Who is Santa and where does he come from?
Caravan Farm Theatre has some good ideas and their sharing them in their new winter show, Old Nick.
This is not the jolly man of commercial fame.
Oh Caravan’s Santa wears red and white and has a white beard, but that’s where the similarities end.
Old Nick, well, at the top of the show, he’s a hermit, who lives in the bush; a grumpy miner who doesn’t want anything to do with anyone – and he definitely doesn’t like kids.
Meet Krampus, his helper, a mythical creature of European lore, who accompanies Saint Nicholas warning and punishing bad children.
But not at Caravan, although, this goat demon is still a villain and, OK, he does steal one child.
From the Italian tradition comes Befana, a witch who puts presents in shoes, which are under the children’s beds.
Another aide to Saint Nicholas of Dutch and Belgian folklore, Caravan’s Black Pete is a chimney sweep and narrator of the show.
“He enlists Old Nick’s help to save Christmas from Krampus,” says Courtenay Dobbie, Caravan’s artistic director. “The rescue of the child is the metaphor for saving Christmas.”
Throughout the show, Old Nick morphs from an unkind, uncaring crank to a saint, who loves the world and everything in it –including kids.
“He promises to protect and give to all the children of the world, to devote his entire life not just to Christmas but to them,” says Dobbie.
This may be a tale of redemption, but it’s filled with laughter and jokes that will appeal to children and adults alike – perfect for the whole family, says Dobbie.
“I wanted to do a Santa-type show but wanted to go more into where the tradition comes from and why we’re drawn into it,” she says, noting Santa is a non-religious part of the North American Christmas culture. “Last year’s production was calm, ethereal. This year, it’s loud, irreverent, in-your-face, fun.”
Caravan productions have explored many themes – including the traditional Magi and Nativity.
Dobbie wondered about the origins of Santa, which gave rise to the idea of exploring Christmas traditions. She commissioned Vancouver theatre writers Michael Rinaldi and TJ Dawe, longtime collaborators, who will embark on a movie based on one of their plays and will star Daniel Radcliffe.
“I wanted to do something rock ‘n roll funny,” she laughs. “They write the way I wanted the production to feel – sly, cheeky, silly, but smart and witty and a bit absurd.”
Dobbie says the writers have taken familiar Christmas traditions – stockings by the fire, milk and cookies for Santa, the Christmas tree and presents under it, coloured lights, and even a surprise Christmas turkey, and provided a back story on how they came to be traditions.
“All the actors are talented and thrilled to be given the licence to take it a bit on the wild side,” Dobbie says.
From the far north comes Ulukhaktot’s Jamie Norris to take on the role of Nick. Closer to home come Calgary’s Kevin Corey (Krampus) and Vanessa Holmes (Clea).
Vancouver’s Rachel Aberle (Befana) and Tom Jones (Wendell) will be joined by Toronto actor Toby Berner, who plays Black Pete.
Working hard to create the magical setting are set designer Marshall McMahen, costume designer Erin Macklem, lighting designer Stephen Bircher and props designer Scott Crocker.
To enhance winter productions, Caravan has built eight new sleigh decks.
“They’re lovely and we’re calling them ‘the red fleet of ships,’” says Dobbie,” noting the sleighs will travel into the far reaches of the 40-acre farm on a voyage of discovery that will feature Christmas carols (with a few altered lyrics), lots of sleigh bells and jingle bells. “They’ll be beautiful against the snow and it will be a winter wonderland, Our designers have been inspired by Norwegian folk art.”
It won’t all sleigh-pulling for Caravan’s beautiful horses. Jason, the Clydesdale has a role as reindeer.
“Well a clyde deer, and hopefully his performance will be Rudolph,” laughs Dobbie, noting Jason may have some issues with his costume. “It all depends on how he feels about having a red nose.”
Speaking of Clydesdales, Caravan is fundraising to buy a new team as the current equine actors, other than Jason, will be going into well-deserved retirement this year.
A donation box will be available at the kiosk where audience members can also get themselves a variety of liquid refreshments, including mulled wine, cider and hot chocolate.
Donations can also be made online at www.caravanfarmtheatre.com.
Tickets, which always sell out quickly are available at www.ticketseller.ca.