Dec. 20-23: Springer's 'Tuna Christmas' becomes holiday tradition

Tonight marks the 11th year "A Tuna Christmas" opens at the Springer Opera House. It could have been the 12th year, except that in 2003, actors Paul Pierce and Ron Anderson thought local theater-goers were tired of seeing the comedy.

Instead of "Tuna," "Cotton Patch Gospel" was performed that season. While that show was popular, Springer staffers received phone calls and letters requesting the return of "A Tuna Christmas."

Pierce and Anderson decided to make the show an annual tradition.

"People can't get enough of seeing two middle-aged men in pantyhose," joked Anderson.

The show is performed in the Springer's Foley Hall, which seats about 200. It's the perfect setting, Anderson said, because it is such an intimate space. He can look out in the audience and pick out people he knows.

"We can see everyone in the house," he said. "Everyone is along for the ride."

And even though "Tuna" has been performed at the Springer 140 times, Pierce said every single performance is "a new experience."

The intimate setting can also be a distraction because the actors can see the audience's reactions.

"We really have to concentrate," Anderson said.

Pierce said they have to be prepared for anything.

Ed Howard co-wrote the play with Jaston Williams and Joe Sears. Howard is directing the Springer show, which he has done since the beginning. The three also wrote "Greater Tuna," "Red, White and Tuna" and "Tuna Does Vegas."

Pierce said Howard arrives the weekend before opening night and watches them rehearse. He gives them "notes" to adjust their performances.

"Ed says they (the characters) are real," Pierce said. "They're here right now. The actor just has to get out of the way and let the characters out. It's another way of thinking."

Howard loves the Springer, Pierce said. "He says it's the best part of his year."

For those people who say they can't imagine Christmas without "A Tuna Christmas," Anderson said they'll continue to do it as long as people "demand it."

"We've been here most Decembers," Pierce said. "We'll be here next December. This is our Christmas. This is pretty much it."