The big holiday story of 2011 has been the so-called “Black Friday creep” –– the decision by major retailers to start the Christmas shopping season earlier than ever by piggybacking on the actual day of Thanksgiving. Actor-writer Steven Alan McGaw, co-founder of Fort Worth’s workshop for short theater pieces known as SceneShop, has some strong opinions about the ongoing commercial takeover of a holiday that many people prize as an intimate celebration with family and friends.
“There’s a coldness and a cynicism to [the Black Friday creep] that I find pretty awful,” he said, referring to gimmicky markdowns that bring people into the stores to do more impulse buying. “In effect, what they’re telling us is, ‘You have made a judicious decision on how much you can spend in this tough economy, and we’re going to try and undermine that.’ I guess that’s how capitalism works, but it’s sort of unnerving. Maybe we need to have an Occupy North Pole to protest it.”
Such wry observations are the stuff of SceneShop’s annual A Fifth of Christmas variety show, at Arts Fifth Avenue. This evening of comic and dramatic sketches, monologues, and musical interludes has two specific goals in mind: to cut through the avalanche of prefab glad tidings and oppressive good cheer and to remind adults that the yuletide belongs to them too. A Fifth of Christmas is the most popular of SceneShop’s annual performance events. McGaw is convinced that this decidedly unsentimental show becomes more necessary each year as people are bombarded by all media with ever more urgent messages to shop, spend, and be happy, dammit!
This year’s musical entertainment for A Fifth will be provided by veteran Fort Worth journalist, author, and musician Michael H. Price, who’ll perform original blues-fired holiday songs and novelty tunes with his band The Noel Laureates. (They’re a yuletide variation on The Lake Rats, the group that often performs at Hip Pocket Theatre.) The Fifth Avenue Hi-Notes, a choir that includes McGaw, will also deliver some choral classics.
But the heart of the evening, as always, comes from the short theatrical pieces. The character of Uncle Jackie, a “grim and sleazy” storyteller who spins tales of sordid and disastrous holiday happenings, returns this year to deliver his swan song. Jackie Pickard, the actor who plays him, is graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington in May and may not be available for next year’s show. McGaw has written a special scene for the final appearance called “Uncle Jackie’s Christmas Gift,” in which the title character relates his efforts to find a job for a cousin who’s newly released from federal prison. Also on tap for the show are Kyle Irion’s “Science Bless Us Every One,” in which a young man attempts to impress his girlfriend’s family with some seriously flawed knowledge of the religious story behind Christmas, and the return of McGaw’s “Holiday for Grownups,” about a father and son observing the first Christmas after the death of the mother. McGaw himself will play the dad.
“ ‘Holiday for Grownups’ is the one serious moment in the show,” he said. “It’s not cut from the same snarky fabric as the rest of the evening.”
The new feature in 2011’s A Fifth will be some yuletide-related standup material written and performed by Fort Worth comic Christopher Darden, who’s taken home the cash prize recently at QLive!’s Tuesday night open-mic show, It Only Makes Me Laugh. Darden is a former student in McGaw’s improv theater classes at Country Day School. McGaw describes Darden’s performance style as “lively, self-deprecating, and no-holds-barred.”
The main goal of SceneShop’s A Fifth of Christmas is to entertain, of course, but if there’s a message to the evening, it goes something like this: Yes, there is a lot of commercial and family insanity surrounding the December holiday season, so let’s laugh about it together and relieve some of the pressure. And let’s also remember that despite the hype, this time of year isn’t exclusively about children.
“We put so much energy into making Christmas about kids, and that’s wonderful,” McGaw said. “But just because you pass the age of 35 or 40 doesn’t mean that Christmas disappears. What adults enjoy this time of year, I think, is a little irreverence. Our show is an alternative for grownups, a parents’ night out. And we have a lot of fun doing it.”
SceneShop presents A Fifth of Christmas
8pm Sat at Arts Fifth Avenue, 1628 5th Av, FW. $10. 817-923-9500.