A Very Electric Christmas returns to the Weinberg Center
FREDERICK, Md. — Piling the kids into the car to admire holiday lights is a favorite tradition for many families.
Lightwire Theater’s “A Very Electric Christmas” takes the light show experience to a new level with the addition of puppetry, dance, and a story that appeals to theatergoers of all ages. The troupe returns to Frederick’s Weinberg Center for the Arts at 1 and 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23.
Lightwire Theater got its start more than a decade ago when creators Ian Carney and Corbin Popp danced in Twyla Tharp’s “Movin’ Out” on Broadway. There they were introduced to a product called electroluminescent wire. They quickly recognized its potential as a new medium for storytelling.
Along with their wives, Eleanor Carney and Whitney Popp, they began constructing an army of neon-glowing creatures from fishing poles, roller skates, and other spare parts.
The son of a visual artist, Ian Cooney inherited his father’s talent for costume design, while Corbin Popp was the electrical wizard.
Eleanor Carney said in a fully darkened theater, an audience member looking at a dancer in a dinosaur costume would see only the dinosaur.
“Being a dancer, it’s all about you for so long and all of a sudden, you erase yourself,” she said during a telephone interview. “But it gives you such freedom at the same time.”
Lightwire Theater first attracted an international audience as semifinalists in season seven of “America’s Got Talent”. By the end of the competition, the company had amassed a menagerie of glowing creatures. Producers realized they would make perfect characters for a holiday-themed show.
The Carneys had danced together in “The Nutcracker” for more than 20 years, and it was a beloved part of their own holiday tradition.
“My husband had always wanted to light up the battle scene,” she said. “But we didn’t want to just re-create ‘The Nutcracker.’ We wanted to tell our own story.”
The plot of “A Very Electric Christmas” revolves around a bird flying South with his family when they’re blown apart during a snowstorm. The baby bird winds up in the North Pole alone and must find his way home.
Carney noted that while some audience members are caught up in figuring out the mechanics of the show, all are captivated by the characters.
“We put a great deal of effort into our story,” she said. “If you don’t fall in love with our creatures, you’re not going to be engaged.”
“A Very Electric Christmas” began touring in 2013 and became so popular that three separate casts now perform simultaneously. Their training is highly specialized. Dancers must learn how to move in the dark and master complex costume changes and electrical switches.
The innovative nature of the performances has allowed the Carneys to extend their careers far beyond the norm for professional dancers.
“My husband and I were partners, and we enjoyed working together. This has allowed us to do that and to see the world,” Eleanor said.
Meanwhile, the Popps left behind the touring lifestyle when they started a family. Corbin now works as a dentist but remains involved as much as possible.
“Come back and glow with us,” Eleanor said the Carneys are fond of telling him.
The Carneys continue expanding their vision as they tour new locales from Brazil to China.
“Go into Home Depot and look sideways because there are dinosaurs and all kinds of creatures in here,” she said. “You just have to have the creativity to find them.”