Updated: Dec 31, 2021
It’s a Wonderful Life, is a Christmas tradition. To many families, watching the Christmas classic is a highlight of their Christmas celebration. The 1946 black and white movie is described as an American Christmas fantasy comedy-drama film set in the small imaginary town of Bedford Falls. Produced and directed by Frank Capra, the memorable movie stars a young James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who gave up his dreams to help others. An equally young Donna Reed plays his wife Mary. George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, played by Henry Travers, guides the story’s hero to realize how one single life can positively touch an entire town. Although colorized versions have come out over the years, the original film is considered one of the most loved movies in American cinema, and has become established viewing during the Christmas season. The American Film Institute voted the ageless Christmas story as the “Number One Inspirational Film of All Time.”
When I was a performing arts director, one the coolest things I did, was show area playwrights, community stage directors, and church play directors around back stage. My goal was to allow them to see things that would enable them to better create the visions they had for their plays, find and see tricks of the trades, and some even worked as hired stage hands for the shows. I did the same thing before applying for the job as director. I loved learning from other shows as I was building the capacity for my own broadway style singing Christmas tree production. If I look through the 10 years of plays I wrote for the church, I can see tremendous growth from year 1 to year 10. Our sets were better, our effects were better, our staging was better, lighting and the list can go on and on. Out whole team learned so much but being involved in shows loading, crew and loading out.
It's Show Time
“It’s A Wonderful Life” is in Showstreet Palace Theater, just inside the entrance of Dollywood. It fills up very quickly. Make sure you get there early to get a seat! It's been running for several years and has become a HIT and an awards winning amusement park show.
The cast of most of the Dollywood shows arrive about two hours prior to the first show of the day. Not only do they have to warm up, but they also do mic checks and even go through a number to ensure that microphones, monitors and all cast members are working in sync. This then leaves the cast about an hour to get into hair (literally, the women in this cast all wore wigs) and makeup.
The cast begins rehearsing for “It’s A Wonderful Life” in October. (Remember, the show opens in early November!) They worked full-time for several weeks rehearsing in a practice studio in a warehouse. Then just six days before show time, they were able to start rehearsing in the theater. During rehearsals, a director and choreographer come to town, but once the production opens, they leave and the integrity of the show is in the hands of the production team, and designated vocal, dance and show captains. Team Captains go over their notes during warm-ups to ensure the day’s performances ran flawlessly.
Craig Bellwood. Craig is a cast member in the show. He found theater after suffering an injury playing soccer in high school. It wasn’t until his senior year in high school that he even realized he could get a degree in theater and make a living doing this new thing that he loved. He is in his third Christmas season with Dollywood and is the male “swing” in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Being a swing in a theater production means he is able to play every male role. Does that sound crazy or what? Craig has memorized every line in the production along with stage blocking and choreography. Craig often has a few days’ notice to prepare for whatever role he is stepping in to, but sometimes he may just have a moment’s notice if a fellow actor gets sick. He was also the male swing in “Dreamland Drive-In” over the summer, so it’s safe to say that Craig has a lot of lines in his head! Craig is married to one of the female leads in “It’s A Wonderful Life” and enjoys getting to perform on the same stage with her.
Backstage one can see the actors and actresses doing their hair and makeup in their dressing rooms. Craig and Erin then showed us the different areas for props, sets and costume changes. This happened at every show in my theatre when I was director.
The backstage area of the theater is EXTREMELY well-organized. Props have exact spots and are often labeled if there is more than one. Each performer has his or her own area with all of their costume changes. This, also, is organized to perfection. Each member of the cast is responsible for ensuring his or her items are exactly where they are supposed to be.
It is amazing to see the different sets for the production and how they are set up to move on and off the stage with ease and even the small tunnel that led to the houses on either side of the stage.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a beautiful retelling of the classic movie, with beautiful music and amazing and talented performers. It’s a delight to see and everyone cheers when Clarence earned his wings! Don’t miss it or any of the other shows that Smoky Mountain Christmas has to offer. They will put you in the holiday mood for sure.