Antietam Recreation keeps the magic of the season alive with 'A Christmas Experience'
It's a November Saturday evening at Antietam Recreation, south of Hagerstown.
After a prayer, patrons seated family-style are served a meal by waiters and waitresses dressed in festive glittery red vests before "A Christmas Experience." The low murmur of talking and laughing, interchanged with clinking of utensils and cups, filled the room. After the tables are cleaned, the lights are dimmed and a hush comes over the room in anticipation of the evening's show. The magic of Christmas was about to arrive.
Tim Rotz, director/producer of "A Christmas Experience," and whose family owns Antietam Recreation, said the Christmas shows have become an annual experience for patrons.
"It's kind of a like a musical-style, dinner theater show, but it has a lot of variety," he said.
The show runs various times through Saturday, Dec. 29, at Antietam Recreation.
With a underlying love story punctuated with song and dance numbers, Rotz said it's a show that has something for everyone.
And the mission is "to try to capture the essence of the Christmas spirit is the goal of the show."
An originally written piece by Rotz and his wife, Kristi, the show is in its second year. He said those who experienced the show before will see some changes. The differences usually come through collaboration with the cast, he said.
"It always morphs into something different," he said.
And for Rotz who gets to share working with his family to put on the Christmas show, it's even more special.
"It's great to be able to do something that we are excited about and love doing with our family and with our extended family — the cast," he said. "By the time we get through rehearsals and everything, the cast is part of our extended family. We have Christmas parties together. And tonight, we'll watch the show back together and have food and fellowship, and being part of that atmosphere."
Those who enjoy the food can also thank Rotz.
"I do a lot of the cooking myself," he said with a laugh.
Kristi Rotz, who also dances in the show, said "A Christmas Experience" is more than a show and meal. It starts when patrons first walk through the front gates.
"We have a wagon ride that takes you down to Bethlehem, and there might be a little encounter with Roman soldiers," she said.
People can partake in marshmallow roasting or grab a cup of hot apple cider or hot chocolate, or eat some popcorn. Kristi Rotz said there is a live Nativity that includes some "exotic" animals.
"There are tons of activities beforehand so the kids can get some energy out," she said.
And those attending can get a souvenir photo taken before heading inside for the meal. There are vegetarian and kids meal options, she said, as well as a brownie sundae during intermission.
Ashley McElroy of Hagerstown plays Aunt Joy and is an ensemble dancer. This is her fifth Christmas show at Antietam Recreation, including her second year of "A Christmas Experience," of which she said she enjoys the storyline.
"It really gets to the roots of how Christmas became how it is today, and that's what I really love," she said.
And she said the audience will really enjoy "the sense of warmth and togetherness" of what the show portrays.
Megan Kiley of Hagerstown is one of the dancers. This year marks her third year during the Christmas season at Antietam Recreation.
"I think what I love the most about it is the family atmosphere we have here," she said. "You can tell when you walk into the room that we as a staff, we genuinely love and care for each other. And we have a great time performing with each other which really makes our show stick out because you can really feel the family we have grown and the bond that we have. I think it kind of illuminates through the entire facility that it's a really great family and warm and cozy feeling when you walk in."
And that's really the Christmas experience the Rotzes want to pass onto those who come for a show.
"We just hope they just have a really good time surrounded by the people they came with, whether it be their family, their friends, or someone they just met across the table from them. We hope they leave really warm and they have Christmas spirit when they leave. We hope they want to come back and they want to start a tradition. That's our goal," Kristi Rotz said. "We want this to be a place where family and friends can gather and keep the tradition alive year after year."
Top photo: Jillian Dugan, left, as Abby, along with Ashley Mae McElroy as Aunt Jo, participate in "A Christmas Experience" at Antietam Recreation. (Submitted photo)