Sweet Home author builds community play from ground up

By Ethan Hoagland
Of The New Era

For two nights in December, a free play will show Sweet Home community members a side of the Christmas story they may not have considered much: that of the innkeepers who took in Mary and Joseph. What’s more, the play will showcase all Sweet Home talent. From the playbook, to the music, to the cast and even down to the sets, it’s all locally made.

The idea started with author Satina Tolman, who began developing the story several years ago.

“I always wondered what this innkeeper was like,” Tolman said. “A lot of the art I’ve seen depicting him, he looks grumpy and not very kind.”

Originally, Tolman tried to produce the play for her church in 2021, but a Covid outbreak sidelined her plans. But she used that setback to allow the story more time to expand in her mind.

“I ended up turning it into a short novel,” she said. “I published a book called ‘The Innkeeper’s Wife.'” That book, published to Amazon in October 2022, focused on the perspective of the innkeeper’s wife, Abigail.

In December 2022, she was able to put on the play for her church. Fellow members of her congregation encouraged Tolman to put on the play for the community at large.

“At first, I didn’t give it much thought because I’m a writer, but I’m not a director,” she said. “It was one thing to do it small-scale for my church, another thing to do it for the whole community. It was a very daunting task.

“We’ve had to start from scratch, getting the set created, and just absolutely everything,” Tolman said.

The community quickly embraced Tolman’s need for help. She gathered enough sponsors to put on the show for free. Local carpenter Kurt Kuczynski built the sets, and painter Tim Meyers, known for his murals around Sweet Home, finished them. Aaron Hegge of Sweet Home’s Farmers Insurance designed and printed the programs. The New Era provided free advertising for the play as well. All told, Tolman believes the community stepped forward to provide about $2,500 for the play.

“That doesn’t include the time that, you know the carpenter, the painter, the costumer– the time that those people put into it. They volunteered their time,” Tolman said.

“The Innkeepers” features five musical numbers. In mid-November, the play hit a slight road bump as some musicians had to drop out. But the community stepped up to answer Tolman’s urgent call for musicians.

Depending how this year plays out, Tolman hopes to bring “The Innkeepers” back to Sweet Home in the future.

The play runs Saturday, Dec. 9 and Sunday, Dec. 10 at the Sweet Home High School auditorium. Saturday’s show begins at 2 p.m., while Sunday’s starts at 7 p.m.

“I just really hope everyone will come and experience this as a community,” Tolman said. “It’s kind of our gift to the community, to share the true meaning of Christmas with everybody.”