The Making of Cottage Fever: A Virtually Real Holiday Show
By Judy Mroczka
The Accidental Producer/Writer/Director
(written at the request of the Mayor to pay tribute to all who worked on the show)
It takes a village to create a holiday show. In Cottage Fever, there were 25 speaking roles, another 16 cameo appearances, 16 on the production crew, 22 different performers in seven “live” musical acts, and more than 30 filmed dancers in the retrospective, plus about 30 brave souls who took part in the Grand Finale, “The Grove Sleeps Tonight.”
We had a record number of animals. Not to diminish the talents of the dogs Nessie, Cain, and Chloe, or of Kermit the Frog and Foxy the Fox, I have to say that Celeste the Cat is a natural — she ad-libbed her line (“Meow”) while in Sophie’s arms during the travel agency scene and possibly ad-libbed her actions as she got herself tangled in Eli’s hair during the school-at-home scene.
In a normal year, we start in late October. This year, planning began in August with a strategically placed call to Montgomery Municipal Cable (MMC) – producers of the children’s show on Music Weekend. The MMC crew provided their technical skills and experience, but also their patience. Our promise to them for next time – we won’t make it so darn complicated.
Taking you behind the scenes, here’s a look at one segment – “My Sourdough Starter.” On the day scheduled for MMC to film it, JEFF and ARLENE McCREHAN had rehearsed, moved furniture to make room for the crew, bought loaves of bread and bunches of bananas, and, most importantly, gotten psyched. Alas, the film crew ran out of time. Heroically, Jeff and Arlene persevered, pressing their daughter JOHANNA into service as a videographer and producing what you saw on your screen.
The chainsaw puppet also has a story. It was JUDY’s bright idea to have a chainsaw operated by Bluetooth, but it fell to her husband ED to figure out how to do it (he made the chainsaw into a marionette) and to MARIDA HINES to figure out how to film it. It was decided that the tree prop created for “As the Grove Turns: A Soap Opera” (2017) would be sacrificed. Stringing the marionette took 30 minutes, filming 90 minutes, editing 90 minutes. The finished product? Less than 30 seconds.
Here’s a look at some of the other people who, on-screen and/or off-screen, made the show happen (see the program for the full list):
The CREATIVE TEAM who helped JUDY with the original concept and with input along the way included MARY BLAKE, CHRISTINE DIBBLE, MARILYNN FREY, ARLENE McCREHAN, JEFF McCREHAN, ED MROCZKA.
MARILYNN FREY was Judy’s right-hand person and sounding board, prop guru (did you notice the bunny slippers and the grabber in the shape of a human hand?), and Moe, our Watts-Up star. We knew early on that we would need a substitute for the 6’2” Moe. MARILYNN, although a foot shorter, ably filled Moe’s shoes.
SAMANTHA BERES took on the complicated project of creating the dance retrospective. It let us appreciate her talent as a choreographer, see the young dancers grow up, and get a nostalgic look at shows such as “Grove Alone” (2012) and “Grove Trek” (2015).
EMILY CAVEY’s Aug. 13 text said the Cavey-Gilmores would be skipping the show due to pressures of virtual schooling. Response: “I understand, but don’t be surprised if I come back with a very modest request for just a few hours time.” Emily’s Sept. 19 text: “We would like to be in the show if you will have us.” Emily’s contributions involved much more than a modest few hours – compiling the winter photos for the Grand Finale slide slow, videographing Sophie and Bella’s song and footage for various skits, and, of course, other duties as assigned.
LEIGH PARTINGTON outdid herself on artwork – art for the program, the tree in the shape of a Menorah, the Egg Detector and eggs, logos for Dad-o-Meter and My Sourdough Starter and WGRV.
KEITH GILLIS also outdid himself with designing the program, which then became the rolling credits.
Some of our young actors had gone off to college, but others from our troupe of Marginal Thespian Players stepped up.
GENEVIEVE AND CORY HIX, SOPHIE, BELLA, ELI, AND JUDE GILMORE, HENNA AND HAZEL TURNER were versatile, talented, and a joy to work with. Highlights: slo-mo egg toss with JUDE and ELI, creaky teeter-totter with GENEVIEVE and CORY, SOPHIE and BELLA’s expressions in the beach scene, and trick-or-treating with HENNA and HAZEL.
KIT BROWN and HARRY YOUNG took part from inside their home bubble, using their dad as the Dad-o-Meter prop. (Thanks, RYAN!) KIT did the editing.
CHRISTINE DIBBLE nailed it as news anchor Woof Blitzen. (Long-time viewers will recall that CHRISTINE played a news anchor in “Saturday Night Grove” (2016).) JEFF McCREHAN was eminently believable as government reporter Bob Goodword, while SHARON SISSON was earnest and pointed as Lois Lanechange. ERNIE KAWASAKI exhibited subtle skepticism introducing the linemen working from home. MISSY YACHUP shone as Rec Committee chair but then changed persona to become Calvina Klein as she hosted the mask fashion show with remarkable pizazz. (MISSY was the elf who conspired with the North Pole to get the gift bags for home delivery.) ROB GILMORE reprised his role as Joe, displaying his trademark swagger. JANE MELLMAN debuted as Murphy Beige, the reporter with attitude, and RENEE MOLOZNIK (who recently moved to the Grove) was a dynamic Henrietta Higgins, the frustrated drama coach. LIZ ROBERTSON and GAIL LITTLEFIELD appeared for the first time (hopefully not the last), and we were delighted to welcome back SHELLEY WINKLER and SARA STOPAK, who did extremely realistic portrayals of a mother and her Gen Y daughter. (Kudos to CHRISTINE DIBBLE for writing and directing and to JOHANNA McCREHAN for filming.)
MARY BLAKE, MISSY YACHUP, ARLENE McCREHAN, and GENEVIEVE HIX made the Zoom meeting seem all too real – particularly when the cat blocked GENEVIEVE and when MARY displayed her the ceiling and her ear. (MARY is an unsung hero for getting and tracking MMC release forms for every single person who appeared.) ANDREW HOTALING found many of sound effects for this and other scenes.
TEDDY McCREHAN once again excelled as Sign-Meister.
There were numerous cameo appearances, including by BOB BOOHER, who gets a good sport award for dressing up in pajamas, not knowing he would be depicted as chair of the Hammock Preservation Commission.
ADALIA TARA, whose non-stage name is Tara Middleton, performed a beautiful song of her own. Check out Tara’s website (See below) for samples of her extraordinary singing and song-writing.
Sometime, someone can explain to all of us how OWEN CRISE managed to be a trio all by himself, showing formidable talent.
SITA, EMMA and TERRY STROTHER’s trio version of “Songbird” was gorgeous.
LERD brough enormous talent and energy, with fabulous performance by all four members. And who could not love the gold suit?
SOPHIE and BELLA GILMORE’s rendition of White Winter Hymnal was sweet, with lovely harmonies.
CHARLIE and MARY CHALLSTROM’s dance was simply magical. (Their jigsaw puzzle prowess, as seen in the Puzzle It Out Commercial, was also dazzling. NEVIN FREEMAN (a resident of the Challstrom bubble did the video.)
EDDY VISCOSITY AND THE TURBULENT CORE displayed wonderful arrangements, great execution, and stunning musicality.
The GRAND FINALE “THE GROVE SLEEPS TONIGHT” was a challenge to perform and to film. Many thanks are due to GWEN and JERRY CALDERONE, who recorded the song, and to ARLENE McCREHAN, who led the performers in the chorus.
“Cottage Fever” has gotten a great response, and this comment captures the flavor of many others: “It’s exactly what I needed, I think it’s what we all needed! It made me laugh, feel joyful and inspired, and got me into the holiday spirit! Amazing job by you and the whole team who helped put it together.”
To see “Cottage Fever,” go to https://youtu.be/iTmgTyinz1Q.
To learn more about LERD, visit www.mmctv.org and click on The Creative Side, a program hosted by Albert Myers, videographer and video editor for Cottage Fever. LERD is Episode #2. (Episode #1 features Washington Grove holiday show veteran Landon Philip, aka Landon Turner.)
To hear more music from Adalia Tara, visit her website: adaliatara.com. It provides links to Spotify and Amazon.
To see Sita Strother’s Yale acapella group, Whim ‘n Rhythm, go to https://www.whimnrhythm.com/. Click on Music to sample its 2020 album, Phoenix, and to obtain a link to iTunes.