A Leavenworth Christmas tradition will again return to the stage this weekend, just in time for the holidays.
Written by the company’s founder, Verneil Searles, “The Spirit of Christmas” has been the River City Community Players’ annual holiday production for 34 years now. And for those same 34 years, director Donna Elmer said she has been involved in one way or another. She said her duties began in modest — as part of the stage crew, a set painter, spotlight operator, accompanist and later musical director, taking over for the retiring Lloyd McClure.
Elmer said she then worked alongside Searles’ successor, Dorothy Renkowski, in the directing role. When Renkowski stepped down, Elmer said she took over. She is now helped by Penny Paradies and Carla Wiegers, in addition to the backstage and technical crew.
Like Renkowski, Elmer said she has stuck fairly faithfully to the original script. The Deena Schroyer School of Dance, which was part of the first performance, is still involved, this year providing 17 dancers for the production. The narrator, Frank Kohl, has also been involved since the beginning. Most of the props are the same ones first used in 1978.
And the story, too, is mostly the same — taking place mostly in Santa Claus’ workshop at the North Pole, with elves and a chorus presenting songs and dancers before a retelling of the Nativity story.
Some things have changed over the years — the set, for example, is completely new for 2012. Other aspects, too, can’t help but evolve from year to year.
“Somehow the children make it different every year,” Elmer said. “The same words come out of their mouths, but in a different way.”
The performance is about an hour long and features 53 mostly young actors in addition to the dancers, a bigger cast than in many past years, Elmer said. In a written history of the show, she said some of the cast members are second-generation.
“Every year, we are amazed at tiny children showing up, equipped with their older siblings’ or their parents’ elf costumes,” Elmer wrote. “It will be children and great-grandchildren next, I suppose.”
The tradition survives, Elmer said, because of how unique the production is — a homegrown script, the incorporation of a local dance troupe and the inclusion of the nativity. As for the future, Elmer said she never knows how long she’ll continue to be the director, but is confident that someone will keep the tradition.
“I anticipate it going on,” she said.
The River City community Players will present “The Spirit of Christmas” with shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Leavenworth Performing Arts Center, 500 Delaware St. Tickets cost $5 for adults and $3 for children and there are no reserved seats. Tickets will be sold at the ticket office at the theater. For more information, call 913-651-0027.