‘True story’ of Santa’s origin

"I was thinking that something about Santa would work, but not the Coca-Cola version of Santa."

Around the world, he’s known as St. Nicholas, Père Noël, Sinter Klaas, Jule Nisse, Father Christmas.

In Canada, we know him as that jolly, old gent with the flying reindeer, sack of presents, and consumer of home-baked goodies.

Part folklore legend, part Coca-Cola pinup, part kids’ idol, Santa Claus is not only the big guy who slides down the chimney on Christmas Eve, he is an enigmatic figure perfect for two well-known playwrights to unravel.

Co-written by acclaimed Vancouver writer-performers TJ Dawe (The Skip-Knot, 52 Pick Up, The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy) and Michael Rinaldi, (who has appeared in past Caravan productions A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Blue Horse), Old Nick is what the writers deem to be “the true story” of Santa’s origins and how some Christmas traditions came to be.

Those who hop on board the newly configured and painted horse-drawn sleighs at Caravan Farm Theatre starting next week will be introduced to their “interpretation” when Old Nick takes to field and forest in its winter outdoor production.

“I’ve known TJ and Mike for years. They are both incredible actors and writers and their National Fringe Festival play, Toothpaste and Cigars, has recently been adapted into a film called The F Word to star Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame),” said Courtenay Dobbie, Caravan’s artistic director, who is once again directing this year’s winter production after directing last year’s The Gift Horse.

“We wanted something funny this year. After The Gift Horse I was thinking that something about Santa would work, but not the Coca-Cola version of Santa,” said Dobbie. “We also wanted action and drama. TJ and Mike found a way to tell the story that is the ‘true story,’ although nothing is actually historically accurate.”

What the playwrights came up with is definitely not the commercialized version of Santa, but it does use figures from Christmas lore around the world.

It also has taken Christmas traditions and provides context on how they started, albeit in a fictional manner, said Dobbie.

In the play, lead character Nick is actually a Grinch-like hermit who can’t stand children and is only interested in mining his mine and collecting rusty trinkets for his burlap sack.

On Krampus Eve, he meets Pete the chimney sweep (who is loosely based on the Dutch/Belgian character Zwarte Piet or Black Peter) who convinces Nick to save Christmas from Krampus, the goat demon, and the witch Befana.

According to legend, Krampus accompanied Saint Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children, in contrast to St. Nick who gave gifts to good children.

“Krampus would collect the bad kids and put them in a basket to take to his lair,” said Dobbie. “Pete the chimney sweep enlists Nick to save Christmas from Krampus who has taken a kid to his lair, and the story goes from there.”

Anyone expecting scares a la Caravan’s Walk of Terror, need not worry, the story is family friendly, said Dobbie who, at one time, worked in children’s theatre.

“It has that message that all kids’ shows have, about becoming a good person and being yourself,” she said. “It’s also funny with characters the kids will get a kick out of,  and inside humour for the adults.”

With six professional actors, both new and familiar to the farm, coming in from Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Northern B.C., the play, in true Caravan fashion, also features one special guest: Jason the Clydesdale who makes his home at the farm.

“He’s playing a reindeer named Rudolf Valentino,” laughed Dobbie. “He’ll be like the dog that the Grinch dresses to look like a reindeer. We’ll just have to figure out how to put antlers on him.”

The play’s setting, which starts in Caravan’s village, and then takes the audience by horse-drawn sleigh through a forested area to the farm’s back 40, a large field on the north-west part of the property, is inspired by Nordic design.

“We looked at the patterns used in Norwegian folk art and the primary colours. It’s really bright and fun,” said Dobbie, adding Marshall McMahen has returned to the farm as set designer after working on this summer’s show, The Notorious Robber Right and His Robber Bride.

“To load our sleighs and go to the back 40 using field and forest is an epic journey, especially three times a day, but the show needed that grandiose gesture.”

The Caravan crew have also planned for the journey by building new removable decks on their sleighs/wagons to fit 20 people each, and are also currently fundraising to purchase a new team of horses as Clydesdales Tom, Luke and Tinker enjoy their much deserved retirement. (More information is available at www.caravanfarmtheatre.com.)

Tickets to Old Nick, which runs at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Dec. 11 to 31 (no shows Dec. 17, 24 or 25) are at Vernon’s Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.

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