Northwestern State University’s School of Creative and Performing Arts will stage its most popular holiday production in a new venue this December. The annual Christmas Gala, a perennial holiday favorite in Natchitoches, will be presented on the stage of Shreveport’s historic Strand Theatre with two show times on Saturday, Dec. 12. The Gala at The Strand performances will be in addition to the traditional Natchitoches performances on Dec. 2-4.
“This will be the entire show taken on the road,” said Dr. Greg Handel, director of the Dear School of Creative and Performing Arts. “Gala is a collaborative effort from all areas of CAPA, music, art, theatre and dance. Over 300 students, faculty and staff participate in the production of the show, from costumes, to decorating, to program design, to performing and directing.”
Show times at The Strand will be a 4 p.m. matinee and a 7:30 p.m. evening performance. Tickets are $10. for general admission. NSU and BPCC students with IDs can attend at no charge.
For many, the Christmas Gala is a holiday tradition and the CAPA faculty and students are excited about presenting the show at The Strand.
“When I came to NSU in 1983, there was already a Natchitoches-Northwestern Symphony Orchestra concert held early in the evening the night before the Christmas Festival and afterwards our elected officials would host their Festival parties,” recalled Bill Brent, CAPA’s long-time director. When Brent became department head in 1986, he realized there weren’t many people attending the concert and wanted to do something to change it up. Later, when Dr. Jack Wann was hired as coordinator of theatre and dance, he and Brent discussed ways to attract more people to the Christmas concert. Their idea was inspired by the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.
“We wanted to showcase not just music, but everything else we had to offer,” Brent said. “We were also doing children’s concerts at the time and we wanted to strike a balance between fun things for kids as well as a performance adults would enjoy. As our theatre and music programs grew, we added dance and included different types of acts and more and more people wanted to get involved. We wanted to offer something that people would find entertaining that would include singing, dancing, theatre and artwork.”
As the Gala’s popularity grew, many elements have become expected favorites.
“The crowds always want to see tin soldiers and they love the percussion line,” Brent said.
Logistically, the timing of Gala presents several challenges, falling the week after Thanksgiving and the week before finals, but the audience appreciation and exposure for the university make it worth everyone’s extra effort, Handel said. Planning and preparation begin in the spring and continue, along with rehearsals, throughout the fall semester. Intense rehearsals begin three weeks prior to show’s opening, annually held the Wednesday before the Natchitoches Christmas Festival in A.A. Fredericks Fine Arts Auditorium.
Over the years, the Gala grew from one evening performance to five daytime shows and four evening shows and organizers are enthusiastic about adding two more performances for the Shreveport audience.
“More than 12,000 see the gala in Natchitoches each year, and it is met with enthusiasm from all audiences. The school-age students particularly love the show, and we are hoping to bring together all of the audience favorites for this year’s production,” Handel said.
“One wonderful thing about Gala is it creates an atmosphere for the students as to what will be expected of them, whether they are a pit orchestra musician, a costumer, a dancer or a sound technician. This is what happens in a Broadway show atmosphere when you have multiple performances in a short amount of time. It’s a great laboratory experience for the students,” Brent said. “Another thing is it showcases all of Creative and Performing Arts, so if you don’t like dancing, just wait a minute and the jazz orchestra is going to play. There’s something in there for everyone. It’s a top notch production that leaves a positive impression in people’s minds.”
Handel said presenting the show in Shreveport opens it up to a wider audience and viewers may see familiar faces as several performers hail from the Shreveport/Bossier and east Texas area.
“The 4 p.m. showing is ideal for school groups and we can’t wait to share the experience with Shreveport/Bossier,” Handel said.