Christmas is back! And so is the war on it.
“We’re in the thick of it,” says Scott Shoemaker, taking a break from rehearsing for his traditional local holiday show, Scott Shoemaker’s War on Christmas! “It’s the same format as always, a ‘70s variety show that goes awry,” he says. “This year we’re doing a twisted version of A Christmas Carol.”
Last year’s show was an all-virtual affair, which as we’ve all come to recognize is fine, sure, Zoom shows will do in a pinch. But now the show’s back on with in-person performances, starring Scott and his castmates Waxie Moon, Adé, Faggedy Randy, and Mandy Price, with production help from Scott’s partner, Freddy Molitch (aka DJ King of Pants).
So does this mean that everything’s back to normal? Well, no, not quite.
“There’s COVID restrictions everywhere,” Scott says, referring to the complicated rehearsals and audience safety. Another concern: “How supply-chain stuff is affecting us, in terms of ordering props and making props. … Not to mention we took a whole year off from everything and everyone’s traumatized.”
That’s left entertainers like him and his team in a tricky spot, he says. “The main goal is just to be funny. And it’s not as easy to be funny right now.”
But if the past is any guide, they’re up to the challenge. Though each year’s War on Christmas show adopts a similar format, the content is always brand new — and as of this year, so is the venue, transposed from Re-bar (RIP) to Theater Off Jackson. Scott looks at the move as an opportunity to refresh and feels optimistic about returning to the stage following a successful run of his Ms. Pak-Man show this past September.
“Right before the world shut down, we were about to do a Ms. Pak-Man in March of 2020,” he says — but you probably already knew that. When the city shut down last year, every utility pole on Capitol Hill seemed to have a tattered Ms. Pak-Man poster taped to it, fluttering like environmental storytelling in a Fallout game. Now, after nearly two years of quarantines, awkwardly spaced-out cafe seating, and Zoom parties, we’re finally ready to slip back into something resembling the before-times.
“People are ready to try to find some normalcy in their lives,” Scott says. “They’re looking for what they used to do before the world fell apart. People are excited to revisit traditions.”
If that’s the case for audiences, it goes double for creators.
“Making these shows and being a performer is part of our identity,” he says. “If you talk to people in the performing arts, you didn’t just lose your job, you lost your direction in life, a huge part of yourself. It’s more than just a job; it’s about who you are.”
The lack of live theater left a noticeable void in the lives of performers and patrons alike — especially during the holidays, when darkness dominates and we all must generate what light we can ourselves. The War on Christmas crew is taking every precaution they can to ensure a safe run, including consultation with UW virologists on safety procedures. Nevertheless, in these uncertain times, one must expect the unexpected: During September’s Ms. Pak-Man show, Scott says, if there had been any outbreaks “we were ready at any moment to cancel the show. No matter how much work we put in, how much money we spent, safety was a priority.”
That’s the case for the Christmas show, too. “If one of the cast members gets COVID right now, the show’s cancelled,” he says. “That’s the reality now.”
Putting on a show under those constraints is a risky proposition, since it means that all the work and money invested in the production could be lost. Why take such a risk?
“I think that really the main reason is this is part of our identity,” Scott says. “It sounds conceited to be like, ‘people want to see us,’ but in general art is very important to people’s lives.”
Ultimately, he says, “being around other people and being able to laugh and share live performance is something our souls need. If we can take the risk to do that, I think it’s really worth it.”
Scott Shoemaker's War on Christmas! runs most of December.