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'A Very COVID Christmas' virtual dinner theater on tap in Spicer area

Because COVID-19 has canceled most live performances, the Green Lake Lutheran Ministries is replacing its annual Christmas dinner theater with a virtual play and take-out meatball dinner Dec. 12. Tickets for “A Very COVID Christmas” are $20, which includes a link to watch the show online. The dinner is $15 a plate. The play includes an original script and music about the mythical town of Woodtick Landing, the Minnesota ice fishing capital.

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Gary Lagerstadt, left, and Jeff Johnson are seen in front of a green screen during the filming of the Green Lake Lutheran Ministries' Christmas dinner theater. Because of COVID-19, the annual event was pre-recorded and wo;; available for online viewing, starting Dec. 12, for a $20 fee. A take-out meatball dinner and a plate of bars is also available. Submitted photo courtesy Green Lake Lutheran Ministries

SPICER – COVID-19 has invaded nearly every corner of the country, even the mythical community of Woodtick Landing.

But the fine folks of the make-believe ice fishing capital of Minnesota, which is full of uffdas and you-betchas, aren't going to let a world-wide pandemic stop the 26th annual Fingarson Memorial Ice Fishing Derby and they’re certainly not going to let it stop Christmas.

That premise of the original play, “A Very COVID Christmas,” is a welcome holiday message – whether you like ice-fishing or not – as the Green Lake Lutheran Ministries perseveres through the challenges of 2020 to bring some good humor, good music and good food to the community.

But like all things in 2020, it’s just going to look a little different.

Usually in December local volunteer actors, musicians and cooks come together to put on a five-night dinner theater Christmas show at Green Lake Lutheran Ministries retreat center in Spicer. The event draws hundreds of people for a multi-course meal and a play that features an original script and original music written by Dave Eliason and Brian Pearson – two men who have a long history of music in the New London and Spicer communities.

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The dinner theater is a popular fundraiser for the program, which includes Christian summer camps and retreats for youth and adults.

Like other theater, musical and special church productions this year, the Coronavirus has affected the annual holiday show at Green Lake Lutheran Ministries.

But rather than just give up and not have any show at all, the volunteers dug in to produce a movie-version of the show that debuts online Dec. 12. A take-out meatball dinner and a plate of bars are also available for curbside pickup on that day to give people the full dinner theater experience in the comfort of their own homes.

The 45-minute show is available for viewing for a $20 fee per household that includes getting a link that will be sent through email. The link is obtained by going to the GLLM’s website, www.gllm.org or by calling 320-796-2181.

The curbside meal costs $15 a person and a plate of bars is $5; with a reservation deadline of Dec. 7

The play, “A Very COVID Christmas” is a sequel to last year’s original script called “Skol Pa Fisken,” which – loosely translated – means “how’s the fishing?” in Norwegian.

The 2020 version includes some old and new characters who confront the challenges of carrying on traditions while COVID makes everything difficult.

The four-act play takes people back to Woodtick Landing to “see how they’re doing in the midst of COVID” and how their ideas for putting on the annual ice fishing show fall apart, said Eliason. The spirits of the downcast community are saved when a new pastor moves to town and invites people to an outdoor nativity service to hear the Christmas message that “in spite of everything, God is still here,” said Eliason. “Jesus is still in the manger.”

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Pearson wrote and recorded much of the music in his home studio, borrowing tunes from Elvis and Michael Jackson that have some light-hearted humor in the lyrics. The popular “Blue Christmas” by Elvis was changed to “Bad Christmas” because “everything is going wrong,” said Pearson.

Don’t worry.

It all turns out OK in the end.

Creating the play while following COVID safety guidelines required some creativity, said Tina Magner, hospitality and retreat director at GLLM.

People were filmed in various rooms in the retreat center while connected through Zoom so they could interact as actors. Some characters were filmed in front of a green screen that allows different scenes to be shown in the background.

Actors who live in the same house could be filmed in scenes together but otherwise characters were recorded separately, which required Magner to stitch the pieces together in a cohesive video.

The project involves hours of editing to “make it seem like everyone was there together,” said Magner.

Although having a virtual dinner theater show isn’t the same as having an in-person event, Magner said it’s still “a unique opportunity to have a little bit of holiday cheer with your family” and a way for people to continue to support the organization’s programs.

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Because COVID has canceled most live performances, the virtual “A Very COVID Christmas” could be the only show in town this season.

Make your reservation

The online link for the virtual performance of "A Very COVID Christmas" is available by going to the Green Lake Lutheran Ministries' website, www.gllm.org or by calling 320-796-2181. The cost is $20 per household.

A curbside meal costs $15 a person and a plate of bars is $5 with a reservation deadline of Dec. 7 .

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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