Santa Colucci and His Merry Philadelphia Theater Elves: Behind the scenes of a holiday video

Philadelphia is considered one of the friendliest cities for theater artists in the US. In some ways, it’s almost like an extended family of actors, singers, dancers, choreographers, directors, musicians, stage, costume, lighting designers, and many more. The Philadelphia theater community released a special holiday video for the members and the friends of the vibrant theater scene, in spite of the closing and the hardship that a number of theater artists experienced this year. The video, time-consumingly produced by Christopher Mark Colucci and his colleagues, is being widely distributed on social media. Although he was trying to catch up on making his own Christmas presents, he made time available for this Phindie interview.

Happy Holidays From Philadelphia Theater from Philly Holiday Video.

Henrik Eger: Last year, I saw several short holiday scenes with different groups of actors singing and doing funny things. How did this Philly theater holiday tradition begin?

Christopher Mark Colucci: There were a couple of years prior to last year’s video, when Charlie DelMarcelle would just bring his harmonica over to my house and we’d put on these silly red Christmas sweaters, pick a song, and make a little music video to share with our friends around the holidays. Last year, simply out of wild admiration, respect, and love for the people who make up the Philadelphia theater community, I thought “why don’t we ask all our theater friends to join us?” The idea had suddenly expanded beyond the capabilities of my iPhone camera.

Henrik: Sounds great, but also a daunting task technically.

Christopher: [That’s why] we asked Jorge Cousineau to design our first video in 2014. He filmed us in front of a green screen in the basement of the Lantern Theater and created a brilliant, animated video that really inspired us. We had so much fun making it that we wanted to try to make another one again this year with video designer Mike Long.

Henrik: It was nice last year. This year, it’s even more polished. What gave you all the energy to tackle this big project?

Christopher: There’s so much theater being made in Philadelphia. The community of artists, administrators, technicians, teachers, and donors who make this possible is a wildly talented and passionate lot. We feel that it’s important and celebratory to try and create an event that brings this diverse community together once a year simply to make something together.

Henrik: The city of brotherly love in action.

Christopher: It’s a kind of love letter to the Philadelphia theater community. This is our way to celebrate. We’re still figuring out how to do it—and are already planning for next year.

Akeem Davis, Amanda Jensen, Rachel Brodeur, Laurel Grace Hostak and Javier Mojica. Photo by Christopher M. Colucci

Akeem Davis, Amanda Schoonover, Amanda Jensen, Rachel Brodeur, Laurel Grace Hostak and Javier Mojica. Photo by Christopher M. Colucci

Henrik: Apparently, a number Philadelphia theater companies went all out, like InterAct, FringeArts, Mauckingbird, and even Theatre Horizon from Norristown. How did they contribute to the video and were there other companies that supported the project?

Christopher: We didn’t solicit any direct support from the companies as such; instead, we tried to reach out to representatives of the various companies. Some, like Mary Ann Baldwin from the Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company, reached out to us when they heard about the video—[something] which we appreciated so much. Obviously, we’ve only scratched the surface with respect to representing the incredible depth and diversity that is the Philadelphia theater community. That’s the beauty and the challenge of the project.

Henrik: Cool. I recognized many, if not most of our popular actors and directors in your musical holiday panorama, but I also looked in vain for other, equally fine artists. What happened?

Christopher: We missed a lot of folks: The Philadelphia theater community is enormous! There are only five of us working as volunteers on this project. We had no idea what we were doing the first time so we thought it best to start out by emailing our friends, colleagues, and the people with whom we had worked in town.

Henrik: Where did you film?

Christopher:Katherine Fritz, our scenic designer, decorated Buckeye Studio, where we did our recording and filming, with recycled programs and playbills from the past season of theater. The Christmas trees were donated by Chris Haig from the Arden’s prop shop and the basement of Katherine’s mom. We cut paper snowflakes from programs and ornaments from postcards and had a wonderful time gluing reindeer antlers on the artistic directors’ heads.

Henrik: Everyone looked wonderful in holiday mode. What was it like directing that lovable bunch of rascals—going wild, doing what the Mormon Tabernacle Choir never managed to do in its entire history?

Christopher: We didn’t do any directing of anyone as such. It was all very improvised and spontaneous. Theater people are so damn creative.

Henrik: How true. It was all upbeat, musically and otherwise. Tell us about the process.

Christopher: I produced the track in my home studio. Daniel Perelstein mixed the vocals that we recorded at Buckeye Studio in South Philly—no small feat with close to 50 different vocalists in the video. We asked everyone to learn their parts and sing on the spot. We had a fantastic stage manager, Rebecca Smith! It took many, many emails, and a late night beer meeting to coordinate this project. And we’ve mastered the art of communication via video text messages. Next year we plan earlier and better!

Henrik: Any first ideas for next year—including representatives of even more members of the amazing Philadelphia theater family?

Christopher: Plenty of ideas, plenty of dreams, that’s where it’s at today. Our dream for the future is to be able to encourage and accommodate the broadest possible participation in whatever we make. That’s the heart of the thing. We have a long way to go.

Henrik: Many thanks, Christopher, to you and all of your colleagues for a special gift for all of us. No wonder the Philly holiday video is going viral. A happy holiday, one ‘n all—and curtain up for 2016.

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About the author

Henrik Eger

HENRIK EGER, editor of Drama Around the Globe. Bilingual playwright, author of Metronome Ticking. Born and raised in Germany. Ph.D. in English, University of Illinois, Chicago. German translator of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Nobel Peace Prize mail. Producer-director: Multilingual Shakespeare, London. Retired professor of English and Communication who taught in six countries on three continents, including four universities and one college in the U.S. Author of four college text books. Longtime Philadelphia theatre correspondent for AAJT, the world’s largest Jewish theatre website. Articles published in Classical Voice, Los Angeles; Kayhan International, Tehran, Iran; Indian Express, Mumbai, India; The Jewish Forward, New York; Philadelphia Jewish Voice, Phindie, and Broad Street Review, Philadelphia; The Mennonite, Tucson; and New Jersey Stage. Contact: HenrikEger@gmail.com