ALBANY – Illuminate Theatre is highlighting the ways that people of color all around the Capital Region celebrate the season with a virtual Holiday Spectacular show starting on Friday.
Led by directors Morgan Heyward and Gregory Theodore Marsh, the idea for the Spectacular was sparked just two months ago. Heyward, who founded Illuminate Theatre in 2017 and works to present and amplify voices of color, and Marsh, who is the co-director for the Albany High School Theatre Ensemble, wanted to present a holiday show that shined the spotlight on people of color.
“We really wanted to showcase the fact that for a lot of people of color Christmas is not the only holiday,” Marsh said. “It was really important for us to talk about it as a whole season of great holiday celebrations.”
Through song and story, the show delves into how people from diverse backgrounds celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
“I think what’s special about this show is that we didn’t really have a script,” Heyward said.
“I wrote one of the pieces but we really curated a lineup together with the artists and that was a really special experience because we just sat down with them and said, ‘We want to highlight your stories and your experiences during the holidays, so what do those look like?’”
Hosts and local actors Kim Wafer and Emmett Ferris take viewers through their holiday traditions, and introduce them to other cast members, like Dashira Cortes, whose performance reflects her personal experiences celebrating in her Puerto Rican household. Then, Albany High School students Donovan Jones and Xavier Allen discuss the importance of Hanukkah.
There are also vocal performances and songs celebrating Christmas, featuring Chevelle Edwards and Allen.
They filmed the show at YouthFX in Albany, working with the RogueFX production company, which was founded by graduates of the YouthFX program. Both Marsh and Heyward praised the film crew and actors, who were able to bring the project together on a tight schedule.
“Time was the most challenging factor to this,” Marsh said. “Ordinarily, when somebody’s coming up with a holiday show, we think about those kinds of things six months to a year out. We came up with this two months ago. So to put something together in two months at this level was very, very challenging.”
“I hope that it’s [an] inspiration to other artists to create things like this and to not feel restricted by the amount of time that you have or by the resources that you have. It really is true, when there’s a will, there’s a way,” Heyward said. “I spent a lot of time last year just not making things for whatever excuse, because of time; because of money; because of whatever. In a weird way, the global pandemic pushed me to go beyond those excuses.”
The Holiday Spectacular is the first of its kind in the Capital Region, but the directors hope it won’t be the last. They’d like to make it an annual tradition.
“I really want people to walk away from our show feeling inspired to ask about other people’s lives and to step outside of their own perspective. Even for me in producing this, just with Dashira’s section about how she celebrates Christmas Eve . . . I’ve learned so much about her personal holiday traditions but also what can be common in other Puerto Rican households that I never would’ve even thought about. I just hope that people leave excited to ask their friends about their story and excited to ask their coworkers about how they spend the holidays,” Heyward said.
The Holiday Spectacular premiers at 7 p.m. on Friday via Zoom. Tickets are $10. Following that, it will be available to rent through Jan. 8 for $15. For more information visit Illuminate’s Holiday Spectacular on eventbrite.com or morganheyward.com. There is also Holiday Spectacular merchandise available and sales go directly toward Illuminate Theatre productions.