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Home · Articles · News · Art · Christmas Schooner Sails Again
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Christmas Schooner Sails Again

Carina Hume - November 29th, 2007
In 2004, Petoskey’s Little Traverse Civic Theatre (LTCT) first presented The Christmas Schooner, a turn–of–the–century story of the Stossels, who sailed Lake Michigan in November to bring Christmas trees to families in fire–ravaged Chicago. The musical is based on a book by John Reeger, with music and lyrics by Julie Shannon.
Gary Albert had firsthand experience playing Oskar, a German immigrant ship hand, and also served as assistant director in a Chicago version of the musical. So he was a natural choice to direct with LTCT in 2004. As The Christmas Schooner sails in Northern Michigan for the third time this December, he’s thrilled to be reprising his role once again.

SCHOONER’S BEGINNINGS
“In 1995 I was cast in a show called The Christmas Schooner at Bailiwick Repertory in Chicago,” says Albert. “After we read the play, I kept thinking, ‘this happened in Michigan?’ I didn’t know anything about it.”
Real–life brothers Herman and August Schuenemann – the historic basis for the story – sailed Lake Michigan each November, risking everything to deliver their Christmas trees, a tradition still continued today by the United States Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw.
“The story is a fictionalization of actual events,” explains Albert, “and I thought wow, we’re going to have to treat this really special, because it can come off too sweet or too sentimental and it just needed to be told in a simple, honest fashion.”
The musical’s German immigrant family learns how to adapt old country ways to their new American lives, as well as lessons on compassion, tragedy and love; storylines that should resonate with all of us.
“Everyone copes with some degree of tragedy in their life, and the show is kind of about how they cope with that, and how they rise above it and move on,” explains Albert. “The message of the show is that our blessings aren’t ours to keep, they’re meant to be passed along – which means not only things, but our relationships with people and our achievements in life. It’s a wonderful story to be told at Christmas–time.”

DIRECTOR ONCE MORE
As director again for the 2007 production, Albert guarantees changes to the set, as well as new faces on stage. A hands–on director, he’s assuming responsibility for more than just the actors; he takes responsibility for the overall presentation.
“I like to design the sets that I direct on,” says Albert. “As director, you kind of have a vision of what the entire show ought to look like or what you have in your mind. I love the design aspect of the stage and I’ve been dabbling in it since college.”
In theater, Albert says trust is one of the most important aspects, but so is having fun.
“Acting comes from a point of truth and honesty, and that’s really, really difficult for just everyday people to do. For someone to get up on stage and show that part of them is really a daredevil act,” says Albert.
“If you don’t trust your director to guide you through that process, it can be a disaster for that show,” he continues. “it can also be a disaster for that actor who might never want to do it again. I think part of what helps instill their trust in me is the fact that they don’t have anything to fear when they’re working with me, and they know that they’re going to have a good time because I’m having a great time.”

NORTHERN MICHIGAN’S
CREATIVITY
Before graduating from Harbor Springs High School in 1981, Albert worked on many theater performances with LTCT. After four years at Michigan State University and 18 years in Chicago theater, Albert returned to Northern Michigan, reconnected with LTCT, and has found local theater just as fulfilling.
“Living in Chicago, there’s really a fast pace to life, and I saw it grow from a major city to a major world–class city in the time that I was there. That was really exciting, and I miss it, but I needed to be in a place where I could focus more,” explains Albert.
“I’ve done some of my best acting work – behind–the–scenes – that nobody gets to see here in Northern Michigan because I was able to have so much creative control over my projects. The other best part is working with so many talented people and watching them grow.”
LTCT welcomes anyone with a desire to be involved in theater – either backstage or onstage – to get involved. Whether selling ads, tickets, painting sets or applying makeup, no experience is necessary – just a willingness to learn and have fun.
“The nice thing about working with LTCT is I have a budget, and they’ve been putting on such good shows over the past 60 years, they understand that need for an all–around look for the show.”

SHARE A PART OF YOURSELF
Putting together a musical production like The Christmas Schooner requires the cooperation and dedication of many volunteers. In sharing their time and talents to present this show, which is quickly becoming a Northern Michigan tradition, the volunteers seemingly have already taken to heart the show’s message.
“When you get the message of The Christmas Schooner – that our blessings aren’t ours to keep – if you think about what a short time we’re here on this planet, it’s a very short time to make an impact,” says Albert. “So I think it’s really important to pass along that wisdom, that knowledge, that tradition, that love, that experience to whomever you can.”

The Christmas Schooner will be presented by the Little Traverse Civic Theatre in the Ross Stoakes Theater located in the Crooked Tree Arts Center in downtown Petoskey. Shows are December 6–9 and 13–16 with evening performances beginning at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees beginning at 2 p.m. To reserve tickets call 231–348–1850, order online at www.ltct.org, or stop in the box office located in the Crooked Tree Arts Center from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

 
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