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A Note From the Director/Playwright of A Midnight Clear: A Musical Tale of Christmas

Megan Van De Hey, Kelley Peters and Caroline Johnson in A Mdnight Clear: A Musical Tale of Christmas. Photo by Os Galindo.

I am a person who counts my blessings often, probably because my mother sang the classic song about such a thing to me as a lullaby. It would take many pages of this program to count my blessings on this project. For me, A Midnight Clear is a blessing beyond all measure.

The journey to this moment began years ago when composer David Nehls and I shared with each other some of our childhood memories of Christmas. We soon realized that for each of us Christmas was a complicated time—a time that was joyful and painful at once. For David, his mother became a single parent on Christmas. For me, my 18-year-old brother was killed two weeks after Christmas when I was nine years old.

For both David and I, Christmas held promise and pain – a family moment that was deeply divided. And we both knew that our experience was (and is) not unique. So the telling of Christmas stories that capture both a celebration of the season and the truth of human suffering became our starting point.

Our work culminated in a play we are both very proud of called I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which had its world premiere last year at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in Denver. When Board and staff members from Stages saw the show, they encouraged us to bring it to Houston. But soon it felt more appropriate to craft an original story for Stages, much as we had written I’ll Be Home specifically for Arvada. And so, drawing out one small thread about a few nuns from I’ll Be Home, we began to write A Midnight Clear.  In short order, our new play took on its own magnificent life.

At the time we began writing, I was directing a show in Santa Fe and I decided to visit the Loretto Chapel. The Chapel is a sacred place famous for a spiral staircase that has no center support and, as legend has it, was built for nuns by a mysterious carpenter who vanished after the stairs were complete. I spent two full days in silence in the Chapel, and I listened to beautiful demo tracks of David’s songs. Within 10 days we had our first draft.  And slowly but surely, after eight months of constant work—here we are.

There are a lot of things in the play that come straight from David and me and our life stories. But for us, the core exploration of how joy and pain can co-exist remains paramount.  Christmas is a wondrous season, one that brings forward much good in the world. But it is an illusion to believe that pain is banished for everyone.  Yet despite the challenges that Christmas brought to our homes, both David and I love the holiday and celebrate it with all our hearts. We especially love the music of Christmas. The music seemed always to be the one thing that could heal the world we lived in—and we still believe it does.

My mother often sang to me as a child. I watched her sing Christmas songs through her deepest pain. And I watched her celebrate her faith in every storm. Her name was Agnes Elizabeth Bernadette.  Above all things, she taught me to be grateful for what I have been given. And trust me, I know I have been given much.  

Thank you, Stages family—audiences, artists and all—for making this moment possible.


Much peace,
Kenn

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