Obviously I’m a little behind, but since Christmas doesn’t end until like Jan 7 in Selahville, I’m just going to go right on ahead with holiday posting, because I can.
I’ve mentioned it off and on, but December is not the easiest month in the world for me. While I like the seasonal aesthetic, it seems like if anything awful, life-changing, or downright weird is going to happen, it’s likely to happen in December. Seriously, we’re talking medical-mystery grade illness with wacky false diagnoses, weather that had me hiking out of ditches and almost having to hold the door of my car closed during a snowstorm, breakups, monumental fights, family deaths, friend deaths, pet deaths, near muggings, and that time I was accidentally set on fire at Christmas Eve service. Apparently I live an active life.
It’s also traditionally been the time I’ve pulled down a lot of holiday gigs, because, eh, just because the season can be hard emotionally doesn’t mean I’m not showing up and doing what needs to be done. Obviously, sometimes the two collide in ways I could never anticipate.
Holidays for me and lots of other entertainment types have a slightly different timeline – I’ve had years where Halloween lasted from May to November because of planning meetings and design schedules, and typically in the past I’ve had Christmas go from September or October to January (sometimes March. It just depends on what I’m doing and how fast things need to be discussed for the next year). I’d been doing event performance work for a while because I’m experienced at suit work, experienced at puppetry, and look like a children’s television host, so there’s a lot I can potentially be cast as or rotated through.
2008 was the first year my costume savvy combined with my extra holiday work and performance experience in a captain planet-worthy conglomeration of holiday sparkle. I was cast in a show at a local place, but also called in to design and build the costumes for me and another performer. More experience for me and I wasn’t contorted behind the scenes to perform, so yay! Granted, it was the first time I had to present things on my own at production meetings, it was a tight build schedule that I kept while finishing up another seasonal dayjob, plus the script was altered from a two person show to two different one person shows that would alternate daily. By time we actually got to rehearsal, I was a little mentally exhausted, anyway.
Also, this was outdoors. Technically in a giant event tent, but let me warn you right now propane heaters don’t do much in a large space and wind will get in anywhere. It was also years before I’d really taken long underwear to the art form I know now. Seriously, if you need to be outdoors now, I can talk you through it. It’s a little frightening how good at winter outdoor dressing I’ve gotten. We had a little area behind the stage where the technician and I would hide with some space heaters, and if it got incredibly cold between shows, I could always book it to a building across the event area, which also involved navigating some rides, a petting zoo, Santa, and any number of audience members in a night.
In the show I played an elf who was a combination of an over-caffeinated version of my inner child and a materialistic eighties kid. It was also heavy on the audience participation and involved a capella singing. Honestly, I love kids, I’d studied voice for a long time, and I didn’t mind the limitations – I don’t mind challenges and it was a decent gig for the time. That isn’t to say I don’t have a million stories I’m not telling here, or that there weren’t nights when I physically turned blue and had to make strategic use of the space heaters, sound issues, and times I had to fight the event soundtrack that would accidentally be fed into our area. Like all small holiday shows, things really depend on the type and size of the audience you get and that was always up in the air. Plus there was a bar that adult audience members quite liked and really turned their expectations into a whole other thing. Let’s just say I learned how to read a crowd really well and improvised how close I got to the audience very quickly, and learned to field some particularly fascinating requests. And that under certain circumstances apparently I’m just devastatingly awesome in head-to-toe mylar.
At any rate, it was fun. I will admit that I liked being super-sparkly and there’s something to be said for being that kind of ridiculous character. Because it was an every other day gig, I actually had time to prepare for the holidays and found myself feeling the Christmas spirit for the first time in a long time.
And then my grandfather died.
It was sudden, and we were extremely close. Because of my schedule I hadn’t been able to keep our usual weekly visits. Devastated doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt. Suddenly everything felt ridiculous and I began to wonder about myself in ways that weren’t doing me any favors. It was a giant tear through my life, to put it mildly. Thankfully I was able to go to the funeral and be with family, and also have a day to get myself together.
Then it was back to it. When people say the show must go on, it’s not just for film and Broadway. The fact is, you sign a contract and you have to honor it if you want to keep getting work. So I showed up all sparkly, retouched my makeup in the bathroom, checked in with my tech to reassure people that yes, I was up for this, and did the best I could. I clung to that script like a lifeline, which wasn’t easy given there was nothing happy about how I was feeling, and the crowds at the time were small so there wasn’t a lot of interaction to feed off of, there, either.
During a break, I started to navigate the way to the main employee building. While I usually tried to stay in character and keep my sparkle in tact during those walks, it was really stinkin’ cold so I opted for my coat. A lot of the outfit still showed, though, and I didn’t think anything of it, merely making a bee-line for the great indoors.
Look, Mom, it’s an elf!!! Is it a real elf?! this voice chirped from by the petting zoo. Admittedly I had taken to cutting through there because alpacas can make the lowest soul feel better for a few heartbeats.
I’d love to say my mental dialogue was something charming, but at the moment all I was thinking was Inside Inside Heat Heat Heat… Still, I turned and waved and told them about the show, then scampered off to thaw out.
When I got back for the next round of holiday magic, I noticed coming inside the tent that it was going to be a small crowd, mainly the one group I had bypassed in the petting zoo. A group of kids with an adult or two, all pretty enthusiastic, which was nice. I couldn’t tell which had been the one who had made me, but since they were all on the tall side I figured that they’d been being silly, playing up things. Let’s just say I got a lot of comments of all sorts walking in public in elf gear, so that was my go to assumption, though my go to reaction was to always promote the show and be as nice as I could.
The plot was the basic materialistic personality doesn’t get the real meaning of Christmas and by talking to the audience gets that love and family and giving are better than getting a zillion things, which also helped the character get a promotion to official elf. With songs and goofiness and no I will never re-enact that for you if you catch me at a convention. I’d get a lot of different types of reactions depending on the age range of the audience, the size, and how close to the holiday it was.
I was not, however, expecting to be interrupted by the girl who’d spotted me outside. I don’t even remember what I was talking about, but midway through she stood up, walked right up to the stage, and said ‘Yeah, and some people don’t even think Santa Claus exists!’ I think I acknowledged the statement with something positive and life-affirming and tried to keep on task, because I wasn’t quite sure where she was going with things.
And then her hand popped up like she was in school. I mean what could I do, ignore her with her arm up in the air for twenty minutes? I’m not heartless.
“So you’re an elf. You’ve been talking to Santa on your cell phone” (yay, props!) “So you can tell me. Does Santa really exist, because some people tell me no, and I don’t know what to think.”
Thank God there wasn’t a soundtrack because everything came to a dead screeching halt.
I looked to the parent who seemed to be the girl’s mom and could find nothing on her face to read how I was supposed to answer this. While I’m not a parent, a good amount of my friends are, and I respect that everyone has a different way of addressing things like this so I was very aware that any answer I gave could be the exact wrong one. I glanced to my tech and she was as stunned as I was, but was making motions to just keep on going.
It was an odd feeling, standing there in the cold, wishing we could get to the sing along portion so I could bounce around and warm up a little, wondering what I should do. On the one hand, recent events made it feel like the world is a hard, realistic place. On the other, it was obvious the girl was earnestly wanting an answer and was right at that age where things could go either way – it would be okay for her to believe another year, or she’d survive when the truth came out. I didn’t feel like it was my place to tell her either answer, because who was I to make that decision for her?
Well, I was an elf. There was that. Nothing like suddenly realizing you’re the foremost authority in the room and you have no clue what to do.
Somehow, before my brain could quite catch up, I invited her to sit with me at the edge of the stage so I could talk to her and her posse. Sometimes, while acting, you have those moments where it feels like you’re tapping into something else, and while it was kind of like moving underwater for me, I absolutely knew I had to do something. I’m paraphrasing and going off memory, but I managed something to the effect of “Well, that’s a hard question, because even though you see Santa around, there’s all sorts of thoughts on his helpers. I’ve only talked to him over the phone!” I admitted, sticking to the details in the script. “But here’s the thing,” I added quickly. “There are some people who only believe what they see with their eyes. That’s all that makes sense to them. And that’s okay, because that’s how they live their life and it works. But there are other people who see things with their hearts, too, and some things that can only be seen with your heart.”
“Like love!” God bless child logic. I don’t think I could stop the big smile from hitting my face.
“Exactly like love. So you have to look at the question the best way you can and answer it with what you think is right.”
I’ll never forget how she stared at me, then smiled. “Well, I believe in Santa Claus.”
“Good, me too.”
And honestly? I do. I get the real world logistics, but Santa is one of those concepts that the world needs. If an idea like that empowers people to be giving and to let kids be kids a while longer, then I’m all for it. I’ve been a kid and believed in Santa, I went through my non-believing phase, and I’m just plain happier thinking he might exist somewhere and we haven’t pinned him down yet, or at least making sure that kids think that. It hit me in that moment that yes, I was torn apart inside, the winter was cold and dark and I was missing someone I loved. Still, there were these bright, candle-spark moments that I was obviously supposed to be a part of. The show moved on, we had a great time, the kids participated and took photos afterward, and to this day it remains the show of that run that I remember the best.
The mother thanked me afterward, apparently it had been something that’d been gnawing at her daughter. Honestly? I couldn’t tell her without breaking the spell, but gave me just as big a gift, she gave me a sense of hope and belief right back that night, that while I’d never get over losing my grandfather, I could still love him and still find a sense of purpose. There were still good things out there.
In a strange epilogue that I’m not sure was purposeful, one night later in the run the tech and I actually decided to see Santa. We’d said hi to each other when our paths crossed on the periphery, and we did a party appearance together, but beyond that it really was like I was trying to call him up on a cell phone from miles away, because we didn’t interact. So we went to his little hutch and I fell into character easily (he only knew me by the character name, after all. It was a big place and a lot of us never ran into each other except out “on stage”). He talked to both of us and we made small talk with his handlers, and I was promptly told that even though he’d told me about my promotion over the phone, he wanted me to know that he’d heard all about me and the good I’d been doing, and that I was definitely an official elf.
I’ll never know if he got wind of that night or other times I tried to keep in character for kids, and it doesn’t matter. But it was one of those things that also gave me a smile when I needed it.
Through the years I’ve had all kinds of December moments – it’s part of the reason why Holly and Ivy isn’t altogether happy. Although it’s a faerie-oriented story, I wanted to show that things change, not everyone is going to agree with each other, there’s sacrifice along with beauty but you can still enjoy some moments and not have to have guilt over it. I love the Lou Reed song Magic and Loss, and I think that sums up my Decembers pretty well: “There’s a little bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out.” It doesn’t make things hurt any less, but it also doesn’t stop me from looking for the magic.
Joy goes hand in hand with disappointment, happiness balances out sadness. Part of the beauty of Christmas (or all winter holidays, really) is that we’re celebrating that we’re still here, hard as the winter may be. You never know what’s around the corner, so celebrate and love while you can. So I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, but if by some chance, you didn’t, it’s okay. I get it. Things cycle through and some years aren’t going to be good, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have hope, or love, or all the things that are candle lights in the dark winter.
It doesn’t mean you have to stop believing.