Being Santa's Wife

Liz Lydic

The second time my husband, Stephen, wears the Santa costume and acts as the main man, it's better. The costume is a little more legit; he's doing it for a new group; he has a better Santa chair, a better introduction (more suspense, more lead up, more fanfare....and he gets to ride in on a trackless train); and it's a monumentally hot year so Stephen rocks the sunglasses as he makes a big entrance- this goes over really well. 

My husband and I are theatre people. We met doing theatre, we still do it, in some form - and I guess I mean acting as the overall 'thing' when I say 'theatre.' When we met, 10 years ago, not was the world in a different placebut so were we. Adamant that our dreams would/should/could come true one day, we'd both dropped our lives on hold for the summer to participate in summer stock in Indiana. Stephen was living in Chicago, and I was in LA. It was a no-brainer for both of us - drop everything, and move to Indiana for the summer in the name of hope, dreams, our goals, and a measly paycheck to justify that we were not just constantly working for free. It's now 2017, and our lives look so different, but we have not totally lost our dreams - Stephen does much better at embracing, living, and pursuing; I do much better at tucking away, waiting, and supporting. We are both still - and always will be - theatre people. 

Stephen works front of house nights and weekends, and pieces together other income by way of tutoring, teaching theatre, and the holy acting job that comes his way (meaning that there are more auditions than call times). I work full time in City government, after many years pursuing theatre administration, which was after throwing in the towel (with an epic literal and metaphorical sigh of relief) on pursuing acting. More on this soon. I currently sit on a community theatre Board of Directors, run my own theatre website in support of community theatre in CA, do the books for a local community theatre, and Stephen and I both side hustle by adjudicating high school theatre performances. We are theatre people. 

We are married and have a kid. We live in the LA area, but not in LA; not in Hollywood, or even in Burbank (can that be a "meme"- I'm an actor, but I don't live in Hollywood. I don't even live in Burbank? I don't know). Stephen goes to auditions, but he also stays home with our toddler most of his time. I have my website, and I recently acted on stage for the second time in 10 years (I used to do, like, 7 shows a year or something nuts, where I'd be rehearsing Monday-Thursday, performing Friday- Sunday, and of course waiting tables and auditioning for the next thing in all the time in between), but I mostly work full time, pay bills, and worry about our rent (nope, we don't "own") increasing and figure out the most viable health insurance plans for our family. And, to be honest, we live in a kinda weird suburbia place, where we are surrounded by people our age, but who have....money and big ol' jobs and have been to places in Mexico that I had no idea had to do with Mexico, or the world at all. In this economic kind of way, we are, like, the minority where we live. We wedge ourselves in, though, because: my husband teaches/tutors the students of the Mexico vacation people, (and he's been in enough national commercials that we have talking points when discussing careers and it helps for the moments we get lost around topics like  'attorney' or 'mortgage' or 'start up' and are just smiling and nodding at the other moms and dads), and I work for the City, so you kinda can't totally outcast us. 

We are this different but kind of novelty family and people might not know what to think of us. Or maybe I'm imagining that, because I spent so much of my life preparing for roles, but not for the role of a parent whose priority is a kid, and the consequent of that means living in this weird place (ya know, good schools, good resources, mostly safe) and trying-but-not- trying to fit in and thinking about all of it all the time. I am not always surrounded these days by theatre people (the work I do tends to be remote, as much is these days, and parenting a small kid and trying to be really involved in a show or with a theatre is a tall order), and by working and living in the same (smallish) town, I'm in a sort of bubble. Well, let's face it, being a new parent feels like being in a bubble too. Or a shift of identity that kind of puts you in a new role, a new world, and it can be confining, because you turn over so much of your time and energy to raise another human.

Acting and pursuing acting is somewhat selfish and individual - you spend time with yourself, working on your craft (sometimes literally just by yourself all day long, like in your living room in some kind of makeshift audition space practicing the same lines over and over and over and over to connect with someone who is not even there); you drop your-plans-your-work-your-health to make it to an audition at the last minute; you spend an entire day at that audition, waiting and waiting; you might get cast in a show or a commercial and you will spend a small and intense time with your co-actors and then go your separate ways at the end. In a way, this grueling and tedious lifestyle somewhat prepares you for parenthood - shifting gears, staying 'on,' long days at doctors offices, fundraisers, school meetings, etc. But, again, now all this energy and time is for someone else.

I sort of feel like I'm playing a role as a parent and in my community.  My job at the City? Low level, because I started late, after many years in theatre; and, luckily, my position does allow me to prioritize motherhood as well as pursue my theatre interests on the side, without the exhaustion a higher level job might. My husband is not a producer or a movie star or even a recurring guest star. He gets work in commercials now and then and doing a bang up job at getting to the final callback for even more...if it wasn't for the other guy, every time. We don't have the time (or interest?) in the social parenting things that bind so many of our fellow parents together. We are in the right age demographic, and being new parents (and not particularly young) is a huge common denominator. But I still feel that we are separated by our income status, which is a direct result of our stubborn pursuit of what makes us happy.  Despite our tenacity, I don't currently have a lot of my old creative outlets, or the 'drama' of pursuing acting myself anymore. I find/have found new ways to flex that creative muscle that refuses to harden or be forgotten. Refuses! 

At Halloween, for our office's competition, I whip up a homemade costume instead of buying online, I do our department's skit with no shame while others retreat and giggle ('Stay in the moment, guys!'), and help our department earn a victory. Not a far change from, say, my status in high school, but I'll take it. I'm asked to moderate a panel for a conference at the last minute, so I call up those improv skills and I remember to listen and project, and I work it. At work, I think outside the box and I never, ever pick the easy choice when asked my opinion on communication ideas, or how we should run a meeting, or how we could improve customer service or community relations. I have empathy, listening skills, and I know to think about what I want the scene to look like before I begin planning something. Theatre is not only not so far away from me at heart, but by golly, it gave me some skills. 

On Saturday, at our daughter's preschool fundraiser, Stephen plays Santa with an energy not matched by the one we saw earlier in the week, atop a firetruck sponsored by our local Kiwanis Club. He's better than the one at our City's famed Candy Cane Lane. And he's better than the one at the end of our local parade, or at the mall, or another dad they might talk into wearing the suit. He's better because he's a dad, yes, but probably so are those other Santa's - maybe they're even Grandpa's - WOW!

No, but Stephen is better because he's an actor; an actor willing to play Santa fully committed and selflessly for a group of hot, sticky, mouth breathers his daughter will grow up with. He's not 'generic' or vague, or quiet, or limited on time as every other Santa seems to be (no offense, other Santas - to be honest, you all fill out the costume better, so there's that). Sure, he's also focused on making parents laugh, and impressing me and maybe some of the yoga-pants-moms, but he's also - at the core- an actor with a job to do, and he treats it like he would any other gig: with love and respect and hope and humanity. He treats it with high stakes and vulnerability and sensitivity. He listens. He reacts. He is there for this co-stars (even the ones who ask for toys he has never heard of, or the ones who just repeat his questions back to him, or the ones whose parents are lovingly-annoyingly recording everything while simultaneously prompting their kid- amazing multi-tasking for a Saturday morning!); he is thorough; he doesn't even complain about how hot he must be in the garb on this ridiculously hot December day. He is not self-conscious, he is not ashamed, he is giving, and he is magnanimous. He is just what you would want from an actor. Or Santa.

It is because of acting and theatre that he can pull this off, and why he has made me so proud this morning, and why I know that while we might not drive the 'right' car,' or have an amazing job title, or a nanny or a mortgage or the biggest Facebook friends list, we do belong. We always will. We are unique. We are true. We have something to give. Without theatre or acting, we would not be us. 

Happy Holidays!