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Christmas production imagines Santa’s shady past (10 photos)

In this Arts and Culture feature we drop into Guelph Little Theatre during the dress rehearsal for their production of Twas that runs from Nov 21 to Dec 1

In Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas aka Twas the Night Before Christmas, first published in 1823, the world was introduced to a character very different from the third century Greek bishop, Saint Nicholas of Myra, of early Christian tradition.

The St. Nick in Moore’s poem was a magical elf who flew around the world on a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer – Rudolph didn’t join the team until 1939 – sneaking into people’s homes while they slept and leaving gifts for the children.

This is the image that captured the popular imagination of children around the world and developed into the Santa Claus we all know and love today, but who is he? What is his back story?

That is a question award-winning actor, playwright, puppeteer and magician Eric Woolfe attempts to answer in his play Twas that draws on influences from Moore, Charles Dickens, the Brothers Grimm and Tim Burton.

“Twas is to Santa Claus as Wicked is to the Wicked Witch,” said director Pamela Niesiobedzki-Curtis. “It’s a fun fairy tale as opposed to a story book because it has that dark element like the old fairy tales.”

Niesiobedzki-Curtis has wanted to produce the play since she first saw it performed in Orangeville in 2006.

“It was written and developed for Theatre Orangeville and I was there when it was first put on, which is where I connected with Eric,” she said. “I have probably presented it to three or four different groups over the years and this is the first group that decided they would do it.”

Niesiobedzki-Curtis is co-directing the Guelph Little Theatre production of Twas with Guelph born actor and dancer Shona Sneddon.

“I am basically the director mentor so, the vision is my vision of the show and I have mentored Shona on how to do a mainstage show,” she said. “I have worked in theatre for more than 40 years and I have probably directed 50 or 60 shows. I do set design, costume design, direct and I like to produce so, I don’t think there is a job in theatre I haven’t done at some point.”

It is Sneddon’s directorial debut.

“Well I did 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse last year in the One Act,” said Sneddon. “So, this is my first mainstage. I am always looking to expand more, and I love the holidays. It’s always a great challenge to have a lot of different characters and a lot of different actors of different ages.”

Sneddon is not only co-directing but also performing in the play.

“I play one of the conjoined trolls,” she said. “I have been acting for quite some time. I have a master’s in dance and choreography. I was born in Guelph and then I went off to New York City for about 14 years. I worked for the New York City Ballet and at RADA in England.”

Woolfe is well known for his work with puppets and magic and those elements are featured in the play.

“We do have a Bodach, the puppet in the chimney and we have masks on most of our characters,” said Niesiobedzki-Curtis. “We’ve kept it as close to the script as we can.”

She enlisted the help of retired Erin District High School drama teacher Steve Sherry to interpret her vision.

“I am the mask maker and the props master for the show,” said Sherry. “I worked with Pam as a teacher a long time ago and I have been involved with Royal City Musical and GLT over the last couple years.”

The story follows the lives of two orphans Nick and Lucy who meet briefly as children and then grow up with very different influences. Nick, played by actor and director Anthony Deciantis, grows up to become a master cat burglar known as Crimson Nick.

“It is fun to see how he grows up from not a very nice childhood to a very tortured soul as an adult who eventually comes around to become the loveable character that we know now,” said Deciantis.

His co-star Jordon Morrison plays the adult Lucy. The Orangeville native has been acting since her early teens

“This is my first show with Guelph Little Theatre and so far, I am enjoying the experience,” she said. “I didn’t see the Orangeville production, but I think ours is the best. It is kind of like a mystery about who Santa was. He’s not happy, ho, ho, ho, no he’s dangerous and he’s there to take your stuff. He’s not just on the naughty list. He is the reason there’s a naughty list.”

The cast is made up of theatre veterans such as Deciantis and Sneddon as well as young new talent such as Lucas and Anna Rawle who play young Nick and Lucy and Guelph’s own Morgan Lee who takes on two roles.

“One of my characters I’m an orphan,” said Lee. “In my other one I’m a Gargraven called Huggin and I am one of the boss lady’s main Gargravens and I help deliver things to the trolls.”

Sneddon has enjoyed the experience of directing a large and diverse cast and believes that element of fun will translate to the audience.

“It is good for all ages because we have colourful costumes, fun characters, music and it is a very visual piece for a lot of kids and, of course, we have eight children in the show,” she said. “It’s a giant choreography of costumes, people, sets, sights and sounds.”

It’s a production that typifies the role and value of community theatre.

“The whole point is to get people involved in live theatre that wouldn’t normally get involved like one of our set painters is Paul White from the Guelph Trail Club and he did a beautiful job doing the set for the toy shop,” said Niesiobedzki-Curtis. “We have the Guelph Youth Choir coming opening night to sing at the start of our show. We are trying to make this a community Christmas to so we really hope that people will come out and be involved with our community.”

Twas runs from Nov 21 – Dec 1 at Guelph Little Theatre at 176 Morris St.

For a list of show dates or to order tickets visit