Shepherd's memoir, the Nashville Repertory Theatre's production of A Christmas Story is a holiday favorite. Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker wants just one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air…

Based on Jean Shepherd’s memoir, the Nashville Repertory Theatre’s production of A Christmas Story is a holiday favorite. Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker wants just one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. He makes a case to his mother, his teacher, and even Santa Claus, but always gets the consistent response “you’ll shoot your eye out!” The play includes all of the favorites from the film including the leg lamp, the bumpus hounds, and Flick’s tongue getting stuck to a pole.

I was able to sit down with scenic/properties designer Gary Hoff and actors Samuel Whited (Ralph) and Jamie Farmer (Mother/Helen) to learn some inside information about the fun holiday production.

A Christmas Story is unique in that each cast member plays multiple roles. The adults play children and pull it off beautifully. “I think that having adults play children is extraordinary, it was really brave and smart on (artistic director) Rene (Copeland)’s part.” Says Jamie Farmer.  “Once you see it and experience it…it’s so poignant and funny and touching and moving.”

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The kitchen set acting as a storefront window

The audience is called to cheer, bark as a bumpus hound, and say the famous line “you’ll shoot your eye out” when signaled. Some audience members are even pulled onto the stage to stand in as characters. “In the course of the show, the audience becomes the last cast member” says Whited.“We have direct contact with them, and they with us.” The audience participation is his favorite part of the show. “When we get to the very end of the show and I say Merry Christmas and they call back to me….that’s kind of the height for me.”

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The clipboard used for the leg lamp delivery

The show is in its sixth year running, but each performance offers a unique experience.

“The bones are the same, the story is the same,” Whited explains. “It changes nightly depending on the mood and rhythm of the audience. We try each night to be the best for that particular house.”

According to Hoff, “The favorite part for us techies is to see what they do and the new things they come up with, because it’s still funny to us! We’ll laugh every time we see it. That’s amazing after 6 years.”

While the actors make it look easy and effortless on stage, you’ll find a different world backstage. Actors and technicians have a small space to work with behind the set. There are props and costumes everywhere, all incredibly organized so the actors can find everything easily. Farmer thinks it would be fun for a camera to be set up backstage during performances. “I think the audience would find it fascinating to know how fast we’re moving.”  Hoff describes the backstage area as “controlled chaos”.

The leg lamp and the broken leg lamp, side by side
The leg lamp and the broken leg lamp, side by side

Most of the props used in the performance were actually from the 1940s and are true to the show. For example, Ralphie’s envelope is addressed to “Ralphie Parker” and the clipboard “The Old Man” signs for delivery actually contains information about the package. They have 4 different leg lamps on hand for the show because it’s always necessary to have backups. Hoff advised that if you wish to purchase a leg lamp of your own, purchase one in the summer for the best deal.

A Christmas Story has become a Nashville tradition for the holiday season. According to Farmer, the show is only getting better with age.

“Every year we have more freedom to make the characters richer and the relationships even more true than they were the year before,” she says. Whether you can quote every line or you’ve never seen the movie, there’s something in this production for everyone to enjoy!

A Christmas Story runs Wednesday-Sunday through December 21 at TPAC’s Andrew Johnson Theatre. Shows start 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Matinees begin at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, please visit nashvillerep.org.

For a more extensive interview with Hoff, Whited and Farmer, watch my interview here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgZsj94I45s]
For a comprehensive listing of Middle Tennessee theater productions, be sure to visit NowPlayingNashville.com’s Stage section.