An annual Valley holiday staple for a raucous time to be had by all, SANTASIA - A HOLIDAY COMEDY opens December 1, 2017 at The Whitefire Theatre. We had the chance to chat with one of the co-founders of SANTASIA, Shaun Loeser on the familial inspiration and family ties that creatively bind this troupe of funny, funny people.
Thank you, Shaun, for agreeing to this interview!
Thank you Gil! I'm really excited to talk with you.
I see a number of people with the last names 'Loeser' on the SANTASIA website. How wonderful that this is a family affair, yes?
Ha, ha!, Yes! This is a family affair. My brother Brandon and I started SANTASIA - A HOLIDAY COMEDY 18 years ago. My wife Tania, has been part of SANTASIA for 15 years and Brandon's new wife Rachel, has been with us for two years - she's the newbie. BTW, The full show title is SANTASIA - A HOLIDAY COMEDY. But most people call us simply SANTASIA. We've reached the Cher and Madonna level!
Do you have to separate SANTASIA creative pow-wows from your everyday family lives? Or does everything overlap?
I wish we had separate SANTASIA pow-wows! Unfortunately, this show has pretty much taken over our lives for eleven months of the year. (We try not to think about it in January!) Things will inspire us throughout the year, so we start to create those ideas as soon as they transpire.
Can you specify who originated the idea of your first SANTASIA? Or was this a group light bulb?
SANTASIA was honestly created to get me and Brandon through the holidays without our Dad. Our Dad passed away after a hard-fought battle with cancer on July 1st, 2000. He (our Dad) was crazy about Christmas, holiday decorating and frigging Christmas lights. He made us hang all these lights on the coldest Chicago nights. But he always made Christmas the most fun and the best time of the year for us. Our Dad was also the funniest guy we ever knew. He had a great sense of humor, and he was very snarky and sarcastic. He was the most lovable asshole you'd ever know. After he died and Christmas was approaching, we didn't know what to do with ourselves. We knew that Christmas and that holiday season would just cause us pain and anguish. So we decided to get in front of that depression and start making fun of Christmas, it's traditions and our family. Seemed like something “our Dad would want us to do.” So that's when we created our SANTASIA. I remember telling Brandon, I think producing this show would be cheaper than a shrink. 18 years later, I was way wrong.
So, your first SANTASIA was put on in winter of 2000?
Our first SANTASIA was performed in 2000. We did four shows. We played on Tuesday nights, and between 15 to 20 people attended every night. But, on our final performance, we sold out. Sixty people showed up and we got our first standing ovation.
Have revised any original SANTASIA sketches from your first show for this show opening December 1st?
From the original show back in 2000, there's only two scenes we've kept for all 18 years. And these scenes are pantomime - one is an epic snowball fight, and the other, an adventure's bobsledding fiasco.
Any cast members who have been involved in all of the editions? Do you have a core SANTASIA troupe (besides the four Loesers)?
Brandon and I, of course. And, then my wife Tania has been with us the longest for 15 years. Another cast member Lon Gowan has been going strong for the past 13 years. Then Rachel for just two years.
Does your wife Tania choreograph around the unique dancing strengths of your core cast? Or does she have to audition for someone to be able to perform a specific dance move?
Ha! Yes, we do have a “unique dancing strength.” You're never going to believe this, but none of the guys in SANTASIA are trained dancers. I know, but it's true. We do try our damnest to be the best we can. It's a part of the charm and innocence of the show. Tania has a real gift of creating and inspiring non-movers and non-dancers to look the best they can. Tania is able to pull your unique strengths out of you and incorporate them into her amazing vision. Her choreography is very imaginative, and her ideas are both clever and funny and always smartly executed. Fun fact - Tania is the genius who incorporated dance and the musical numbers into our show. After Tania saw our show for her first time in 2000, she insisted we add a dance number to bring the show to the next level. Tania came up with the idea of "The Full Monty" and proposed it to me. It ended up being a hit and "The Full Monty" is still in our show as a staple. We have added musical parodies ever since. Our take offs include “A SANTASIA Line,” “All Those Toys,” “Snow Block Tango.,” Last year, we added a HAMILTON parody. Now we have to describe SANTASIA as a holiday musical/sketch comedy/multi-media event!
Whitefire Theatre's currently in its 35th season. How did you originally connect with Whitefire?
By phone. That's partially true. SANTASIA was performing at the El Portal Theatre as the guest artist for the 2004 “Valley Theatre Awards.” SANTASIA was nominated for, and won, Best Comedy Ensemble. Tania won Best Choreographer, and a I won for Best Comedy Actor (Although, Brandon claims he's the funnier Loeser brother).
It was at that awards show Bryan Rasmussen, owner of the Whitefire Theatre, first saw us perform. After we ended that year's run, we knew we needed a bigger venue. It was fun because when we called Bryan, he remembered us and welcomed us with open arms. Bryan is one of the most supportive and most giving theatre owners I have ever had to pleasure to work with. Bryan is truly passionate about his theatre, the work that goes on there and their patrons. In my opinion, the theatre is the nicest one in the valley. It also has really comfy seats that don't hurt your butt.
How soon did you start conceiving this current edition? Right after last year's?
To be perfectly honest…we usually get inspired two weeks into the run. Somebody will shout backstage, “Next year we should…” Then we'll, “yes and...” the idea and that will be our starting off point come February.
How did the inclusion of claymation multi-media come about?
I've always been a fan of the Rankin and Bass holiday specials. I grew up on Rudolph and Frosty. I met Michael Granberry the second year he came to see SANTASIA. He was what we like to call a super-fan or a “Santasi-ac.” Anyway, he told me he was a stop-motion animator. Michael asked me if I ever wanted a claymation piece for the show. I told him I had an idea for this split scene I was working on. It was going to be live on stage. Two kids were trying to build a snowman and just when the snowman was completed everything and everyone kept falling down. It's revealed later on the other side of the stage there was a little girl shaking a snow globe. So I wrote the scene down on a napkin for him. And I couple month's later he produced our first claymation film San Andreas Snowman. We now have four claymation films - Pulp Christmas, Some Assembly Required and Penguins Don't Fly. Fun fact - after Michael worked on our SANTASIA projects, he is now a two- time Emmy Award-winning animator for the show Tumble Leaf on Amazon. Not sure if SANTASIA had anything to do with it, but we are tight with Santa Claus.
Video plays a big part of SANTASIA. Who's the mastermind behind your videos?
Yes, they are, and they began out of necessity. Brandon and I hate long blackouts and scene changes. I wrote the very first film parody, based on the Matrix, titled Santasia Reloaded. This first trailer was our unique take on the Matrix Reloaded. It had stunts, Santa flying through the air and special effects. It was ridiculous! The audiences loved it. Then they asked, “What are you doing next year?” We realized then, we had to make more.
Whoever is inspired, gets to write and direct them. Tania, Brandon and I have all had our fair share of creating and producing these films. This year's film was directed by Tania. These films are full-on mini-productions. Tania will also do costumes and hair. Brandon does all the post-production. I'll get props, locations and talent scheduled and booked.
These films are definitely a collaboration of ideas by the SANTASIA team. Since our first film, we've produced Brokeback Igloo, Breaking Naughty, On Santasia Tides, Snowfall 007, The Walking Gingerbread, to name a few. Also, we add various commercials and PSA's throughout the show. But to be honest, I'm very excited about this year's parody film. It's really a bit Strange.
You and your brother Brandon both studied under Chicago's improv guru Del Close. Did you and Brandon start out performing together?
Yeah, pretty much. We started doing shows in college, and then Brandon and I started training at the iO in Chicago. If you know Del's work, you'll see the big influence Del had us in our storytelling. SANTASIA's structure is derived from Del's famed long form, the “Harold.” Del showed us how to truthfully do a scene and find the comedy within that truth; and how scenes, people and relationships will organically always find a connection.
After we studied with iO, both Brandon and I both went on to pursue careers as actors and stuntmen. We've both been lucky enough to work film, TV, and commercials. Brandon and I usually don't work together too much. We usually get cast as the same type. It just depends if production wants the short, chubby Loeser brother or the tall, goofy one. A couple of times, we did a sketch on the Conan show together. Come to think of it, SANTASIA is the only show we do that we actually share the stage.
Was stuntwork your entree into the entertainment industry? Or we you acting first?
For me, it kind of came at the same time. I was a diver in high school, so I developed some pretty good air sense. I auditioned for this Batman Stunt Show at Six Flags in Chicago. My big stunt was falling off a two-story building, and because I acquired that air sense, I was able to successfully do that fall. Then I bought some high fall pads and taught Brandon how to high fall. He became my counterpart the next year at the show. The live shows were a great way to make ends meet while pursuing the film and TV work. I have done the live show circuit, and it has literally taken me around the world. I've done shows in Chicago, New Jersey, Orlando, California and Italy. It was in California at Six Flags Magic Mountain doing the Batman and Robin Show where Brandon and I met Tania for the first time. Tania was playing Poison Ivy, and Brandon and I were cast as the mad scientist.
Any specific themes you incorporate into your yearly SANTASIAs?
Basic holiday dysfunction and the craziness of the holiday season and family. It seems like we always go back to family, if you love them or not. We go out of our way to try to make SANTASIA an escape from the holidays, so we try our best to keep current events out of the show, and make it more of a timeless production.
Any different goals you Loesers have set for this year's SANTASIA? (Laughs per minute? Shocked gaffaws? Extended standing O's?)
Usually we get about 10 to 12 laughs per minute. This year, I'd like to see if we could bump that up to 14.5 laughs with a guffaw every three minutes. (I don't want to push it.)
But, you know what would be really cool is an ovation so big that after we run off stage the audience cheers so much, they demand us to return. You know like the rock stars get! Then we perform Freebird and call it a night!!!
Thank you again, Shaun! I look forward to laughing a lot at your SANTASIA!
Thanks, Gil! It was fun. Let me know if you need anything else from us! I gotta go so I can learn Freebird.
For schedule and available SANTASIA tickets through December 25, 2017; log onto www.santasia.com