Although it played to sold-out audiences every year, The Santaland Diaries was never a traditional holiday show. Based on a short story by best-selling author and humorist David Sedaris, on the surface it was about working as one of Santa’s elves at Macy’s during the Christmas Season. Of course, it also celebrated the desperation of unemployment and skewered rampant consumerism and the soul-sucking “cheer” of the holiday season.
Here in Chicago, a big part of the reason The Santaland Diaries became a staple for the last ten years was Mitchell Fain, who played the elf Crumpet in the one-man show during its final eight years.
Now, because of a planned commercial production in New York by the owners of the show’s rights, The Theater Wit can no longer stage The Santaland Diaries. But disappointed audiences won’t be getting a rock in their stocking. Instead, they can see what is being billed as a Santaland Diaries tell-all, a new show written and produced by Fain, called This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles).
The Chicago Ambassador’s Bob Chiarito sat down with Fain to talk about his new venture and his hopes to continue (in a new way) what was a holiday tradition for many in Chicago.
CA) When did you find out that you couldn’t do The Santaland Diaries anymore?
FAIN) In the spring. It did not come at a great time because I was in between gigs as it was. So, I was like, ‘Oh no.’ And the theater really relies on the show.
CA) Right, it’s almost become an anchor for the theater.
FAIN) It’s an anchor and a rallying point. People often come to other shows after coming to see The Santaland Diaries.
CA) There’s no way around it, huh?
FAIN) No, the story is that the people who own the rights for the show are going to do a commercial production in New York. I’m not sure about their exact plans but I’m guessing that they don’t want any other productions to affect their box office.
CA) How did you come up with the idea to do This Way Outta Santaland?
FAIN) I’ve actually thought about it for years. I’ve spent eight years of my life doing this show and I’m tied up with it every year from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, when most people are traveling or doing whatever they are doing. I was doing so gladly and happily. It really gives you a perspective on the city during the holiday season. I always thought I could do a show about The Santaland Diaries’ Diaries, about that time that crazy audience came or things like that. So when this happened, it was sort of a perfect storm. Myself and the theater now had a free spot in my schedule, I had all these stories in my head, and so I presented my idea to Theater Wit and they got behind it.
CA) You really seemed to make The Santaland Diaries your own.
FAIN) I don’t want to come across as pompous, but it’s acting. I always found it interesting that over the years people always asked me how much I improvised and I really didn’t. And in the beginning I always told the audience that I am not David Sedaris, but every year at least one person came up and said, ‘David, thank you.’ I don’t want to sound cocky, but it’s called acting. I make it seem like I’m saying those words for the first time each time because that is what the job is.
So over the years I’ve acquired what the audience likes, how to talk to an audience and now I’m hoping that people will come to see my own story. It will be directed by Jeremy Wechsler, who directed The Santaland Diaries and is amazing. Meghan “Big Red” Murphy and Julie B. Nichols will also be in it.
If people came to see Santaland thinking that I improvised, this is really going to be the show to see. I’ve written the stories but how I tell them each night will depend on how I woke up that morning.
This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles) premieres November 25 and runs through December 23 at Theater Wit. For more information, click here.
To read our December 2014 interview with Mitchell Fain about The Santaland Diaries, click here.