COLUMBUS, GA —
In some ways, you might call it a “little” show. Two actors playing 21 characters, lightning-fast costume changes, simple set, few props — performed in the Springer’s intimate, 300-seat theater, The Dot. And yet, “A Tuna Christmas” has proved to be so popular that people see it year after year and urge friends and family to travel long distances to see it with them.
Since 2001, “A Tuna Christmas” has become a holiday tradition for many in the Chattahoochee Valley. That puts it squarely into the category of “cult favorite.”
The comedy satire takes place in the strange little West Texas town of Tuna where a mysterious Christmas Phantom routinely vandalizes the annual yard display contest, The Tuna Little Theatre puts on a disastrous production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and a UFO abducts a well-known local oddball. Characters include two country-fried radio DJ’s, a pair of sassy Tastee Kreme waitresses, a gravel-voiced gun shop owner, a high-strung community theater director, a charming juvenile delinquent, a pretentious society matron, a soft-hearted humane society director, a goofball soft drink delivery man, a goofy road crew worker, an eccentric chicken farmer and a dozen more.
Now, the Springer’s “little” show has exceeded $1 million in total sales. With more than 44,000 admissions recorded thus far, “A Tuna Christmas” is by far the most popular show in Columbus theater history.
“‘A Tuna Christmas’ has certainly paid a lot of light bills, salaries and facility maintenance costs over the years,” said Paul Pierce, producing artistic director of the Springer. “We experimented with putting a couple of other shows into this slot, but neither of the replacements were as popular. Plus, taking ‘A Tuna Christmas’ out of the holiday lineup infuriated people who quickly reminded us that they had seen the show 12, 14 or 17 times and that it just wasn’t Christmas to them without their annual visit to Tuna, Texas.”
Pierce estimates that about half of every “A Tuna Christmas” audience is new to the experience, and half are Tuna veterans. He points out that all of the new Tuna-lovers can be converted to Springer regulars, thus expanding the theater’s audience base.
“For us, ‘new’ means ‘future,’” Pierce said.
For 16 years, Pierce performed the show with his colleague, the late Ron Anderson, who was associate artistic director at the theater. After Anderson passed away of cancer six years ago, Pierce stepped out of the show and recruited several teams of veteran comic actors to play the parts.
“Performing ‘A Tuna Christmas’ with Ron all of those years was the greatest joy of my life,” Pierce said. “But now I’m the director of the show and I get to share all of my little Tuna secrets, backstories and quick-change tricks with these brilliant younger comics. I’m sort of the guru of all things ‘Tuna’ now.”
This year’s cast is Casey Ross and Eric Bricking, both of whom have performed numerous lead roles at the Springer in past seasons and are beloved members of the Springer family. Ross is a Chicago-based actor who played the “Arles Struvy” track last year. Bricking hails from the Cincinnati area and joins the cast in the “Thurston Wheelis” track in the show.
“These actors are amazing,” Pierce said. “It’s an astonishing experience to be in the rehearsal hall with performers whom I know so well. They are so eager to absorb all of my twisted Tuna wisdom. Audiences will definitely see some new twists on the old favorite this year.”
“A Tuna Christmas” opens Dec. 15 and will run through Dec. 23. The last week of the show’s run will be performed on weekdays, Tuesday through Friday of Christmas week. For tickets, visit springeroperahouse.org or call 706-327-3688.
ABOUT THE SPRINGER OPERA HOUSE
The Springer Opera House is a producing theater company located in Columbus, Georgia, just a few blocks from the banks of the Chattahoochee River. The theater operates out of a 151-year-old National Historic Landmark, one of only seven producing theaters in the country that is housed in a historic landmark. In 1964, the Springer Opera House was saved from demolition by a local group of patrons of the arts who helped to restore and reopen the theater. It was named the State Theatre of Georgia by Gov. Jimmy Carter for the 100th Anniversary Season in 1971. Since then, the board, staff and volunteers have been dedicated to their mission of making every aspect of the performing arts a tool for education, participation, entertainment and growth while using, restoring and preserving this National Historic Landmark as a part of a working theater and museum complex. The Springer is also home to the Springer Theatre Academy, one of America’s largest youth theater training conservatories for students ages 5 to 18. With over 750 students studying year-round, the Springer Theatre Academy is transforming our community with its innovative Character Education system teaching “Life Skills Through Stage Skills.”