Toronto District Christian High School students in this year’s drama production had the unique experience of remounting 2000 Candles—a play their teacher Richard Peters co-wrote and performed across the country starting in the year 2000.
2000 Candles was originally presented by Brookstone Performing Arts and co-written by Mr. Peters, Ins Choi and Tom Carson, with music by Jeanine Noyes. When it hit the stage, four professional actors including Mr. Peters and Mr. Choi brought the script to life. It was performed hundreds of times for thousands of people.
In 2003, Brookstone went out of business and the show stopped. Five years later, the original creators all decided to remount it for another four years, with new additions implemented. With the original creators now involved in other work, Mr. Peters reached out to them with the idea to remount 2000 Candles as a high school production.
Described as a “joyous, original musical theatre celebration of over 2000 Christmases,” the production unpacks various traditions that have been adopted at Christmastime. Instead of a clear beginning, middle and end, the stories are told through short vignettes.
Bringing the play to TDChristian’s community provides a way for students to explore the disconnection between historical events and the Christmas story with eyes wide open. “Right now, Christianity in North America is in a bit of a crisis. There are some who are trying to claim there is a war on Christmas,” Mr. Peters said.
“We have stolen a bunch of secular traditions and we’ve adopted them, they have zero to do with Christianity and at the same time we have an over 1,500-year legacy of acknowledging that Christ was born, and you have to pick some time, and why not this time?”
Principal William Groot saw 2000 Candles with the school’s staff in its original form and was excited for it to be passed onto another generation. Having experienced the show during its original success and seeing it reimagined for the students is significant, he added.
2000 Candles asks questions about Christmas that are not often asked but accepted as part of our culture. Having students ask those questions is important and helps them to understand the way things have been is not always the way they are now or will be, Mr. Groot said.
At the school, staff discuss with students how to learn for service in light of God’s word, he said, which at times means asking questions or trying to understand how something came to be the way it is.
“That’s what I love about the play—there are all these different pieces in there that dispel notions and teach kids about Christmas that they would have never thought of,” Mr. Groot added.
With acting his initial profession, Mr. Peters says it is fun to bring his own work of 2000 Candles into his teaching role because it allowed the students to see more of his creative side.
“This show, in terms of script, is closest to my heart that I am most proud of for a lot of reasons,” Mr. Peters said.
TDChristian offers a ShowPro Class, bringing students from Grades 10-12 together with six possible credits offered including a production credit or performance credit. This year, only an eighth of the class were students who had participated in ShowPro previously.
“What I always enjoy the most is seeing kids stretch themselves past what they thought possible, and the occasional time where I get to see them stretch themselves past what I thought was possible,” Mr. Peters shared.
The design of ShowPro aligns with TDChristian’s desire to create education that is cross-grade and creates an intersection of people around a project they want to accomplish. In the case of ShowPro, students aren’t worried about their marks but are invested in how well they present the show to the community.
Students are responsible for an on-stage and off-stage role. From box office to stage management to props and costumes, they are empowered to learn first-hand about what it means to produce a show.
“Sometimes they discover things about themselves that they would have never known,” Mr. Groot said. “I think that’s a really key thing in school; is discovering passions, talents, gifts, abilities that you didn’t know you had or using them in ways that you didn’t think you could.”
Grade 12 student Kennedy was Stage Manager for the show with tasks that included documenting all the blocking, taking care of the lighting and sound cues. She most enjoyed the community that formed amongst the students who might not otherwise have a chance to interact.
The students appreciated how they grew together as classmates throughout the semester in ways that a traditional classroom wouldn’t foster. Spontaneous moments such as jam sessions backstage on the instruments allowed for the students to connect in new ways.
With the original production having four “triple threat” performers on stage, recreating the script and music for 24 high school students allowed the workload to be spread with many places for students to shine. Some elements of the script and characters were adapted, for example, the character of Black Peter is performed through two Angel characters. The script was added to and revised until the day before the production opened.
2000 Candles was performed on both November 30th and December 1st, with audiences ranging from a matinee for local school students to a dinner theatre evening. The first few shows students were unprepared for, as some had little or no experience with a live audience, said Mr. Peters.
“You can ‘teach’ all you want about it, but the only way they will ever ‘learn’ is to experience it,” he reflected. “By the end of the run, the show was pretty much exactly where I wanted it to be. I’m happy for that, and for the learning that occurred.”
For Mr. Peters, seeing the students’ growth is exciting beyond excellence. Working with high school students is different than with professional actors, and in the school setting there is a focus on learning.
“There is always a fine balance between public performance and education,” explained Mr. Peters. “Coming from the theatre world myself, I find it one of the most difficult adjustments.”
Knowing how close 2000 Candles is to Mr. Peters’ heart, the students also felt an increased desire to perform well. Mary, a Grade 12 student, was one of four Musical Directors in the performance and played and sang in her cast role.
“I imagine it is exciting for [Mr. Peters] to see us students perform his work, but I think it makes it all the more exciting and we have something to strive towards, because we all want to impress Mr. Peters,” she said. “We all want to make it look good for him because he wrote it, so he’s already seen it when it is done really well.”
The student musical directors initially listened to the 2000 Candles CD and were excited about the music and how to make it their own. From what instruments were used, to who and how the songs were performed there were many dynamics to consider for each song. Mary says they often changed their minds about decisions and other times found the perfect fit. “It’s such a fun role.”
Mary appreciated the week Jeanine Noyes, composer of the original show’s music, came to the school and worked with students. “She was super helpful,” Mary said. “It was great to work with her and an honour.”
Jade played the role of the angel Michael and took on box office ticket sales. Now in Grade 12, she has enjoyed drama since Grade 9 and says Mr. Peters is one of her biggest role models who has supported her throughout high school. She appreciated during the first few days of ShowPro watching his 2000 Candles performance on video and listening to the CD.
“It was really cool to have our eyes opened to see he’s not just a teacher,” Jade said. “He’s an actor, he can sing, and he did this beautiful thing that we are now part of.”
With 2000 Candles now performed in a new way by high school students, Mr. Peters envisions it being a play other Christian and Catholic high schools could use in future years.
“There are many important messages in the show that I’d like as many people to hear as possible,” Mr. Peters said. Now that the original cast has moved on, sharing it through high school students creates a new life for the show.
He received a lot of positive feedback from the audiences, with many who want to see TDChristian do the show every year—or at least every four years, so every student can have the chance to see or participate in it.
With content that explores questions around the traditions and meaning of Christmas complete with rants, humour, a variety of music styles and surprise, the show is exciting for both performers and audiences. Mr. Peters welcomes other high schools interested in producing 2000 Candles to email him: at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the original production can be found at 2000candles.com.