"It's very exciting--and hilarious. Hopefully. When we get an audience in there we will see!" laughs Equity actor Nathan Shelton. "It's hilarious without an audience," Rick Dines assures him. Dines is Springfield Contemporary Theatre's Managing Artistic Director, and he is directing Nathan in the third part of the 2016 SCT Solo Play Festival at Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza: Joe Mantello's stage adaptation of the humorous essay by David Sedaris, The Santaland Diaries. Sedaris first read the essay on NPR's Morning Edition in 1992, and his reading became a holiday tradition. (You can hear Sedaris's original reading at this link: http://www.npr.org/2015/12/25/459850365/a-holiday-favorite-david-sedaris-santaland-diaries) He did a much longer version on PRI's This American Life in 1996, the year Mantello created his one-man, one-act stage version. As Rick Dines says, "NPR made David Sedaris." Adds Nathan Shelton, "When I first got the role, I listened to Sedaris read it. His voice, and the way that he delivers it--the way he writes--it's so funny." After debuting off-Broadway, The Santaland Diaries has become a staple of regional theater companies and college drama departments over the last 20 years. This is the first full-scale production of the show in Springfield.
Sedaris based the piece on one of his own experiences before his career as a humorist took off. Says Rick Dines, "He had just moved to New York, he was struggling to find work, and he saw the ad for elves at (Macy's) Santaland. At this point he was desperate."
What does David Sedaris have to say about his brief tenure as a Santa's elf at Macy's? "Oh, it runs the gamut," according to Nathan Shelton. "The show is full of parents and children and family tensions that find their way into the public setting. Anybody that's worked in retail"--especially during the holidays!--"will really get this show. But also, it's the ridiculousness of how serious some of these corporate entities, when they do these special promotional things, how serious they take it. It's the ends of the earth for all of these people, and some people are so bought-in... where somebody like Sedaris just gets to sit back and make fun of them the whole time. But then (he) finds himself so entrenched in it that he himself has to be bought-in." This, in spite of the utterly humiliating costume he had to wear--and that Nathan Shelton has to wear in this SCT production! "A glorious elf costume," Nathan calls it, as designed by Samantha Morrow. Says director Rick Dines, Samantha "has perfectly encapsulated both the humiliation and the holiday festiveness that Sedaris wrote about."
Adds Nathan Shelton, "What's great about our show is the playwright (Joe Mantello) rearranged some of the things from Sedaris's original work to make it flow well within a narrative structure for the stage, which is little different than if you're reading his actual prose. But we also have these amazing 'Crumpettes' in our show that come out and do some really awesome musical numbers! And they have some great outfits themselves."
Oh, yes, I forgot to mention: David Sedaris's elf was named "Crumpet." And no, Macy's did not force the name on him. "That was the elf name he chose for himself," says Rick Dines. "The other workers chose names like 'Jingle' and 'Frosty'--happy things. And he chose Crumpet... which is very fitting, I feel," according to Nathan Shelton.
As Rick Dines sums up, "There's a little cynicism, there's some snark in there, by all means--but that's what makes it endearing." Nathan Shelton is especially excited to be back in Springfield performing again after three years in Chicago. This is the first time he's performed in SCT's new space in Wilhoit Plaza.
Santaland Diaries opens tonight (Friday December 2nd) at 7:30pm, and plays Saturday Dec.3rd at 2:00pm. Then tomorrow night at 7:30pm and Sunday the 4th at 2:00pm are the final performances of Zero Hour, featuring David Rice as Zero Mostel. Santaland Diaries is back Sunday night the 4th at 7:00pm, and has next weekend all to itself: Friday and Saturday Dec. 9 and 10 at 7:30, with a final performance Sunday Dec.11 at 2:00pm. And remember, since this is opening night, there will be a complimentary reception in the lobby following tonight's performance, with wine, cheese and cookies and the chance to schmooze with Nathan and Rick. For ticket information call the SCT ticket office at 831-8001 or visit http://www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.