SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA, Japan (Dec. 23, 2020) – Cast members of this year’s holiday play at the School Age Center here wore masks, socially distanced in a large gym, and performed almost exclusively in front of a camera.They barely noticed the COVID-19 restrictions, however. Instead, cast members enthusiastically described the setting as a “winter wonderland” at the North Pole inhabited by a gingerbread girl, a snowman, a reindeer, a polar bear, an elf and Mrs. Claus herself.“We have all had a pretty challenging year, but our team was determined to keep the holiday spirit alive in the School Age program,” said Michelle Baldwin-Trotter, the program’s director.Usually the center welcomes families to visit and watch the annual play in person, but this year, because of visitor restrictions, staff members filmed the play and sent it to families so they could watch it at home, Baldwin-Trotter said.The play, a riff on “The Gingerbread Man” folktale, features a gingerbread girl named Peppermint who runs from Mrs. Claus after coming out of the oven at the North Pole, said Kirsten McCauley, a staff member who directed the play. Soon, the play’s other characters give chase, until the reindeer tricks the gingerbread girl and eats her.Kaylah Horikoshi, 8, who played the snowman in the Dec. 18 production, said her favorite aspect of the play was that it was so “wintery,” but ultimately, she volunteered to perform because she wanted to make her mom and dad proud.Leila Kaea, 9, the narrator, said she liked how the play brought everyone at the School Age Center together in a variety of production roles.“I think that it’s going to bring holiday cheer because everyone is helping with the play,” Leila said.Meanwhile, Andrea Crispell, 8, who played Peppermint, the gingerbread girl who runs from Mrs. Claus to avoid being eaten, didn’t let her part get in the way of enjoying a good snack.In fact, her favorite part of the play was that “Ms. Kirsten is bringing in gingerbread for us to eat,” Andrea said.Baldwin-Trotter said she thought it was important to perform a holiday play this year to retain a sense of normalcy.Theater has always been popular among children at the center, Baldwin-Trotter said.“It increases self-confidence, improves communication skills and allows for strong self-expression,” Baldwin-Trotter said. “It also helps foster teamwork and community.”McCauley said the children worked on the play for three weeks.They designed the shirts they wore for costumes, created props for the North Pole scenery and worked together to rewrite the script so it would be more inclusive, McCauley said.Baldwin-Trotter said the creative minds in the program―those of children and staff members alike―impressed her during the play’s production.“This month has been filled with a lot of great activities and I am happy that we will be ending the year on such a high note,” Baldwin-Trotter said.