By Byrne Harrison
Photo by Charles S. Reece
Your show, Santa Claus is Coming Out, is described as a theatrical mockumentary. Tell me what you mean by that.
The playwright and solo performer Jeffrey Solomon – do you mind if I refer to myself in the third person here? – insists that every word of text in the play is edited from his interviews at the North Pole and beyond and other documentary sources.
What is the play about?
The secret romantic life of the great holiday icon and the controversy that engulfs the world when the truth is revealed. When a little boy’s gender atypical gift request to the North Pole is denied, a series of heart-felt letters from the child nudge Santa Claus out of the closet and into the culture wars. Characters portrayed in the play include little gay Gary, his confused mom and angry dad, Santa’s fake-actress wife, his Agent, his longtime companion and Mary Ellen Banfield, a conservative activist who is fighting to institute a Santa NO FLY ZONE.
What inspired you to write it?
A decade ago, when voters in Oregon were considering Measure 9 which would have made it illegal for any school to “promote, sanction or encourage homosexuality,” I headed west with recorder in hand to find out why people were so terrified of children being spoken to honestly about the existence of gay people. Measure 9 and numerous other controversies in the last decade inspired this play, including a few elementary school teachers who dared to ‘come out’ to young kids, sparking a reaction from the public and the media bordering on hysteria. I shouldn't really call it ‘coming out’, because these teachers did what straight colleagues have always done, spoken openly of their families in age appropriate ways and answered their students questions. Despite signs of progress, ‘gay’ is still the ‘love that dare not speak its name’ when it comes to kids. Anyone who does so is in danger of being accused of promoting that lifestyle and yet we promote straight love in every form and fashion to our children - sailors can settle down with fish, princesses can get physical with frogs and beauties can live happily ever after with the beasts who abduct them - but the child who may grow up to be gay, has no reflection of himself. There is no happily ever after in sight during his or her formative years. It is this invisibility I am exploring in Santa Claus is Coming Out. I was one of those children, and I can tell you that the fact that subject was unmentionable and invisible when I was a child caused me a lot of unnecessary pain and shame. I have created in the play, the Santa Claus I needed. The one I wish I had known.
The subject matter is especially timely given the recent efforts of some activists and educators to speak to children more openly about LGBT issues in the wake of gay teen suicides, and the accusations from social conservatives that these are just thinly veiled attempts to promote the gay lifestyle to children.
You've written a number of plays with LGBT themes. Tell me a little bit about your body of work.
I have performed my other solo play, Mother/SON, globally, including performances in UK, Ireland, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The play is inspired by mother’s coming out journey as the parent of a gay son, and in addition to being presented theatrically has been used widely as an educational tool at schools and corporations. I am also very proud of my ensemble plays, which are currently touring with my theater company. These include Tara’s Crossing (about a transgendered refugee seeking political asylum), Building Houses on the Moon (about the lives of LGBT youth), and DE NOVO (about undocumented kids in US immigration custody.) See http://www.housesonthemoon.org for more info.
What's your background?
I grew up in the 70’s as a middle class Jewish kid largely raised by a television. This may explain the wealth of references in my play from from those ingenious Claymation TV Christmas Specials including "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Santa Claus is Coming To Town," etc….
What do you have planned for the rest of 2011?
A Spanish translation of my play DE NOVO will be performed in El Salvador in June and I will be travelling to see it, so I am working hard now to remember that the Spanish word “embarazada” DOES NOT mean embarrassed! (look it up). I am performing with the acclaimed storytelling org The Moth in Michigan this June as well. In October “Mother/SON” will be travelling to Greece. And in the meantime, I’m writing a new play and not looking at X-TUBE… I swear I am.
For more information about Solomon’s work, visit www.jeffsolo.com