O Christmas Tree…in Florida?
A little-known agricultural specialty sparks an exploration of holiday traditions.
By Janet Scherberger
When you think of Florida agriculture, what comes to mind? Oranges? Strawberries? Sugar? Tomatoes?
How about Christmas trees?
Yes, Florida farmers raise Christmas trees, and they are the focus of Thinking Cap Theatre’s project, “From Christmas Tree Farm to Stand: An Interdisciplinary Documentary.” Supported with a $10,000 Community Project Grant from Florida Humanities, programming includes an oral and photo history collection, podcast, original play and exhibit.
How did collaborators Nicole Stodard and Bree-Anna Obst settle on Christmas tree farms as a topic?
“It’s partly because we are excessive decorators at the holiday,” jokes Stodard, the theater’s resident playwright and scholar. ”We love to put up trees.”
Stodard recalls growing up in Maryland, where Christmases meant cutting a live tree from a nearby farm, hauling it home and trimming it by the warm flames flickering in the family room fireplace. While brainstorming ideas for a holiday program for Fort Lauderdale’s Thinking Cap Theatre, she and Obst discovered the Christmas tree farms in Florida.
“I have been here 12 years, and I literally had no idea,” Stodard says.
According to the Florida Christmas Tree Association, Florida boasts nearly two dozen Christmas tree farms, from Milton to Cape Coral. Stodard and Bree-Anna Obst, designer and technical director at Thinking Cap Theatre, began interviewing farmers across the state in the summer.
“They’ve been excited to share their stories,” Obst says.
Some describe farms that have been in the family for generations. Most invite families to cut their own trees—spruce pine, sand pine, Virginia pine and red cedar—providing the kind of experience Stodard remembers.
The interviews and photos collected will form the basis of an oral history and image library. The oral histories will also be turned into a four-episode podcast, allowing the farmers to tell their stories in their own words—what their day-to-day is like, how it feels to work on a Christmas tree farm in the heat of July, and how the trees go from farm to homes all over the state.
The interviews also will be incorporated into an original play with original songs set for 10 performances between December 9 and December 21.
“The play is going to be grounded in the lives of a family from South Florida that travels up the coast to North Florida to cut a tree,” Stodard says. “They’re a multicultural family with Hispanic, Christian and Jewish backgrounds, which will give us an opportunity to talk about a cross-pollination of traditions.”
Surrounding programming will also explore a variety of December religious and cultural traditions.
A panel discussion will explore different rituals and religions. An interactive exhibit in the theater lobby will invite audience members to share their own holiday traditions on a graffiti wall and decorate an ornament to hang on one of the freshly cut trees on display.
“As people come to see the show, they’ll be able to see the traces of the people before them,” Obst says.
Attendees will be able to peruse photos of Florida tree farms collected by Obst and Stodard on view in a gallery.
Thinking Cap Theatre was founded in 2010 with the mission of presenting thought-provoking, and not merely entertaining, theater. “From Christmas Tree Farm to Stand” furthers that mission, Stodard says.
“From the get-go our mission was about equity and diversity and inclusiveness and audience development,” Stodard says. ‘“This project is very much in keeping with that goal of connecting with the community, of being community-based and history-based.”
For more information on “From Christmas Tree Farm to Stand” events and performances, go to thinkingcaptheatre.org/ or visit the Florida Humanities events calendar. For information on choosing and cutting your own tree from a Florida Christmas tree farm, go to flchristmastrees.com.
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