This is a republication of a piece I wrote a year ago, refuting the desperately one-sided points I encountered in an article published around the same time. - TJ
The arguments presented in Fuck Christmas Theatre are absolutist, naive and terribly flawed. I’m cracking my knuckles in anticipation of knocking them into oblivion.
To distrust anyone in the arts with commercial motives pretty much disqualifies everyone but pianist Glenn Gould, who believed the ideal relationship of artist to audience is one to zero (saying that the artist should "be permitted to operate in secret, as it were, unconcerned with - or better still, unaware of - the presumed demands of the marketplace")(Mr. Gould had Asperger's, by the way). Every artist needs to eat. Every theatre has operating costs. If they can get people in the door at Christmas by presenting seasonal fare, that can keep them afloat to present other stuff the rest of the year. Increased attendance in December can build an audience for other plays - plays of originality and daring and depth, which wouldn’t be possible without the reliable income of a sure-fire Christmas show. Kevin Spacey subsidizes his theatre work with the occasional crappy film. George Clooney alternates between puffy Hollywood fare and art house work. Steve Martin follows that pattern too. And Johnny Depp. One pays for the other. Art in a system with a high overhead works like that.
Also, something created with purely commercial motives can still hit the bullseye. Singin’ in the Rain - certainly one of the greatest films ever made - came about because a producer had the rights to a bunch of unrelated songs and wanted to stuff them all into the same musical. Young Frankenstein wound up with the inspired casting of Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman because the same agent represented all three of them. Conversely, art created with only the highest personal ideals can turn out dreary, stiff and empty, no matter how experienced the creators, and how unfettered they might be in terms of creative control. Ever see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?
As Fuck Christmas Theatre graciously admits the people involved in those Chicago Christmas productions have their own motives. You don't know them. And aren't those motives their business? Doesn’t any artist have the right to create whatever they’d like? If you don’t like plays about Christmas, don’t write one. Don’t act in one. Don’t attend one. To hector anyone for speaking on any subject is a step toward censorship. If Christmas plays are flimsy pieces of commercial cardboard, let the audience decide that. If they don’t like them, they’ll stop coming back year after year.
But that’s the thing: they do come back year after year. The sheer abundance of productions of A Christmas Carol (and, by extension, any other play/movie/TV special that has the theme of someone discovering “the true spirit of Christmas”) says that it’s become one of our central myths as a culture. People are clearly interested in telling it again and again and hearing it again and again, just like the ancient Greeks never tired of seeing someone recite The Odyssey. If some of these productions are less heartfelt than you might like, that makes the case all the stronger: even poorly told, the story still speaks to something deep within in its audience.
And when a story attains the status of cultural myth, some adventurous souls inevitably start to take it apart, turn it upside down, and see what they can do to breathe new life into it. Here’s are a few other productions of A Christmas Carol playing in the windy city this month (which you neglected to list): A Christmas Carol: the Silent Bah-Humbug (performed without words), A Klingon Christmas Carol (performed entirely in the Klingon language, with translation titles projected above the stage), A Beer Carol (Scrooge is CEO of a brewery), and Charles Dickens Begrudgingly Performs 'A Christmas Carol' Again. And here are some other holiday themed plays: Rudolph the Red-hosed Reindeer ("Santa digs animals, Rudolph wears women's underwear and poor Hermey the elf isn't fabulous enough for his flaming friends"), Hannukatz, Santa Claus vs. the Easter Bunny, The Fifth Annual Hideout Christmas Egyptian/Cosmic Panto, Fal La La La La Fuck It, Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells and my favourite: Silent Night of the Living Dead "A family tries to prevent zombies from ruining Christmas dinner in this tribute to the George Romero movie." Far from stuffing all good theatre folk into a little red and green box, the Christmas season has inspired many artists to new heights of subversive and entertaining creativity.
And there are also plenty of plays in those listings that don’t touch on the holiday season at all, for any crusty old Scrooges who feel a hankering for some live drama in the month of December.
So keep doing Christmas plays, everyone! Do ‘em traditional, do ‘em all crazy and new! Or don’t. Do something else, if you prefer. Do what you want! Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t say with your art! Give the people their taste of mythology (if you so desire) and have a good time doing it! And may the gods of the theatre bless us, every one!