Panache Theatrical Productions continues the Wilmington "Santaland Diaries" tradition this year with Crumpet #13: Robb Mann. This cynically hilarious narrative by David Sedaris is an elf tale for grown-ups, exposing the behind-the-scenes world of Macy's "Santaland."
The show runs November 30-December 17 at North Front Theatre (formerly City Stage). Tickets are available online or at the door, and tickets for all performances are $15.
Gina: This is not the first time Panache has done this.
Holli: No, third time. This is the first time that we've done it at what was fondly called City Stage. Now North Front Theater.
Gina: For anyone who doesn't know about the history of Santaland Diaries in Wilmington, could you give us a brief overview?
Holli: This will be the 13th Crumpet. I hope 13 is your lucky number, Robb.
Robb: It was actually a jersey number of mine when I played soccer.
Holli: Oh excellent. There was a period of time that the City Stage Company had a different Crumpet every year for a number of years. After they left City Stage, there was no Crumpet for a year. Anthony Lawson and I, who started Panache, were sitting around talking about the fact that we missed having that tradition here. So we decided to bring him back. Our first two years we did it at the Red Barn Theatre.
Gina: And Anthony did it.
Holli: He was our first Crumpet. And Jamie Stone did it last year.
Gina: Can you name the other 10 crumpets?
Holli: I don't think I can.
Robb: Let's see: Michael Granberry, Steve Vernon, Cullin Moss, Jason Hatfield, John Stafford, Sam Robeson, Adam Poole.
Holli: Michael Brady.
Robb: Michael Brady. I'm missing someone.
Holli: Zach Hanner.
Holli: That's everybody...[nope: Justin Smith!]
Gina:I wish I had been counting.
Holli:I wish I would have to.
Robb: And if I did miss one, no offense meant to the person I missed.
Holli: It's funny when you talk to some of the people who've been Crumpet. They have a very vastly different feeling for Santaland coming out of it. Some have a warm place in their heart about the show and then others are like, I have still have PTSD from the experience. So it's really vast.
Gina: Well it's definitely it's interesting. I've heard it's not easy to be Crumpet.
Holli: It isn't.
Robb: It's a bit of a challenge.
Gina: Tell us about what's challenging. What are you particularly struggling with?
Robb: There are so many words, but the biggest thing is because it's very episodic. That within each section everything makes sense, but then when you go from one episode to another episode that has nothing to do with what you were just talking about, that's where you get a little schizophrenia.
Gina: You know, every Santaland Diaries seems like it would all be the same. I mean, it's one person talking. But the way that it's presented is not always the same.
Gina: Robb, how many of these have you seen?
Robb: I've seen eight or nine of them. I've seen most, but not all.
Gina: And what is happening in this one?
Holli: I'm going to tell you because we try to bring something new each year. In the last couple of years we staged it in the Macy's break room and so employees were coming and going through the break room and as you know, we have not only Robb playing Crumpet but we also have three singers- the Not So Ready for Christmas Carolers- who will also entertain with some fun music and some beautiful music. So last year we had that break room feel. This year you are going have a little peek of a section of the actual Santaland and just kind of an interesting opening because it's set basically for the first few minutes like a TED Talk. As Anthony and I talked about Robb and who we know Robb as, we thought, Oh my goodness, he would be fabulous for the TED Talk kind of scenario. So it will begin with a TED Talk but then there'll be the nice reveal to Santaland where you'll also meet those caroling elves.
Robb: And then we venture into Santaland and then we venture into costume in Santaland, which is always a fun reveal.
Holli: Yes. Oh yeah.
Robb: Because that's going to look utterly ridiculous.
Holli: It will. It will.
Gina: This is one of the things about seeing this every year, about having this as a tradition, especially because it is really a focus- a spotlight on one actor. You get to see how the same set of many, many words can be portrayed in so many different ways and have such a different feel for a character. Like Robb Mann is definitely different than, say, Steve Vernon.
Robb: Completely different interpretation.
Holli: I think that is what makes it such a fun tradition because even if you've heard it all 13 times, you're going to hear a different Santaland each time. You may have heard every single word of it, but you'll have a different feel for it when you walk away. And it's fun that people have certain favorites and no two people probably feel the same exact way about Santaland.
Gina: Robb, have you asked any previous Crumpets about the role?
Robb: Not asked directly, but I've had a couple of them proffer a couple of words of advice which was repetition, repetition, repetition when running lines. And just to have fun with it. They're like, You're going to be terrified. It's going to be what it is. Just try and enjoy it while you can because once it becomes fun for you, it becomes fun for the audience.
Holli: It's funny you should say that, I was talking to one of the former elves yesterday and they said, Just tell him if he's having fun, the audience will have fun. So it is funny that that keeps coming up from different Crumpets.
Gina: How long have you dreamed about this this opportunity? [laughter]
Robb: I never really dreamed about it, I kind of fell into it by accident to be honest with you. Just chance crossing paths with Holli and Anthony Lawson. And then I auditioned for it and here I am.
Holli: We did something a little different this year. A lot of times we tap somebody and say, OK that's what they've done in the past. This year we had more than one person who had interest in it so we actually had them go through the same section with us and we had some great voices. But Robb really stood out as the person that we felt was our Crumpet this year.
Gina: Who are the Not Ready for Christmas Carolers?
Holli: That would be Amy Carter, Roxann Hubbard, and Hyde in Front of Ya.
Gina: Is that somebody I know?
Holli: Yes. But I won't tell you who.
Gina: Robb, have you been a fan of David Sedaris?
Robb: Yeah, I am. I enjoy good writing and he's a little snarkier than I am in real life, but I appreciate the way he turns a phrase and the way he sets up situations and the way he delivers jokes.
Holli: Even the things that he has written that are not for stage are just fabulous storytelling. I love the fact that NPR plays his version of this piece every year. It's a tradition for you, too.
Gina: Anything else you’d like to tell me about Santaland Diaries?
Holli: Tickets are only $15. It's a great price for any kind of production in this town. It is back at City Stage, Level 5, 21 North Front Street, which is called the North Front Theatre. Now it is for mature audiences, mature elves only because of the subject matter and a little bit of language. If you aren't familiar with Santaland Diaries, this is for people who really want something that is just kind of wrong. A snippet in someone's life that has to work with retail during the holidays which, as anybody who has done that before knows, is misery. So it is definitely funny.
Robb: It's the adventures of a 33 year old man who has applied for a job as a Macy's elf. And he gets it. Which is both a blessing and a curse.