2) Among Santa performers, how seriously are the performative aspects of the character taken?
There are schools for playing Santa, but I think they are more to deal with people who have never approached performing as a character before or to verify if someone is together enough to be trusted with children. Most of the Santas are booked because they have the suit. A good Santa costume is prized much higher than an impressive acting bio.
3) What’s your favourite thing about performing Santa Claus?
People genuinely like Santa. I guess all of the gift giving and positive light that commercial advertisers put on the character pays off. I’ve dressed as mascots and similar things where you wear the big suit with a giant head. People are cruel to mascots, I’ve been tackled, kicked and sexually grabbed as a mascot. Nothing but respect and smiles for Santa.
4) How do children and adults differ in their response to your Santa character?
Children are genuinely enthralled by Santa. That shows up in two ways. Either you get the wide-eyed silent mouth agape stare or they scream “Santa!” as they run up to you. You do have to watch out for large groups of kids. I’ve been mobbed by kids looking for free candy. You start handing it out and as more kids gather after a while they stop being polite and start grabbing what you have in your hands and try to loot your bag. Adults are a bit wary until they determine what type of Santa you are. Even as a Bad Santa the adults can figure out if you are dangerous pretty fast. Women are very flirty with Santa and men feel camaraderie. Dangerous/crazy Santas are avoided by everyone.
5) How do you prepare for a Santa Claus performance?
There are two types of Santa that are popular these days: the traditional Santa and the Bad Santa. For the traditional Santa you need to get your outfit together and to be as accurate to whatever depiction of Santa you like best. Get lots of cheap gifts to hand out. Kids love free candy no matter how cheap it is. The mental preparation is to get to a contagiously happy place and keep that going for about 4-5 hours. It is not as hard as it sounds if the people you are greeting are feeding you back with positive responses.
Since the movie Bad Santa came out people have actually been looking to hire Bad Santas. Never wash the Bad Santa suit. You will need to have a flask with some really smelly booze in it to occasionally spill on yourself and sprinkle on your beard. Don’t bathe in advance. A gruff voice works well. To get the drunken aspect down you need to practice trying to find your centre of balance and failing. Review what is known about Santa, including lines from carols, christmas specials and the ’Twas the Night Before Christmas poem. Improv experience really helps as you are expected to be witty without coming across like you know that what you said was witty. Bruce Hunter would make a good Bad Santa, Oscar Wilde not so good.
6) How do the character’s commercial associations inform your performance choices?
Santa is always supposed to be giving things away. The most common thing you hear from people young and old is, “Hey Santa, what do you have for me?” You can never get annoyed by that question you must always use that as a starting point for engaging people. You can reach in and grab something to pass on to them, ask if they were naughty or nice or you can ask their name and check your list. A good Santa will have a dozen ways of responding to that question just to keep things fresh. Even though Santa is pimped by pretty much every advertising firm they generally are pretty respectful of the character and keep him away from logos and things. People don’t want a live Santa trying to sell them life insurance.
7) How important is the Santa costume to the character?
As I previously answered the Santa suit is the entry bar for Santa performers. You get a suit and call some agencies and you will get Santa work. I have friends that book all sorts of corporate stuff. If I wanted, I could be Santa for about three weeks straight. A really good Santa suit should set you back between $500-1500. The dollar store $9.95 is only good if you plan on panhandling.
8) Santa has a red nose similar to a clown’s red nose. Are there any other similarities between these performance modes?
I actually do a clown Santa. The traditional Santa has little to do with clown as he really only projects jolly. Bad Santa is more clown-like as he can cover whatever emotion is required. Bad Santa can be more physical and is playing for laughs. Quite often as Bad Santa you are playing for the audience gathered around more so than the person you are directly interacting with. There are no personal conversations with Santa.
9) What’s your fondest moment as Santa?
The most fun I’ve had as Santa is running Santarchy. We get around 200 people to dress as Santa and go bar hopping. You get all sorts of theme Santas out for this. One year I dressed as a Santa’s Choice biker with the leather jacket, sunglasses, the big white beard and Santa hat. We ran into the police who were a bit concerned about the public drunkeness. Once they saw me they laughed so hard they just let us do our thing. There was also a picture in the Globe and Mail last year of me as the Grinch smoking a dube – in colour no less!
10) Any tips or techniques you’ve used for a Santa performance that other actors might be able to use in their work?
The best advice I could give is try to match people’s reactions. If someone is shy with you, be gentle in approaching. If someone is gregarious then be just as demonstrative back. Keep a positive attitude and never drop the character or you just become a fat man in an ill-fitting suit.