In Kevin Milne's Christmas novel, The Paper Bag Christmas, the narrator states
To fully understand the true magic, the real spirit you must first experience a real Christmas. And when that occurs it becomes far more than just another holiday… or a prolonged shopping spree. You see, when you experience a “real” Christmas it becomes a part of you, an ideal, and a desire to put the happiness of others ahead of your own. It’s really not about the sparkly glitz or the insane pace of hustle and bustle ….it becomes, really…now, just listen here…it becomes a paper bag.
A paper bag? Exactly! But not just any paper bag…it becomes a weathered, wrinkled, dirty paper bag, the kind you’d just as soon throw out with yesterday’s trash if you didn’t know its history. A paper bag as soiled and lowly that it could only be used for one final purpose: as a lasting and irreplaceable reminder of why we celebrate at all.
Sadly, only a few of us will ever encounter the likes of a real Christmas. Fewer still are lucky enough to know firsthand about the paper bag. I am one of the lucky ones.
The truth of the matter is that I AM the lucky one! I stumbled across Milne's novel in mid-December of 2010 one night when my wife and two college age sons were out shopping. Alone with a decorated house, a warm fire crackling and a cat curled up on the couch (I know, could it be any more Norman Rockwell?!) ...and I decided to read a Christmas book. After searching through my quaint collection, I saw this small, colorful book in the pile. I did not remember buying it. No one had given it to me. It was simply ....just there. I read the jacket and saw that it involved two teenage boys who volunteer at a Children's Cancer unit over the holidays. I was intrigued! I read it from cover to cover, crying, laughing and keenly aware that I was reading the perfect plot for a holiday play. As a high school drama teacher, this book had everything I hold dear: wonderful characters, a great story and a fabulous message to people of all faiths.
I immediately emailed Kevin Milne and told him what I thought: that his novel really needed to be on stage and, further, that I wanted to write it! You can imagine my surprise at receiving his response the next day giving me permission to write the play and with his blessings! It truly was a "God wink!" I adapted his novel into a full length play and invited him to attend....all the way from Portland, OR to Huntsville,AL. He came and brought his wife, his parents and his editor. My students and I were so touched by his humility and warm spirit. We had worked so hard to bring his work to life, to give it an extra depth and touch lives with the message.
We had decided early on to use our production as a means of giving back to the community. With that in mind, we raised money - and awareness- for Childhood Cancer, donating $2000 to our local children's cancer unit at Huntsville Hospital. In turn, the hospital provided beds and gurneys as set pieces for our production. All in all it was a successful run of the first production of The Paper Bag Christmas. And then I ran into Monroe Jones.
Monroe and I graduated from Huntsville High School in 1978 and have stayed in touch through the years. He and his wife, Cathy, come to Huntsville to visit with family and friends and we see each other - usually at Starbucks! - and it's always nice to run into them. One day, Monroe and I were talking and he mentioned a new project, SongLever, that he wanted to pitch to my students. When he came to class and began showing us the program, then in it's early stages, and talked about bringing music to kids everywhere - in that Monroe-oozing-with-enthusiasm- way he approaches life....I knew it was going to be special. Little did I know how special SongLever would become.
I asked Monroe to come to Huntsville so that I could tell him the story of how this novel became a play. When he heard how this story had begun to touch lives, he was "in!" I knew this could be a great partnership and in no time we began to discuss the ways in which SongLever could add music- truly original and heartwarming songs - to the show.
Right now we are in the beginning stages of writing the lyrics to the songs. The cast and crew of Paper Bag are brainstorming on lyrics and the placement of songs within the play...and we have been given the green light to talk with the kids in the cancer unit of the hospital to ask them about their hopes and wishes. These thoughts, words, phrases and whispers will become the lyrics of the songs in our show. That we are able to involve local kids, the cast and crew in a partnership with Monroe and his creative team will truly make this a "real Christmas" -one that I know will be cherished for years to come.
We recently decided to add SongLever to our production of The Paper Bag Christmas