Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Holly Daze: Random thoughts on MY Holidays

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be
plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.
Calvin Coolidge

Happy Holly Daze!
 Tomorrow many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate one of the oldest traditions in our country, Thanksgiving. PLEASE spend it with your family. Family is who YOU choose it to be. Today. I am GRATEFUL for my South Carolina birth family. I am grateful for the family that I acquired with my husband Daniel Sherman. I am grateful for my New York family of friends and I am grateful for my Social media family. My prayer for all that read this is that we physically reach out to each other, not only through the holiday season, but in the days, weeks, months, years ahead. Don't become so involved in your OWN little corner that you don't reach out to those you LOVE and those who LOVE YOU! Remember, you can be kind all year round.

Ready or not, here it comes! I love the holidays, but like the time calendar of Camelot, I would prefer Christmas not to start until AFTER Thanksgiving.

However, as I sit here writing these words, we are having our first snow storm of the season here in New York. 
Spoiler Alert! I'm going to sound like your parents and grandparents. YES! I've reached that point in my life. Actually, I have been here for some time. WHY are we rushing to get to Christmas? Some stores had Christmas displays up in September.

As a kid, I remember hearing the adults around me and those 
newscasters on TV talking about the commercialism of Christmas, but it was nothing then like it is now. Black Friday and Cyber Monday was not even on the horizon. When I was growing up, Christmas did not OFFICIALLY arrive until Santa Claus appeared at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.
Macy's Parade 1979
Even the Parade has become commercialized to promote Broadway shows and those companies who sponsor the floats. God forbid, however, that a traditional Christmas song (especially a secular one) be performed. Tomorrow, count the songs that are remotely holiday classics. I'll gladly eat my words if I am wrong. 
Instead, we will get the latest pop stars. As long as they are not twerking, I can, somehow,  still watch. Not only have some Christmas displays been up since before Halloween, some cable programming (Hallmark) have completely hijacked ALL programming other than cheesy holiday movies that have been playing 24/7 since Halloween, but will continue to do so until after the first of the year. Try channel surfing right now and count how many holiday shows you see. Almost every other commercial on TV is a Christmas ad. There are houses in my neighborhood ALREADY decorated for Christmas. Can we please have Thanksgiving back!?!?!

As a child, I would wait with anticipation for the Christmas decorations (and, yes, they were referred to as CHRISTMAS decorations) to be lit up in my home town of Conway, South Carolina.
It was usually the first weekend AFTER Thanksgiving weekend. 
That was usually when the Christmas parade would come down Main Street. We would find ourselves (as a family) standing waiting to hear the first strains of the Conway High School band leading the parade. I still tear up thinking about it. It also takes me back to a happier time in our world as I think about it. We would run into family members and friends. It was also  because of running into my third grade teacher at the 1978 Christmas parade that offered me entree, in a matter of speaking, to my coming to New York. That's another blog! 
AFTER the parade, we would start our Christmas shopping, or I should say my mom would start the Christmas shopping.
After dropping her off at the Coastal Mall in Conway, our first mall in the region, by the way, my dad and I would often go to Nye's Pharmacy for a toasted pimento cheese sandwich and a coke. My dad would also give me twenty dollars to buy gifts for my sister and brothers and my parents. 
I was always frugal enough to be able to buy something for everyone! 
I would almost have a few dollars left over for myself as well! 
That night, we would go out to get our Christmas tree! It wasn't until I was about twelve that we got our first artificial tree! At the time, I was very excited because, since it was artificial, we would have it year round and we could put it up anytime we wished! What did I know?  
We would come home and decorate the tree. Normally, on that night, there would be a Christmas special on TV. 
Andy Williams
Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Perry Como, and especially, Bob Hope! Throw into that mix, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy (narrated by Greer Garson), and How The Grinch Stole Christmas! There were only three networks and we would, year after year, tune in TOGETHER as a family. 
Family was very important in the Skipper household.I come from a LARGE family. My dad was one of 10 children. My mom was/is the oldest of 16! LOTS of cousins. 
Christmas eve was always at my grandmother Skipper's. 
Because there were so many. we would draw names for gifts on Christmas. I don't know how she did it, but my Grand mama Skipper got gifts for EVERYONE! For our immediate family, it would mean that in addition to OUR Santa gifts, my mom would be buying 6 individual gifts (for each of the names she drew). THEN, she would buy a HOUSEHOLD gift for each family! That was 10 additional gifts. Each of the families did that! I guess the family that had it the hardest was probably Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Christine. They had six girls! We would show up at Grand mama's around five or six with great anticipation of our family gift exchange. We would all be running around begging the adults to hurry up and let us open our gifts. I wish that I had a picture of what the living room looked like with all the presents under the tree. It looked like something out of one of those Christmas specials I mentioned above. The smells and look of my Grandparents house was unbelievable. 
with my sister, Debbie
The holidays were all very important to my Grand mama.  She had a manger set up somewhere, an entire Christmas village set up, gum drop trees. She also spent a LOT of time baking. There were cakes and pies galore, ALL made from scratch. I think the idea of getting a cake or a pie from a bakery would have killed her!
Her birth date just passed. My Aunt Mary (my dad's sister) wrote a tribute to her on her Facebook page. With her permission, I am reprinting it here:
Happy Birthday in Heaven to the Best Mama ever! I had a fantastic mama! She gave birth to eleven children, lost a little son at 2 days old, but raised the other ten to be good people and contributing members of society. She worked so hard during her life, taking care of us, working on a farm, cooking, being a wife, etc. I could go on for pages. She had only a third grade education but could read like a scholar and reading was her favorite pastime until she lost her eyesight to macular degeneration a couple of years before she died.
This was taken in 1991
The Horry County Bookmobile made regular stops at her home so she could check out her books. She loved birthdays and family gatherings. No crowd could ever be too big. She especially loved Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Most Christmas Eves there would be upward of 75 to 80 people at mama and daddy's house at one time. So much noise but so, so much love. I think of her so often and miss her a lot, more so at this time of year. Happy Birthday, Mama. I love you!

I think of my grandparents (on both sides of my family tree), my dad, my Uncle Joe, my Uncle Vernon, Uncle Sammy, and all the relatives on my mom's side of the family who are not physically with us any more on a daily basis. They are ALWAYS with me especially around the holidays. I inherited my grandmother's love of the holidays.
I love to decorate the house. I love to be surrounded by friends this time of year. I let go of the frenzy of shopping a few years ago. I would much rather put that money towards celebrating my friends. Wouldn't it be great if we ALL adopted that. I would
Macy's Parade 1979
much rather have you over for a dinner that I prepared rather than killing myself for the PERFECT gift which the recipient does not really consider PERFECT. 

For someone who's first eighteen years were spent surrounded by family, you can well imagine what that first holiday was like without them around. On one hand, it was very hard. On the other hand, due to friends I had made in New York who included me that first year, the transition was a little less painful. 
I moved to New York on August 5th, 1979. Three weeks later, I got cast in my first show, a musical melodrama called No, No, A Million Times No.
The ONLY good thing about that show was the cast, although other than the female lead, Duane Printz, I cannot remember ANY by name. I auditioned at the now defunct Harlequin Studios. 
Harlequin rehearsal studios was directly next door to the Gaiety, on 46th Street, off of Broadway,and if you weren't paying attention to which entrance you were using, you quickly found out by the pictures on the wall as you went up the stairs!
The Harlequin reeked of cat urine and had clanging radiators and no windows that you could open. But it was SHOW BUSINESS! Perhaps I should write some time about all the great rehearsal studios that are no longer here!
As stated, I was cast in the show.  I was cast as a hillbilly named IFFY CANN - a young country boy. Type casting? I'm not making this up! Check THIS out!
It was a great cast and we had fun with rehearsals. For many of us, it was our first show in New York. Not only did we share that excitement. but we collectively forgave a lot that we put up with at the time.   
We rehearsed in good faith not even knowing when or where we were going to play!
Then one night our director came in to announce that we would be playing in Garden City in three weeks. This was just to "try it out" before playing NYC.
We all made plans to be there second weekend of November. We all arrived at the "theatre" to find out that it was an elementary school! Unbeknownst to any of us, a chorus of kids had been rehearsing for weeks to back us up on all of our songs!
Macy's Parade 1979
We were flabbergasted! Our first inclination was to bolt, but then we thought of these kids who had been rehearsing. We had two shows the next day, a Saturday, and one performance scheduled for Sunday. We all agreed to do the weekend shows and then we were finished.
The good news is that we all had bonded. As mentioned, for many, it was our first show in NY.
It also meant that many of us were also going to be without family this first Thanksgiving in New York.
Duane offered to have everyone over to her studio apartment. She was also from Virginia, so I knew it would be fairly traditional.
Since this was going to be my first Thanksgiving in New York, I HAD to go to the parade. I was living in Brooklyn at the time, but got up at 3AM and got a prime spot right in front of Macy's. Not only did I get to see the performances, I also got the chance to see many of them rehearse.
I will NEVER forget how cold it was, but I was THERE! I saw Bryant Gumble, Ed McMahon, Sandy Duncan did a number from Peter Pan, Nell Carter did a number from Ain't Misbehavin,
1979 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Photo, Erik Estrada, Rockettes, Mickey Mouse
Erik Estrada, Buddy Hackett, Armelia McQueen, Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney, Diana Ross on top of the Big Apple float (all in Green like a stem!), Anderson Cooper and his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Chuck Woolery. That's the tip of the ice berg! Wow! I was in heaven seeing LIVE all that I had only known through film and TV. After the Parade, I went to Duvall's for a Thanksgiving feast that I still remember so fondly with good friends, food, and fun.
There have been 53 Thanksgivings in my lifetime. God willing, there will be 53 more. I only hope that they are as wonderful as many that I have had to this point. There is a lot of unrest in the world. Just remember one thing, we are ALL interconnected. PLEASE remember that. Thank YOU!
Here is a blog that I found that captures the same feelings I have.

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!
Carol Channing in performance with Hello, Dolly! in 1995 Photo by Adrian Bryan-Brown


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!                
with Danny and Annie Hughes!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Anderson Cooper and his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float circa 197
Be sure and Save The Date to see Kim Grogg on December 5th in Go Where The Love Is
IF you like this blog, please leave a comment and share on Twitter and Facebook

Keeping Entertainment LIVE!

Richard Skipper,
Santa Claus' arrival at the parade's finale marks the start of the Christmas season.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Santa Claus is Coming Out ...thanks to Jeffrey Soloman

Jeffrey Solomon in Santa Claus is Coming Out Photo by Bree Michael Warner
The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different.
Peter Drucker

Santa Claus announces that he's been living a lie and that Mrs. Claus is actually just an actress in the off-Broadway smash hit The Santa Closet (originally titled Santa Claus Is Coming Out). Award-winning solo performer Jeffrey Solomon (Mother/Son) inhabits various characters at the center of "Santa-Gate," the world-wide scandal that ensues in the wake of Saint Nick's revelation. Using one of our most treasured icons, Solomon explores the cultural divide and asks what the Christmas spirit is really about. The New York Times called the show "a delightful surprise."
Jeffrey Soloman says he does what he does by default. He can't imagine a life of digging ditches or plumbing. Even as a child, he was creating a world of "let's pretend" and making up stories. He just had fun doing that and carried it forward into his adulthood. Not only did he desire to keep on doing it, he needed to keep on doing it. He has a gift of flair and a love of puppets that was handed down by his mom and dad. He went to NYU and had a number of great experiences in off off Broadway theatre in the early to mid eighties.It was around that time that he got involved with The CityKids Foundation.
They are a combination rep and theatre company and youth group. They use theatre as a tool to address important social issues.  CityKids’ innovative programming and projects have been in the forefront in the fields of positive youth development and social emotional learning for the past three decades; providing
opportunities for personal growth and artistic expression, they help young people channel that growth into substantial social change.

It was really exciting for Jeffrey to be able to write for them and take his acting as well into the high schools in 1988. He was even able to appear on the Donahue show. They were deluged with letters from gay kids all over America and the rest of the world. He was able to experience first hand the power of theatre and how it touches lives and makes people think.
This journey began in earnest for Jeffrey in 1986.
What does Jeffrey do when he wants a little "nonsense" in his life? He is a parent now. He and his husband adopted a baby boy two years ago. Pretty much all of Jeffrey's nonsense and silliness is directed towards him.
What does Jeffrey desire more than anything? Are you listening Santa?
in Mother/Son
He desires more people to have access and be exposed to his work. That is what most artists want. He desires to be a good parent. He is trying!
Santa Claus Is Coming Out, now called The Santa Closet has already had quite a history going back to 2001. Jeffrey's other solo play, Mother Son, was about his "coming out" journey with his mom.It premiered in New York and then went on to Provincetown.

It was a hit and seen by a lot of people. It would go on to Chicago and play all over the country. What he loved beyond the fact that many people saw it, was the fact that many desired to use the play as a tool in communities to talk about LGBT issues and prejudice and diversity and coming out issues. It went to high schools and colleges and it was produced by P-Flag and LGBT youth groups. Jeffrey was inspired by what was being done by all the work that was being done in schools to speak honestly with these issues. When we were in school, this simply was not done. If it was mentioned at all, it wasn't in a very nice way.
It was in derogatory words such as use of the word, "faggot". One of Jeffrey's teachers even went as far to say that the idea of homosexuality made him sick. That brought about a lot of pain and shame.
After Mother Son started being used as a teaching tool, Jeffrey started doing research on those educators and teachers who were addressing these issues in schools in a positive way. With the positives, there were also negatives. There was a conservative backlash. As a result, there were a number of stories that inspired The Santa Closet (then called Santa Claus Is Coming Out). One thing that started happening was that teachers started coming out to kids. As a result, teachers started answering kids' questions honestly. Two teachers that come
to mind were in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Another thing that was taking place at this time was Oregon's Measure Nine in 1992, concerning gay rights and public education, that drew widespread national attention.This measure would have made it illegal to discuss homosexuality in schools. The idea was that even discussing these issues was condoning homosexuality and that the gay agenda was to recruit and normalize everything so that kids will think it is great and jump on the bandwagon and therefore will be gay by having that conversation. The last point of all of this is the Gay straight alliance of Orange County.
A principal criticized for her handling of the Orange County Schools’ first middle-school gay-straight alliance eventually resigned. She tried to disband all youth clubs rather than allowing the Gay straight alliance to meet. Jeffrey went there to interview those that were involved. There was an organization called Parental Rights USA. They were leading the charge against the "gay movement".
Jeffrey interviewed the woman who ran this organization. She was actually the one who led Jeffrey to the idea of The Santa Closet. When she was not busy fighting the "gay agenda" or attending S and M orgies "under cover", actually with her press credentials. She went to the March in Washington in 1983. She was also producing children's programming for PBS.
Jeffrey began to question why SHE would stand on the side of "wholesomeness" and "good values." Why couldn't Santa be "one of us"? What would happen if Santa if he was revealed to be a gay man? How would the world react? Would it be with the same craziness that Jeffrey saw with some of the elementary school teachers? Would it still be totally inappropriate for kids? Does it automatically become about sex? The head of the Parental Rights organization really got Jeffrey  to thinking about how the world would react to a gay Santa Claus. Many gay teachers have had to live in the shadows. The Secret Life of Santa Claus or The Santa Claus is presented as a documentary.
Audiences in New York can catch this tonight (November 25th) and December 10th at Stage 72 at The Triad.
Tonight's show is a benefit for P-Flag of NYC. December 10th is a benefit for Truth Wins Out. There are also performances December 13th and 14th in Peekskill. Then, Jeffrey is off to Los Angeles for December 18th, 19th, and 21st.
Jeffrey has also been working on a screenplay version of this.
As mentioned earlier, the play is written as a documentary. It lends itself well to a transfer along the lines of This is Spinal Tap.
Jeffrey is absolutely sure that he is doing EXACTLY what he should be doing. What else would he be doing? Some people question their life choices. Not Jeffrey! That is one area of his life in which there are no doubts.
Jeffrey hopes that theatre will keep evolving. Live theatre does have its rightful place. It fits right in with TV, radio, and now, the internet. Although, he hates to use the term "educational tool", it can be, and he would love to see theatre have an even further outreach. It can become a larger part of community discussions.
The crux of The Santa Closet comes from a little boy asking Santa for a doll. Because Santa is a "closet case" in the context of this play, he is panicked by the request and says, "no". Then, the boy asks for a Ken doll or as he is called in the play "Dream date Norman." That request is also denied. The kid writes back saying, "I guess there is no Santa." That pierces Santa's soul which brings about his coming out. The play is really about this boy, Gary, and the invisibility of people like him.
Jeffrey has been told that this show works on two levels. On the one hand, it is satire. It is a mocumentary like This Is Spinal Tap or Best in Show.
It works on that level ...just for laughs. That being said, it really does pull at the heart strings like all those Christmas specials we have come to love like Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
Joe Brancato is the director and "the perfect partner on this play." He has a heart of gold. Joe stumbled upon this play and Jeffrey by "accident".He stumbled on the title of Santa Claus is Coming Out on a website dealing with theatre in San Diego where Jeffrey was doing the show at the time in 2002. Joe was preparing to do a show in New York and looked Jeffrey up and said, "If you're ever in New York, we should get together for coffee sometime."
Joe though that Jeffrey was in California. They met to discuss the play. Joe loved it, but had some ideas about changing certain aspects of the story. One in particular has to do with Santa's agent, Stanley Green aka "the little Jew who saved Christmas." He is sort of a guide, in the same way that the Fred Astaire character is in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Joe guided Jeffrey through rewrites and presented the revamped show at Penguin Rep in Stony Point. Joe put together the coalition of people who brought this show to Theatre Row in 2009. 
Jeffrey worked pretty intensely with Joe from 2006 to the off-Broadway premier in 2009. It eventually went to The Diversionary Theatre in San Diego, The Celebration in LA, and last year at The Eureka in San Francisco.  During that time, Joe and
Joe Brancato
Jeffrey were not involved. However, both Joe and Jeffrey desired to get back together to do, not necessarily a "smaller" version of the show, but one that is a little bit more "stripped down" and focuses on the ACTING of the characters and not so much on the production elements. They went back into rehearsals for the piece that will premier tonight.
This journey started for Jeffrey in 2000. In 2006, it went through major changes. Jeffrey first wondered if it was obsolete in terms of the gay issues being addressed and the way we talk about them with kids. In other words, is this even necessary? Jeffrey had to really consider that. There is still a lot of anxiety in the country about dealing with these issues, especially when talking with kids as far as gay vs. straight relationships.
Jeffrey and his, now, husband have been together for twenty one years. They were married in Massachusetts in 2008.
There have also been two productions without Jeffrey as star. One was in San Antonio Texas and one is being done this season in Buffalo.
Jeffrey's advice for anyone else doing this play is very simple. Although the characters are big and are involved in broad silly situations, Jeffrey would hate to see them treated as such. Any actor has to take on this world and there is no question that these characters are "real". Santa Claus is never seen in this play. We are introduced to those that surrounded him and bring this story to life. There are so many stories and images of Santa, that Jeffrey desires the audience to project their own thoughts on to how we perceive him.   
In 2009, GLSEN presented the play as a benefit and Focus on the Family picked up on it.
Candi Cushman
Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family wrote a blog condemning the play saying that Jeffrey was a homosexual activist bent on perverting the meaning of Christmas and the innocence of children. Bill O'Reilly picked up on this and blogged about it as well. Words were stolen from one of the characters in the script, Mary Ellen Banfield, housewife-activist and president of FAGA (Families Against the Gay Agenda), a character and organization that is fighting Santa Claus. It was so silly that life was echoing art so completely. People were spouting lines from a play they never saw almost verbatim.
Order tickets HERE for the New York performances.

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. The play’s Off Broadway run was heralded as “Hilarious” and “Brilliant” by Broadway World and Out Magazine. The New York Times raved: “A Delightful Surprise! … This isn’t a clumsy parody, but a sensitive, imaginative tale that really is about a boy’s realization that he is different. Mr. Solomon portrays an amazing range of characters, all of them beautifully.” A theatrical documentarian in the mold of Anna Deveare Smith and the Laramie Project, Mr. Solomon purports to have interviewed, and portrays, all of the key players in the scandal that has come to be known as ‘Santa-Gate’.
Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!                

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Be sure and see Jerry Costanzo and his Orchestra on December 12thas he celebrates Frank Sinatra
IF you like this blog, please leave a comment and share on Twitter and Facebook

Keeping Entertainment LIVE!

Richard Skipper,