Paul Pierce returns to the Springer stage for one final farewell run of A Tuna Christmas this holiday season. This production marks Pierce's eighteenth time doing the show at the Springer, and he says he's "99 and 4,000% sure it will be his last." Remarkably, Pierce has been cast in eighteen out of the twenty-one productions of Tuna at the Springer – many of them during "the best years of his life" as he co-starred alongside the late Ron Anderson.
We sat down with Pierce for an exclusive interview to learn more about what A Tuna Christmas means to him, how it began to have productions at the Springer in the first place, and why Pierce believes Tuna has grown to mean so much to audiences over the years.
Q: Okay, Paul. So tell me, is this really your last production of A Tuna Christmas?
A: Yes. I think. I am about 99 and 4000% sure this is the last. You know, what happens in the future is up to Keith (McCoy) of course. But I think this is definitely my Tuna Swan Song.
Q: You've done the show for more than two decades now. Can you tell our audiece why you love this show so much?
A: Well, it is kind of deep for me. It has been such a big part of my life. You know, we did the show for the first time right after 9/11 happened.
This was for the Christmas of 2001, and at the time, no other theater in America, had been able to get the rights to A Tuna Christmas. It was highly restricted at the time. But Ron and I got to be friends with Ed Howard – one of the original writers of the show. We knew several of the writers because we'd met them first as actors in Atlanta.
Strangely, my college roommate at the University of Georgia was a guy named Ned Bridges. Ned introduced me to Ed Howard and Jason Williams, who later wrote A Tuna Christmas together! That's how we ended up getting the rights to produce it at the Springer, and we've been doing it ever since.
Q: Wait. Isn't Ned also your co-star for this year's production?
A: Yes, he is. And what fun we are having! We've been performing theatre together for more than forty years, so it feels very special to be co-starring with him in this final production at the Springer. He is an incredible actor, and we're just having such a great time performing together again.
Q: What's something people don't know about A Tuna Christmas?
A: Well, first of all that it's one fo the most produced plays in the English language now. But that first year we did the show, was 2001 and the world had just been rocked and turned upside down by the tragic events of 9/11. Then, Ron and I were on stage debuting A Tuna Christmas at the Springer that Christmas, and we realized it was exactly the kind of show people needed most at that time.
Q: Interesting. What do you mean?
A: Well, there was this period after September 11th when the late night TV shows and Saturday Night Live and all of those kinds of shows talked about this national feeling and questioning like 'is there going to become a point where we can laugh again? We all felt it.
Then, Ron and I opened A Tuna Christmas and we were sort of on the front lines of that feeling, but that December it was a huge hit. It was healing for the audience, and they were telling us this almost every night. So, I think it's fair to say A Tuna Christmas burrowed its way into the hearts of our theatre, its actors and its audience from the very first production. There are still people that we talk to every year when we do Tuna who say, 'I was here that first year and it was just what we all needed.'
Q: That's beautiful. To have so many people still coming back every year?
A: It really has been remarkable to see how much it's become a traditions for so many people. They bring family members from all over, too. It's incredible. Someone will come up to us after the show and say, "This is my cousin so-and-so from Alaska and I told him he just had to see this show with us at least once!"
Anyway, as you can tell with those first early years of Tuna at the Springer, one thing led to another, and because people loved the show so much, we did it the next year, and we did it the next year, and then it just became this thing. It wasn't until our fourth year when Ron and I got together to plan the season and just naively thought we'd just not do it again. We figured we'd already done it for three years, so surely the audiences were sick of it by now. We were wrong.
People loved the show we did that year, but at every performance we got multiple requests to bring A Tuna Christmas back again. So we did. Then, after six or seven years of seeing no drop in ticket sales, we realized we had kind of a cult favorite in our hands.
What made it even better for me was that Tuna was the one time a year Ron and I met on stage to perform together. During those years, the Springer owned the actors. We were already on payroll. Ron and I would be doing different things throughout the year, and once a year we would meet on stage to perform Tuna together.
It was the one time of the year where two old friends met on stage for something that we really enjoyed. Those were some of the best years of my life. Audiences enjoyed it, and it generated much needed revenue for the Springer Opera House.But it also got to be an important part of our friendship.
Q: How much of an impact has A Tuna Christmas had on The Springer, do you think?
A: To this day? Well, I mean, I can't remember the last time we actually added things up, but, I know that over 65,000 people have seen A Tuna Christmas in our smallest theater. And it's generated over a million dollars for the Springer Opera House since that first production in 2001. And even though it was spread out over all of these years, that million dollars paid for a lot of payrolls. It allowed us to add much needed employees, and in many ways A Tuna Christmas played a large part in helping to finance the operation of the Springer Opera House. million dollars for a theater, even though it was spread out over all of these years, that million dollars paid for a lot of payrolls Sure. Throughout the year. Sure. It allowed us to add, um, much needed, uh, employees. Sure. And in many ways, attune of Christmas financed the operation of the Springer Opera House since 2001.
Q: That's incredible. A million dollars with a show, and it's a two man show. That's incredible to me. Yeah. That's amazing. What a testament to your work to do that, and also just the loyalty of the community to keep showing up. What do you think has kept them coming back year after year?
A: Well, I believe it's the message of the show. It's a fun storyline, but also it's got depth that you don't expect it to have. I'll leave it at that, but what I will say is that there's a reason people have kept coming back to see this show for the last twenty years. It's a wonderful piece of theatre and it's a lot of fun to share the stage with Ned to bring it back one last time at the Springer. ◼️
If You Go:
What: A Tuna Christmas
When: December 14-23
Where: Springer Opera House