My favorite Christmas story as a child was a Finnish folktale no one has ever heard of called Christmas with the Goblins.
On Christmas Eve, The Yule Goat arrives at the home of Fredrik and Lotta and tells them they won’t be getting as many presents this year. The children pitch greedy hissy-fits, and so, as punishment, the Yule Goat sends them to the cold, dark forest to spend Christmas with the goblins.
It’s super awesome, and a few years ago, my mom decided to turn it into a musical.
My mom is also super awesome.
She wrote the play and all the songs, and the result is adorably fun. It’s like How the Grinch Stole Christmas meets Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, with some church pageantry and vaudeville thrown in for good measure.
Over the weekend, my husband and I went to Richmond to see the first ever staged reading of Christmas with the Goblins by Margie Langston.
My mom was a little nervous about the performance. As the playwright, she had to take a back seat while the director decided how to stage the show… and there were some artistic choices my mom did not totally agree with. Not to mention that the cast only had four rehearsals. It was a staged reading (which means the actors can carry their scripts), but even so, things were pretty rough. The musicians were still figuring out the songs, and the actors were unsure of their blocking. Plus, they had been unable to find a boy to play Fredrick, so he was being played by a teenage girl who had seemingly grown several inches overnight.
And then, when we arrived at the theater, we learned that one of the leads had called in sick at the last minute, so the director was going to have to do her part. Ah, the joys of live theater!
Before the performance, my mom got up and said a few words about how the play had come together. First she had brainstormed ideas (with me!) two years ago. As she wrote, she received feedback from her playwrights forum, and last year they did a table reading. One of the songs was also performed in their showcase of new works.
And now, she explained, seeing the play on stage and hearing the actors interpret her words: this would help her refine Christmas with the Goblins even more. She would see what resonated with the audience, what lines fell flat, what parts needed more finesse. And that’s when it occurred to me how brave my mom was for putting her unpolished work on display for everyone to see.
Getting feedback is crucial for any writer, whether it’s through a playwright’s forum or a fiction workshop or a trusted friend. It can be scary to submit your imperfect drafts for critique, but finding out what works and what doesn’t is oh-so important. Revising based on feedback can turn a mediocre piece of writing into a great one. Of course, when you workshop something with a writing group, only a handful of people will see it. And here was my mom, watching anxiously as the theater seats filled. Her unpolished work was going to be seen by a crowd.
Luckily, the crowd loved it. They loved the hauntingly beautiful opening number, “Winter is Long,” and the creepy-catchy ditty “Goblins Will Get You (if you Don’t Watch Out).” They loved the Yule Goat, the goblin King Mundus, and the troll Queen Neldegard. They loved Kuka, the Littlest Goblin, and her jaunty jig.
I loved it, too, but being a writer myself, I noticed some weak spots, and I mentally prepared a few notes to give to my mom. I knew she was planning on doing a revision based on the feedback she received from this performance.
As the cast took their final bow, a little boy sitting behind us exclaimed, “that was awesome!” My mom turned around. “What did you like best?” she asked him. “Who was your favorite character?” He clammed up and wouldn’t say anything else, but the feedback from him was clear: it was awesome.
P.S. If you know of a theater group who would be interested in staging Christmas with the Goblins next holiday season, please contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with my mom. Seriously, it’s an amazingly fun musical, and it’s only going to be better by next year!