Holiday productions typically feature little green elves, oversized Santas and festive holiday decorations. But this year the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka will add another component to its tradition: Martians.
On Sunday, the church will put on its first-ever production of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!" Originally a 1964 movie, the offbeat story has been adapted by Minnesota playwright Jeff Hatcher into a 60-minute play for the church.
Hatcher has been known in the theater community for his work at local venues such as the Guthrie and Children's Theater, but this is also the fifth play he has written and directed for the church during his 10 years attending services there.
The church has typically produced a staple holiday play like "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Carol." Not this year.
"We needed to do something wacky to cleanse the palate, so to speak," Hatcher said.
Using plenty of green paper-mache heads, ray guns and 1960s-style costumes, Hatcher said he hopes the play emulates the cheesiness of the film.
Entire sets are made of cardboard, and anything that may have seemed faulty or out of place in the film adds to the aesthetic of the set, Hatcher said.
Jessica Harris has been working on sets for the past three years of productions with Hatcher, and she said the fun sets and silly costumes in "Martians" will give people a different take on a holiday theme.
"It teaches people to loosen up their hearts and accept the ordinary and unordinary for Christmas," she said.
The cast of 47 actors ranges from very young to elderly. Melissa McGowan, Hatcher's assistant for the production, said Hatcher wasn't willing to turn any actor away.
"He didn't want to do auditions," she said.
In an approach reminiscent of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," anyone who wanted to act in the production got a part, which McGowan said Hatcher wrote for each actor as needed. The play also allowed for more kids to get involved.
"Everyone's included," said McGowan.
Hatcher said the cast will be doing sound the "old-fashioned way." Actors will be on microphones making the sounds of the spaceship, robot and ray guns.
"They've been having fun trying to figure out what a ray gun sounds like," Hatcher said.
Though the play is about Martians, McGowan said it has a definite moral that supports the church's values.
"Unitarian Universalists believe in keeping the peace, even though we may have differences. Ultimately, everyone should get along and be helpful."
The production has even been opened up to non-members of the congregation. Twelve lines of dialogue were auctioned off to other community members. Those who won the lines chose any phrase and Hatcher somehow wrote it into the story.
Proceeds from the play will benefit both the church and Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners' fundraising effort.
Joy Petersen is a Minneapolis freelance writer.