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Black Sheep Players serving audience ‘Christmas Pudding’

Black Sheep Players is serving up the post-Thanksgiving dessert for free.

The Sharon, Pa., community theater will present David Birney’s “A Christmas Pudding” for free online, but the production only will be available from 7 p.m. Friday until midnight Sunday.

Director Maria Petrella already was considering the show as this year’s holiday production before COVID-19 forced all theater groups to rethink their 2020 plans.

“I love Christmas shows,” she said. “I think people are looking for things to do this time of year, and it’s very different. The readings are literature and poetry — Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Shakespeare — not typical Christmas fare. I liked that the music was very different as well.”

Some of the other things that appealed to her initially — as a reader’s theater show, it would require fewer rehearsals than most holiday offerings at a time of year when everyone is busy — also made it adaptable to an online presentation.

“I decided to see if I could get the virtual rights,” she said. “They said, lo and behold, you can have the virtual rights with some stipulations.”

Those stipulations included limited availability and a private link on Vimeo instead of posting it to YouTube, where it would be accessible to the world.

Presenting the show online also allowed Petrella to open up the staging. The stage directions have the actors simply coming up to a microphone and reading their stories.

“How boring is that going to be? I didn’t want to stage it that way, so I took a bit of artistic license.”

Because of COVID-19 protocols, Petrella decided to use only solo readers, and instead of using a single location to record all of the readings, she recorded them at different spots around the Shenango Valley. Some of the sites used include First Presbyterian Church of Sharon, Buhl Mansion, Chloe Pierce Chapel and Tara, A Country Inn.

She also was able to expand the cast from six to 17 actors along with nine musicians. With fewer opportunities available to performers, interest in participating was high.

“They were calling me,” Petrella said. “That’s why I have so many. I couldn’t say no. Many of these people were doing shows back to back, and (now) it’s like a desert here. One young man drove up from Pittsburgh to record his part.”

The cast includes Harley Allen, Alan Anderson, Leon Avery III, Kyle DePasquale, Brandon Donaldson, Glenn Hink, Ben Houston, Alana Isis Knox, Amelia Kovach, Larry Latsko, Vicki Lingner, John Morris, Samuel Perry, Noah Piddington, Tonya Polk, Sarah Puhala, Emily Royer and Kathy Williams.

The musicians, conducted by Stephen Barr and Maureen Murray Jaklic, are John Ackley, Roxanne Chapman, Lauren Faber, Tina Greig, Jim Kerr, Julie Kerr, Zac Sartori, John Woge and Susan Woge.

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