Pec Playhouse stages Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

From press release

PECATONICA, Ill.—“This show is special in more ways than one,” said Penny Wiegert, director of Pec Playhouse Theatre’s Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus, currently in production.

One of those reasons is because the show is Wiegert’s debut as a director at Pec Playhouse Theatre. Wiegert is a Pecatonica native and has directed many shows in Winnebago and for Byron Civic Theatre, but this is her first time directing in her hometown.

Secondly, and probably more important to Wiegert, is the fact that Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus is about a newspaper editorial written by Francis Church for The New York Sun. The editorial was written in 1897 by Church, a seasoned and widely-traveled newspaper editor, in response to Virginia O’Hanlon’s question about the existence of Santa Claus. Church’s response has been a Christmas classic ever since.

“Every journalist hopes their words make a difference like Church’s editorial did,” Wiegert said.

“I had my first article published right here in Pecatonica in 1973 when I was in the eighth grade,” Wiegert said. “I have been writing for newspapers ever since.

“So much of the dialogue of this play really hits home for me,” Wiegert said. “I guess you could say Church and I both have ink in our blood. I understand the joys and sorrows of being a ‘newspaper man.’ This story about his life and editorial are rich with references to the life of newspaper people—a life I certainly enjoy.”

Today, Wiegert is editor of The Observer Catholic newspaper and the communications director for the Diocese of Rockford. She has worked at that newspaper since 1986. Prior to that, she was special sections editor for North Central Associated Publishers, a company that published six weekly newspapers in northern Illinois, including the Pecatonica News, now known as The Gazette.

Wiegert has earned more than 25 journalism awards in her career and is now the president of the Catholic Press Association for the United States and Canada and is a member of the board of directors for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association.

Because of that background, Wiegert feels a special bond with the subject of the play—Francis Church, the author of the famous editorial.

The other perk, Wiegert said, is having the “privilege of directing another local newspaper namesake, Mary Larson.” Larson writes a weekly column for The Gazette and will portray Mrs. Goldstein in the production.

“The language of newspapers comes out in this production, and it’s great to share it with a veteran like Mary,” Wiegert said. “I am so honored to help bring this great story to the stage in my hometown. Working with the people at PPT has been a great Christmas gift, and I hope the audience will share in that gift as well.”

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus opens at Pec Playhouse Theatre Friday, Nov. 19, and runs through Dec. 5. Tickets are $10 and are on sale by calling (815) 239-1210.

Visit Pec Playhouse at

From the Nov. 17-23, 2010 issue

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