Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble: Down Center

S2E4: Fra-gee-lay: Christmas Stories Past

November 01, 2023 Elizabeth Dowd, Levi Fritz, Luke Saracoglu, Walker Dowd-Whipple Season 2 Episode 4
Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble: Down Center
S2E4: Fra-gee-lay: Christmas Stories Past
Show Notes Transcript

Resident Acting Company Member Elizabeth Dowd is directing BTE's 5th production of the beloved holiday classic, A Christmas Story.  In this episode, she chats with former child actors Levi Fritz, Luke Saracoglu, and Walker Dowd-Whipple about their experiences playing Ralphie and Randy in past productions. 

Recorded and Edited by: Amy Rene Byrne
Original Music by: Aaron White


Transcripts of all Season 2 episodes available on our Buzzsprout website.

Check out our current season: http://www.bte.org
Ensemble Driven. Professional Theatre. Arts Education. Rural Pennsylvania. For Everyone. With Everyone.

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble
Down Center
Episode 4: Fra-jee-lee: Christmas Stories Past

[Intro Music]

ELIZABETH
 Welcome to Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble Down Center, a podcast where we feature our company, our people, our art, and our town front and down center. Hi, this is Elizabeth Dowd, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble Resident Acting Company member, and I am in the process of getting ready to direct this holiday season's production of the beloved classic, A Christmas Story.

And today we have a really special podcast for you. We've invited some of the young actors from past productions of A Christmas Story to reminisce about their memories of being in A Christmas Story in past years.

All right. Hello. Hello. I am here talking with Luke Saracoglu and Levi Fritz, who played Ralphie and Randy in a run of BTE's A Christmas Story. And tell me where you are in your lives now. So why don't you introduce yourself?

LUKE
I'm Luke Saracoglu, currently a senior at Central Columbia High School, and Christmas Story was my first theatrical production, my first play ever. I was in fourth grade and now after many more, I'm really excited to talk about it because this production means a lot to me. So I'll hand it off to Levi now.

LEVI
Hi, I'm Levi Fritz. Uh, right now I'm a sophomore in college. I think that this show was my second, I want to say second show I've done. Uh, it's been a little bit since then.

ELIZABETH
Well, I'm so glad you were both able to make time to talk with us. This play is such a play about nostalgia, about looking back at past Christmases. And so we had the idea that it would be fun to, uh, hear your nostalgia around being in a Christmas story. So Luke, you mentioned that this was an important production for you. Can you talk more about that?

LUKE
So for me, it was just overall my first time being exposed to theater and what I think is the magic behind putting on live productions of shows and it meant so much to me because it was when I was introduced to what I think of as my family at Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble.

So, you know, I was taken under the wing of Levi. I remember just so many times when we would be off stage together, just messing around in the in the wings. One time he actually gave me a kiss on the cheek. I don't know why I remember that, but I remember, you know, A’nie, our production stage manager, she would always just go like this whenever I had the line, “Santa, Santa!” to help me remember.

ELIZABETH
[laughing]
So she would give you a hand signal off stage?

LUKE
She would do this and that meant I had Santa, Santa.

[Elizabeth laughing]

LUKE
So, um, it was a great time for me and. My mom just told me about it a week before, I think. And I just had a, just a super quick turnaround to auditions and it, it went just so smoothly. It felt so natural.

It felt so right. So that's why it meant a lot to me. And I will always remember it as my first play. It's just fantastic. And I really enjoyed the direction. Laurie, I remember, directed it. And Richie played the dad. And it was just, it was so nice.

ELIZABETH
And Sandy was the mom.

LUKE
Sandy was the mom. And I had–

ELIZABETH
And I was probably your Miss Shields.

LUKE
You were, and Danny was Santa Claus, yeah.

ELIZABETH
Of course, of course.

LEVI
For me I feel like it was...I'm this young kid. I couldn't have been past middle school. I was put into this kind of spotlight position and I have been another play before, but, but it's like Ralphie in BTE’s Christmas Story. And it was this big kind of formative thing for me and. I remember it was just like something I put some of the most work into in my life up to that point.

And I learned like theatre lessons. I learned just general life stuff from the show. It hit me right at that point in my life where a bunch of life lessons kind of coalesced all at once into that one show. And, uh, I really remember it for that. There's a few moments where, uh, you know, Little little offsides with cast members that I remember all the time, you know, I'm talking with with Sandy about, “Oh my what's our relationship in this play?”

You know, I haven't really– at that point it's like my first time getting into like character interactions and really making a story happen so I’m like talking to Sandy and then I’m going over to Richie and I’m like, oh I'm talking to Richie. Then I go over to Luke and I'm like talking to Luke. So that's what I remember out of that, that show.

ELIZABETH
That's wonderful. It's just so fun to hear it from, uh, your points of view. Luke, any memories that you have of the performance, uh, aside from A’nie coaching you offstage when to say, Santa, Santa, which I think is just fantastic, because that's such a tricky section.

LUKE
Yeah.

ELIZABETH
Because you say the same words again and again, but you have to say them right on cue.  So that's, that, I had no idea that that was the offstage solution, that she was giving you like a, raise the roof sign. Any other things that you remember, or lessons that you took from?

LUKE
Yeah, yeah. What I learned the most was to sort of just act as someone else. And I mean, luckily for me as an energetic kid in fourth grade, Randy isn't too far off of how I live my regular life, you know, just an energetic kid looking after his brother and having arguments with his dad.

But I have one distinct memory I had, um, when I came down at the beginning of the second act, all the actors went up to the booth and we all came down to say hi to the mall Santa Claus, which was played by Danny Roth. And, uh, when I was going down, I'd gotten distracted in a long conversation in the green room with, uh, some of my friends, um, that were also in that show.

And I came down with one boot on, and I was pretty upset about it, uh, because I was like, I messed up. But when I went down, I was greeted by this family that was like, You know, don't worry about it, brush it off, just pay attention next time. But I, you know, it's not the biggest deal in the world. And it helped me learn that the show always must go on and that there's always a family behind the scenes, which was really important.

ELIZABETH
Do you have recollections of life in the green room or scenes that you weren't in? What was your green room life like?
 
LUKE
I would always look at all the books down by there and we would always just open these books to random pages because there's thousands of plays on that wall. And we would just open up random books and look at all the, you know, Shakespearean English and just be so confused by everything going on.

We used to ask Jim Goode about these stories because he told us that he read every single book on the wall.

ELIZABETH
He was lying. [laughter]

LUKE
Yeah. A few of us were a little skeptical, but I, I believed it. So I kept asking him about plays and I asked Eric Wunsch about it, about all that stuff. And we, sometimes we would just hang out in the dressing rooms with all the lights because we thought that was always so cool.So those are the memories I had.

ELIZABETH
How about you, Levi? Anything come into mind now that you're, uh, dipping back into the pool?

LEVI
Yeah, with Green Room, I feel like, you know, I've been there so many times, it kind of just like, bbbbssssshhhhhhhhh  BTE Green Room memories kind of all mushed into one, but I do remember it always had this, like, this vibe, you know, before the show in the Green Room, we're all chilling out.

I remember just like little bits and pieces of, of conversations and hype for the show, chill for the show, you know, depends, but, uh, I, you're right, Luke. I totally remember us being like, oh my god, all of the lights in the dressing room are so cool. Let's hang out in the cool spot, which is the dressing room. That's funny that you mentioned that. Yeah.

ELIZABETH
I'd be interested to hear, since both of you did a number of shows at BTE, tell me the ones that come to mind. I don't expect you to remember them all, but you might. Levi, do you remember what shows you did?

LEVI
Uh, I think I can name most of them. I did, uh, Stinky Cheese Man. And I did, you know, Christmas Story, I did Sideways Stories from Wayside School, I remember that one, Penguin Pete's Pizza Emporium, and then we did, uh, Brothers Grimm, there might be one more, but I think that's it? Is that it? I'm gonna say that's it.

ELIZABETH
Yeah, we thought if you were gonna do any more shows, you'd probably have to play King Lear just to have some kind of challenge.

LEVI
[laughing]
A little challenge there, yeah.

ELIZABETH
How about you, Luke?

LUKE
Um, my first one was a Christmas Story, and then I did Penguin Pete's Pizza Emporium, I did the show about Joseph Priestley–

ELIZABETH
Gunpowder Joe

LUKE
Gunpowder Joe, I did A Christmas Carol, I did The Wizard of Oz, I did Charlotte's Web, and I think that might be it.

LEVI
Very nice.

LUKE
I think, I think that might be it.

ELIZABETH
And I'd be interested to hear, uh, each of you talk about, um, what kind of theater you're doing now.

LEVI
For sure. Right now. I'm in, uh, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare play. It's my first ever Shakespeare play, as well as my first ever college led production. And it's also the shortest production time I've had for a show.

It's not even a whole month. We... cranked that show, but it's a lot of fun getting my first Shakespeare play. It's like, how am I going to know all these words? And then, you know, I was told like, well, it's, it's actually easier than you think it is. You know, the, the words don't get muddied up in their head and it's right.

I'm getting. Proof of all these old Shakespeare adages of like, well, it makes sense when it comes to life on stage. Well, I don't think so. Oh my gosh, it actually makes sense when it's on stage, all that stuff. And it's really fun getting to learn people, my castmates, you know, lives and get to know a new group of people in school.

So I'm having a, I'm having a real good time with it.

ELIZABETH
And knowing you as I do, you have the perfect first role for you in Shakespeare. It is such a great role. Tell people who you are playing.

LEVI
That's right. I am Lance, the always depressed, goofy, sideshow character of the show, who just loves to... Almost, it's almost a self parody, uh, his character and I, I do love it a lot. It's so fun to just monologue about nonsense for like five minutes and then just leave.

ELIZABETH
That's excellent. And Luke, tell us what you've been up to.

LEVI
I'm playing Sweeney Todd. We're going to perform in March. We have our first rehearsal this Sunday. I'm very excited about it. This role, it's definitely the largest one I've had, but also it's a very challenging show, especially for a high school level production, simply because of how challenging the plot is.

I'm interested to see how it's received by the public. But, nevertheless, it's going to be a great time, and it's an operatic musical, which I'm really excited about.

ELIZABETH
Yes, it is. It is absolutely an operatic musical. And now we're going to be joined by Walker Dowd Whipple. Yeah. Hi, Walker. Hi. How much time do you have, Walker? Because I know you're at work.

WALKER
Seven minutes, maybe.

ELIZABETH
Seven minutes. Okay. I guess, in full disclosure, we are related. Uh, Walker is my son, and I was playing Miss Shields, and, uh, when you were playing Randy.

WALKER
Weren't you also the mother?

ELIZABETH
Was I the mother?

WALKER
Yeah, because it was the first time you had played my mother on the show and in real life.

ELIZABETH
Oh, that's right, because usually I did play Yes, I was playing your mother. That's right, that's right. I forgot that was the only time, the only year I played the mother character, and you were my son. Oh, I forgot that, Walker.

WALKER
It was a first for me.

ELIZABETH
Was your mother playing your mother.

WALKER
It was a first for me. I think that's also, that was the first show, Mom, you and I had ever been in together. I think it was the first, our first time acting together also.

ELIZABETH
Yeah, I think it was. I think it was. Uh, what memories do you have? I know as your mother that there was a long time after that show that you weren't keen on eating oatmeal at home.

WALKER
Oh no, I remember because I had to, because we had that, it was like cold instant oatmeal. I had to just stick my face in it every single day. So for like years afterward, I could not, I just had like a gag reflex. It was even anywhere near oatmeal. I couldn't. Eating it. I just couldn't get it. It was just, ugh.

The whole breakfast scene, I remember, was always just chaos. I'm have to, like, eat the oatmeal, run back, and have, like, a minute or two minutes to run back, get my face cleaned off, get out of my outfit, get my snowsuit on, and then run back out on stage in time for the rest of the scene to happen.

ELIZABETH
Yeah, that's great.

WALKER
What year was that? Was that 2000, like?

ELIZABETH
I don't know, but I'll look it up and we'll, uh, we'll figure out what year you were Randy. Uh, we were hoping Seth could join us today, but, uh, I wasn't able to make contact. When I saw him recently, he said the thing he remembers from you playing Randy was the time that you just sat there, and you were kind of bored with, you know, the whole oatmeal scene, and you started–

WALKER
Oh, is this when I built the snowman?

ELIZABETH
Yes, you made a snowman out of oatmeal.

WALKER
The thickness would vary by because they were just like pour hot water, it was cool by the time it got to me. But, just made this little snowman out of the, out of the, out of the oatmeal. I just like, looked at him and made a direct eye contact. And we're going to say, like, he was trying so hard not to break or start cracking.

ELIZABETH
Yeah, yeah, that is the stuff of legend. People definitely remember the time that they looked over and there was a snowman made out of oatmeal on your plate.

WALKER
Haven't been able to replicate that since, sadly.

ELIZABETH
That's great.

WALKER
I'll try again.

ELIZABETH
Uh, and Walker, have you done, uh, have you done any theater since you played Randy?

WALKER
I was briefly in the intern project in a Rabbit Hole, uh, and other things. A few years ago, there was a night, uh, in Christmas Carol, it was you and my father and Mac, our sister, all of us. So for one night, all 4 D-Ws were on stage at one time in one scene. It was the only scene I was in that night, I just came on stage.

Y'all came in extra early to do a little, like, one run through rehearsal with me, which was super great. And for that one scene, the Fezziwig party, all the D-Ws were on stage for one time.

ELIZABETH
Yeah, that was pretty beautiful. That was pretty beautiful. And you were also in Daddy Tightwad. I remember that we were in that.

WALKER
Yeah, Daddy Tightwad.

ELIZABETH
I directed it, so just one night when I had to fill in for somebody.

WALKER
Also, Mac was in that too, and then Mac was also in that one night.

ELIZABETH
Yeah, but your dad wasn't.

WALKER
Forget him.

ELIZABETH
We only achieved all four DWs on one night. So just last thing I want to ask you all is, is there anything that you've taken forward from your BTE experiences? They don't have to necessarily be theatrical. Uh, they can be.

LEVI
For me, it's kind of the first time there was like a big project that a lot of people were working on that I was part of. And I feel like that kind of. It kind of set up what like makes me enjoy– happy in life, you know, it kind of set that kind of what I'd strive for.

I want to go to that bigger picture kind of group project thing. So it made me happy to join band for my whole middle school, high school career and into college as well. Same thing with chorus and all that stuff. It really kind of set that interest in the arts from me very early on, and I feel like having that it kind of allowed me, you know, I got into saxophone. I'm in the jazz band at school. You know, I've already had time at the chorus at school as well. And, uh. I just love performance arts a lot, and I really thank BTE for that, for sure.

ELIZABETH
Well, you are also a really, really fine, uh, young actor, and I'm sure you still are. I wish I could be in your audience, so BTE thanks you, too, for your talent and your time and your humor and grace.

Uh, Luke, how about you?

LUKE
Um, I would have to say my entire... pre-show ritual and my whole sort of realization and presence on stage was learned all from BTE. I remember one time in The Wizard of Oz, I had a scene with you, Elizabeth, and I was, I was a monkey. And one time I was, you know, interacting with the audience less than I was with you.

And the next day, before the show started, you were like, during the scene, it's okay to have fun. But... Don't forget about the actual acting that has to be done. And it was a conversation that still stuck with me today about just learning how to, you know, be a character, but also just staying present and keeping your roots connected to the floor and, you know, breathing in and breathing out.

And that has meant so much for me, um, because it, it works when I'm auditioning for things, but it also works when I'm nervous in everyday life situations. So that has been a really useful tactic that I give all credit to BTE for.

ELIZABETH
That's great. That's so good to hear. Very sweet. I remember that. And I also remember you doing something so cool one night. I can't remember now what it was, but I just remember you found something. It was one of those moments when you see an actor, like, Try something for the first time and it totally works. And actor to actor sharing that joy.

LUKE
 It's just been a great way to like communicate with others and learn. I've learned so much.

ELIZABETH
Well, again, we are grateful to both of you for your time. It looks like Walker had to get back to work. Walker was calling in from Los Angeles where he lives and works. And Luke is at Central Columbia High School where you can see him as Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd. Levi Fritz is at Ursinus University and he is performing in the role of, you, you say Lance (LAnce) or Lance (Lahnce)?

LEVI
We, we say Lance (LAnce), but yeah. Lance, yeah, uh, Lance in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

ELIZABETH
And that's coming up this weekend, right?

LEVI
That's right.

ELIZABETH
How I wish I could be in your audience. I would love to, but I'm going to be performing in Twelfth Night Down at Riverstage. So we'll both be doing Shakespeare.

LEVI
That's right, Shakespeare weekend.

ELIZABETH
So we'll send good Shakespeare vibes to each other. So thank you so much for calling in. And thank you for all the memories. That I have of each of you and that you have of BTE. And I expect that I'll sit in your audience many more times in my life.Thank you so much.

LEVI
Uh, that's really sweet. I can't wait to get back to Bloomsburg, catch another show from BTE. I really, really enjoyed Grand Horizons. I remember seeing that on my, on my way back last summer and I was just... It's like, I'm home, so I can't, I can't wait to come and see what you on stage, of course, and the whole BTE family again.

ELIZABETH
Yeah, well, we are a family and it's true and it sounds like the big lesson that you all took from your early experiences at BTE is the power that theater offers to connect to something bigger than you could ever do yourself. And the kind of adrenaline rush and joy that you get from creating something with other people.

You become a pack animal. True. It's true. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you both. Thank you so much.

LEVI AND LUKE
Yeah. Have a good one. Thanks. Bye bye.

[Outro Music]

ELIZABETH
This has been Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble Down Center. Ensemble driven professional theatre, arts education, rural Pennsylvania, for everyone, with everyone. We'd like to thank the Foundation of the Chamber of Commerce for the use of the equipment that makes recording this podcast possible. Check out our website, www.bte.org, for show information and to purchase tickets. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram to get the most up to date information about what's happening at BTE.

Tickets for A Christmas Story are on sale now! Ho, ho, ho!