Dec. 05--It's about community and tradition.
Those are the driving forces that make Michael Veldman, Erin Schumacher, Kaye Perry, and Brian Bawek scramble during these last few weeks to put together one of the biggest Austin holiday mainstays in recent memory.
Veldman and Friends are eight days away from opening their 10th anniversary Christmas variety show, "A Christmas to Remember," which runs at the Paramount Theatre Dec. 13 and 14, 20 and 21. After starting in 2001 as a way to raise money for the Paramount Theatre, the group say they're still around because of the chance to form traditions.
"Tradition in this day and age is hard to find, so having the chance to make that for someone else, that's why I came back," said Bawek.
The others agree, as it's humbling for them to know they're a part of Austin's cultural Christmas tradition.
That's why the group comes together to form the show, which doesn't come easy. The group has spent months working on a theme, drawing out stage schematics, planning musical numbers (which can change all the way up to show time) and design costumes.
Veldman and Friends doesn't have outside help in any of this, however.
"We have to do everything ourselves," Perry said. "From the show to the crew to the stage."
Schumacher and Perry are busy with design and decoration while Bawek and Veldman are finishing the stage. What's usually a makeshift approach -- Veldman and Friends have often wrapped up a stage just a little while before showtime, from a few days to an hour before the curtain rises -- has become easier this year.
The Joseph Company, one of the many community sponsors for the annual Veldman and Friends show, donated space for Veldman and Bawek to put together the stage this year. The jump in construction means the stage will be finished by the end of the week, a full week ahead of the show.
"We are so grateful to them," Veldman said. "We're actually six days ahead of where we usually are."
Don't expect to see the stage before the show, however. Or listen to the music, or get an inside scoop on the show's storyline. The windows are covered on the Paramount so no one can see the show's preparations In order to protect the mystique of "A Christmas to Remember" and all other Veldman and Friends shows, the group is adamant about not allowing anyone to know details beforehand, so that when the show starts, "it's like Christmas," according to Veldman. "You're not supposed to open presents until then."
Not that any two shows are the same, mind.
"About 90 percent of what we do is repeated from show to show," Veldman said. "We don't really sit down and script it. We lay it out, what feels natural, what each person wants to feel, what they'd like to say."
It's that spontaneity that allows the show flexibility, and allows the group to make each show special. It's also why the group never releases a set list of music beforehand; the group continues to work on musical numbers until the last minute.
That can make for a lot of music practice. In fact, the group has changed three to four numbers over the past two months, and the men just switched a comedy number last week.
"I have a friend who goes to see the shows, and he tells people they're never the same," Schumacher said. "If you go to one, it's going to be different. There's never two shows that are the same."
Yet it's only a few days before the curtain rises on the latest production. The group will stick to its constant format: the first part of the show is fun and light, following a loose storyline between the four friends. Things turn serious in the second part, when the group tones the theatrics down in favor of performing Christian music, to remind people of the religious spirit of the season.
"I've had so many families come up to me, thanking me for putting the Christ back into Christmas," Veldman said.
The community has definitely bonded over the show, as part of the reason why Veldman and Friends returned to the stage after a two-year hiatus was because so many people wanted to see them perform once more.
"This show is for tradition, for families, and we want to keep it going," Bawek said.
All of the members of Veldman and Friends have stories of being recognized in the community for their efforts. Veldman ran into someone earlier this week while shopping for show supplies at Walmart, while Perry said she has been called twice by random people who have left messages of encouragement.
"I didn't know them, they just decided to call," Perry said.
That's what it means to others, and that's what it means to Veldman and Friends. They want to help people make and keep traditions. When the final show ends, the group will go their separate ways, satisfied and "on a high for the weeks after the show," according to Schumacher.
But don't worry, residents. A few tickets are still available for this year's shows at www.michaelveldmanandfriends.com and at the Paramount Box Office. And even after the next few weeks, Veldman and Friends could be ready for another show next year.
"The first thing that Michael always says to me after the show is, 'I've got an idea for next year," Bawek said. "I know!" Perry added.
--For more information on Veldman and Friends, including a list of sponsors, visit www.michaelveldmanandfriends.com
(c)2013 the Austin Daily Herald (Austin, Minn.)
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