Classes aren’t the only things starting today: With the new year comes a new round of auditions for productions all across campus. Spectrum sat down with the creative team of XMAS!9 to get insight into this annual tradition’s audition process and how this entirely student-produced musical comes together. There might also be the tiniest plot hint…
The creative team includes director Carolina Garrigo (CC ’15), producers Matt Seife (CC ’16) and Emily Snedeker (CC ’16), writers Jackson Fisher (CC ’16) and Madison Seely (CC ’15), composer/lyricists Sam Balzac (CC ’17) and Fernanda Douglas (CC ’16), choreographer Chloé Durkin (CC ’15), and art director Mariana Benjamin (BC ’16).
Hannah: So, to start off, for those who don’t know about XMAS!, can you describe what it’s about and why it’s different from other productions on campus, especially the Varsity Show?
Emily: XMAS! is an original, full-length, student-written musical that’s about the holiday season. It’s different from the Varsity Show in particular because it’s more low key. The Varsity Show is almost a professional show, and XMAS! is much more … fun.
Matt: It’s more about exploring things you’ve never done before, like maybe a different area of producing a show. … Maybe you were originally on stage and now you want to work on writing, or work on music. So, it’s a way to both explore and have a lot of fun while putting on this huge show that a ton of people get to see.
Emily: Especially because it’s a low commitment. We only rehearse a couple days a week for most of the semester, so I think that’s also a really good opportunity for people who may not be able to commit to four, five days out of a week right from the beginning.
Matt: And our common slogan is that, while we’re a holiday show, XMAS! is for everyone. We are all-inclusive.
Hannah: What should people expect when they walk into the XMAS!9 audition? What are the requirements, what’s the atmosphere. How should they prepare?
Emily: I say that the XMAS! audition room will be one of revelry and joy.
Fernanda: Come festive, come ready to be your funniest, best self. No pressure to crack jokes. Just give us what you got. We are not judges, we are students!
Carolina: The whole point of XMAS! is … XMAS! is for everyone. That’s our motto, our credo. … Everyone should just come, and have fun. We’re low commitment, low stress. The point of the show is to have fun, spread joy. We just want to have a lovely, holiday spirit—who doesn’t love the holidays?—and celebrate everyone’s individual talents and skills.
Emily: All of your weirdest talents.
Fernanda: On a technical level, that’s our requirement: a Christmas song—a cappella, don’t bring in sheet music!—and then your favorite special talent. I’m sure everyone has one.
Hannah: That sounds like a great audition process. When it comes to general casting—and last year XMAS! was big, with a big ensemble—is that something you guys are aiming for again this year or are you keeping it a little smaller?
Matt: We are definitely looking for a more tame cast. Right now we probably have around 12 cast members, give or take.
Carolina: We’re looking to create a more ensemble piece, where everyone has a fairly substantial part or multiple parts, so we think that a smaller cast than last year will serve that mission better. But also we’re looking for a giant production and design team. If you wanna invent your own position and come to us and be like, “I want to do this for XMAS!,” we’ll probably let you. If you’re, like, “I want to be the XMAS! candy striper and give everyone candy,” go for it!
Matt: We want to utilize everybody … to their fullest extent and make a very cohesive, big family. We don’t want anyone to feel left out.
Hannah: Can you describe the XMAS! experience in five words or less?
Jackson: Nobody’s in charge but us. It’s very much, like, there’s nobody bigger than anyone else in this circle.
Emily: Collaborative, super-fun… family… Ice Bar.
Hannah: What’s Ice Bar?
Fernanda: Nothing!... Possibly a location.
Sam: You’ll find out Dec. 8.
Hannah: So is there any general hint you can give about the plot, other than Ice Bar?
Carolina: We are definitely switching it up from your expected XMAS! show.
Sam: It follows the XMAS! tradition but it’ll still be fresh.
Hannah: Have you guys been putting a ton of work into it over the summer?
Carolina: The writers and composers have been incredible. We got started, we found out in the end of May, we got together in June and we’ve been hard at work. They’ve been killing it…
Emily: Sam slept on Fernanda’s floor for a whole week to write songs!
Fernanda: It was our retreat. We woke up at 8 a.m., started writing, didn’t finish ’til 4 p.m.
Sam: It was a lot of fun.
Hannah: Well it sounds like you guys are off to an incredible start. Are there any last comments you have?
Emily: Audition, be a part of our team, we want you to audition for XMAS!9. Anybody—new people, old people, … every school, anything. We want a diverse group of people.
Fernanda: A lot of people are worried about if they can’t sing, or if they’ve never done theater. The whole point of XMAS! is to get as many people involved in as many different roles, experiences, to be involved because it’s so fun for everyone.
Fernanda: We want XMAS! to be your introduction to the rest of your four years at Columbia—
Emily: Or three years, or two years, or if you’re a senior, still come out! XMAS! is for everyone!
Auditions for XMAS!9 will take place Sept. 2-4 from 8-11 p.m. in Hamilton. Its two shows will be produced on Dec. 8, the last day of classes.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.