CARBONDALE — In her director’s note, SoL Theatre’s Jennifer Michaud describes how the message of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” impacted her childhood.
“When I was little, I had a speech impediment, and I couldn’t say my Rs. When I sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer around Christmas, it went more along the lines of, ‘Woodolph the Wed Nosed Weindeer,’” she said. “The grown-ups in my life thought it was adorable, so they asked me to sing it — a lot. I thought it was because I was a brilliant singer. An actress was born.”
Not only did her favorite fictional holiday reindeer inspire her to sing in front of crowds, but Michaud said the message of the Rudolph story carried forward into her own life. The story of the extraordinary reindeer who led Santa’s sleigh team inspired her to direct SoL Theatre’s local production that continues in Carbondale from 7-8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, at The Orchard in Carbondale.
The show opened last weekend in Aspen.
“Our nonconformities are what make us extraordinary,” she said. “How relevant for our times, when stories of bullying pepper the news on a near-daily basis.”
Michaud said the “Rudolph” story, originally published in 1939 as a Montgomery Ward booklet written by Robert L. May, is a timeless tale of underdogs who come out on top, much like herself. She said the story is one of compassion and conformity in which kids today can still relate.
“In a time when our children are finding more and more ways to express themselves, they find they are also faced with more and more pressure to conform,” she said. “Their individual and unique lights struggle sometimes to find ways to shine. It is the greatest gift we can give them to show them that they are special, and that what they have to offer is completely their own.”
The SoL Theatre actors have embraced their roles, she said.
“In giving them their voice, we are allowing them to rise above the pressures around them. We are giving them the tools they need to make positive changes in a crazy world,” Michaud said. “We are encouraging them to be who they are, and assuring them that no matter who that may be, that they will be. I am so blessed to do what I do — to work with children on a daily basis and find ways for them to create and speak out.”
Michaud likened the child actors in the holiday production as gifts in her own life in theater.
“Each is a unique snowflake drifting through my life on their way to becoming who they will be,” she said. “I find myself thinking back so often to the people in my life who not only stood by me but who lifted me up through my own childhood struggles, some without even knowing they were doing it.”
As part of the Carbondale-based SoL Theatre youth program, Michaud and co-director Logan Carter help the children express themselves, much like Rudolph was able to in his own story.
“I pray that what these kids take with them will transcend being comfortable on stage or memorizing lines, that they will gain confidence, self-respect and the importance of the strength of their character off stage,” Michaud said. “Most importantly, I hope they will know that their uniqueness is a gift, and that they are free to let it shine, and in their own way become heroes in their own stories. They are certainly heroes in mine.”
Michaud said the child acting troupe has shown incredible resolve as last week’s weather proved a challenge in bringing the beloved childhood tale to the stage at Aspen’s Black Box theatre.
“Probably the most amazing thing is that with the blizzard last week, the kids had their final dress rehearsal at 4 p.m. on Friday — just three hours before we opened the show,” she said. “It was the first time they got to run the show with all of their props, costumes, and set pieces — and they nailed it. We were so proud of them.”
One of the production’s tech practices was also double-booked, so a last-minute change required some quick thinking on Michaud and Carter’s parts.
“When the storm hit Wednesday, knocking out another tech rehearsal, we met at SoL’s studio at the Third Street Center in Carbondale. I looked at the kids and told them we could either panic, or have fun with it and know that it would be an amazing story to tell for years to come,” she said. “‘Remember when we opened ‘Rudolph’ 20 minutes after we had our one and only dress rehearsal? And remember how amazing it was? Yeah ... me, too.’ We laughed and relaxed, and that carried forward into the next day and a half when we were scrambling to put the show together. It turned out to be a bonding experience, and I was so impressed with how they handled the challenge.”