Sunday, December 23, 2007

Down the Shore with...John Alvarez

What better way to start off Christmas week than with a Santa Q&A? Well, not quite a chat with Santa, but John Alvarez of Cape May Stage, who happens to sometimes play Santa (I met John the night of the Cape May tree lighting, sans big red Santa suit).

1. How did you make your way to Cape May?
Kicking and screaming (lol). I was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia, with my nine other brothers and sisters. When most of my older siblings had moved out of the house, my parents moved to Cape May. This was 1983 and in the middle of my senior of high school. Believe me, I wasn'’t to happy to move. It really wasn'’t until after I had graduated college and was on my first theatrical tour that I started missing walking the beaches of Cape May. At the end of the tour, I was taking NJ Transit back to Cape May. I was looking out the window as the bus was coming over the Cape May bridge. I had a great view of the canal, the docks and Lobster House. I smiled and said “I’'m home”.

3. What does it take to play Santa?
I’'ve played Santa, at different times, for twenty years. I can tell you that it takes more than just being a big, jolly man. You need patience, compassion, and great sense of humor. And that'’s just for the adults who want to tell Santa their Christmas list (I blush at some of the requests). Seriously, it'’s surprising what you are asked as Santa. I’ve had children ask anything from toys finding their parents a job. The worst question I was ever asked: A boy asked me to bring back his brother who was killed in a car accident a few months before. The best question: A little girl, about four years old, had asked me for a lump of coal. When I asked her why she wanted a lump of coal, she said, "“So I can give it to my brother. He’'s so mean to me”." I laughed for a good five minutes at that.

4. What's the toughest part about the costume? Having to navigate it when using the restroom. Enough said.

5. Tell me about the Christmas show, and how that came to be.
The show is called “Every Christmas Story Ever Told” and it depends on which person who created the show (Michael Carleton, James Fitzgerald and myself) you'’re talking to at any given time. We all have our different take on how the show came to be. My interpretation is simple. It was all my idea (lol). Seriously, it was summer of 2003 and the theatre was having their weekly “clambake”, a party where anyone can show up. I was bouncing the idea of doing a show about every Christmas story ever told to friends who were also writers. All of them laughed at me, except for Michael and James. We went to the kitchen of the actor’s house, sat at the table, opened a beer and talked. By the end of the second beer, we had an outline of the play. Basically, it’s about three guys doing “A Christmas Carol” when one actor (my character) confesses that he can’'t do another version of this story again. From that point on, we spoof Christmas stories, traditions, carols, commercials, parades and TV specials. I would love to tell you more, but that would give too much away. Let me just with the fact that, four years ago, Michael, James and I were sitting in Cape May Stage’s theatre, twenty-four hours before opening night, wondering if the show was going to work. Four years later, the play is published and is being done in over ten theatre’s in the US, two in Canada and one in Tokyo, Japan. Not bad for a show that got start in a kitchen over a beer.

6. What's up next for the 2008 season?
2008 is the twentieth anniversary of Cape May Stage'’s first year. We will also be done with our renovation campaign called Project Encore. For four seasons now, Project Encore has been raising funds to fix up the theatre. Also, for far too many years, we have had folding chairs for our patrons and only about a dozen lighting instruments for our shows. (I won’t even tell you abut our sound system - uggh) Hopefully, and after nearly $1.5 million raised, we will be done with the renovations. As for our shows, our season has been picked and we are doing six (or seven) shows, one children’s production, and after the success that had last October with a staged reading of Macbeth, we are doing four staged reading ranging from “The Tempest” to Orson Wells'’ radio version of “War of the Worlds”. Now, all of this is subject to change so check out our website at and check out our schedule.

7. What are two places in Cape May that everyone MUST see/do if they're coming down for vacation?
Well, one of the things that people should do is take one of the tours sponsored by the Mid Atlantic Center of the Arts. Through this organization’s efforts, many of the Victorian houses in town were saved. They helped Cape May get it’s National Historic Landmark status. Many of the reasons why people come to Cape May are through their efforts. Sadly, they do these great tours and a lot people don’'t go to them. When you’'re in Cape May (especially if it’s raining) go take one of the MAC tours. They’'re fun.

The second thing is to go walk the beach. I know, I’'m crazy to mention walking the beach in South Jersey. But how many time do people actually walk the beach? The run to it to get tanned, or go body surf they waves. But how many just actually walk the beach? It’'s a beautiful walk. Tranquil and inspiring. It'’s a great place for people watching. You'’ll see anything from a child’'s first steps to the ocean to older people who have been on the beach for most of their life. And everything else in between. And if you are dating someone one or you’'re happily married, there is nothing more romantic than kissing the love of your life with the taste of see mist on your lips. Go take a walk on the beach. It’s fun. And, after that, you can walk up the stree to this little theatre called Cape May Stage.

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