Ho, Ho … Huh? is Tree House Youth Theatre’s unconventional Christmas show that starts on Thursday, Dec. 4, at Red Deer’s Scott Block Theatre.
It draws on some colourful and bizarre yuletide traditions to help shed some light on our world.
The original play, written by Tree House artistic director Matt Gould, is about a Martha Stewart-obsessed kid named Nigel who aims to put on a Christmas party unlike any other. “He wants to put on a Christmas/solstice party to end what he considers the ho-ho-horribleness of North American Christmas,” said Gould.
Being an exceptionally inventive 13-year-old, Nigel invites his friends to come dressed as Europe’s lesser-known Christmas characters.
There’s Germany’s demon-like Krampus, who travels with St. Nicholas and whacks bad kids with sticks before taking them back to his lair, where “he cooks them and eats them,” said Gould, who’s also directing the show.
There’s Greece’s Kallikantzaroi, who surfaces from underground during the 12 days of Christmas, when the sun ceases its seasonal movements during the winter solstice. The trickster goblin wreaks havoc in people’s lives, breaking and stealing things until the sun starts moving again and he heads back underground.
There’s also Sweden’s Tomte, a farmyard gnome who travels around with a pig, rewarding those who leave him butter and porridge, and punishing those who don’t.
Add to this Italy’s Christmas witch La Befana, who delivers gifts to children on Epiphany Eve (Jan. 5), and Holland’s Zwarte Piet, servant to Sinterklasse, who carries bad children to his native Spain in a burlap sack, and you get the idea.
Nigel’s partygoers will be entertained by poetry, songs and stories from an extraordinary group of characters, said Gould.
Besides learning about obscure Christmas traditions from other countries, Ho, Ho … Huh? also has a plot line that touches on some contemporary issues many Canadian children are dealing with, including racial stereotyping and being targeted by gay slurs and other kinds of bullying.
“It’s a slice of life. (The play) has some meat on the bone,” added Gould, who noted Nigel has a tormentor that he has to invite to the party for family reasons. Although the production won’t hit anyone over the head with a message (Gould feels he doesn’t write didactically), audience members will see some kind of resolution take place.
The double-cast play involves 22 youths, aged nine to 12. It is the second-last production Gould will be helming for Tree House theatre.
After 10 years with the company, he plans to step down as artistic director at the end of the season-closing variety show planned for late May/early June.
It was a difficult decision, but with many of his longtime students now graduating from high school and moving on, Gould felt it was also time for him to focus more energy on other challenges — including his interdisciplinary arts teaching job at Red Deer College and his Frame-It Store in Red Deer. The local fabric artist also plans a new exhibit based on women’s portraits.
Gould said he will miss Tree House “like crazy. But it’s time to be like the kids and move on with life. I won’t be pining about what to do, that’s for sure.”
The group is looking for a new artistic director.
Ho, Ho … Huh? will be showing from Dec. 4 to 6 and Dec. 11 to 13 at 7:30 p.m. There will also be 2 p.m. shows on Dec. 6 and 13. Tickets are $20 from treehouseyouththeatre.ca, or call 403-986-0631.