“Watch out for glitter. It’s everywhere,” I was half-jokingly warned as I stepped onto the set of The Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey. Work crews were busily hanging lights and setting out Christmas trees just one week ahead of the immersive show’s opening at Arlington’s Choctaw Stadium.
Starting Thursday, kids and adults will navigate a magical world where scout elves perform acrobatics, juggle, and interact with audience members — all as part of an unfolding adventure to save Christmas. Scout elves, as I learned during my visit, are tasked with spreading Christmas joy to families (as opposed to working in the North Pole).
The venture by Constellation Immersive has local connections. Fort Worth-based set designing company Wheelhouse Innovations built the large props that bring to life the Elf on the Shelf story that began in 2005 with the publication of The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.
Director David Alpert said audiences will start their journey at the Christmas Kingdom Market, where they can shop, grab a hot chocolate, and write a letter to Santa. Then the real fun begins.
Audiences will “shrink down to elf-size,” Alpert said, referring to the larger-than-life stage props that give participants the perspective of being 6 inches tall. “Then they get to go through different experiences that allow them to see the elves at work. There is a lot of storytelling going on. This is a story-driven experience. Hopefully, the scout elves will save Christmas. We think they will. Then the audience unshrinks before seeing Santa and Miss Claus.”
Bringing the fantastical world of Elf on the Shelf to real life fell largely on native Fort Worthian Julie Curtis, who founded Wheelhouse Innovations. For the past several months, her team designed and fabricated the props needed for the interactive performance. Alpert, who has extensive experience directing shows on and off Broadway, said he chose a local company to ensure that the show looked and felt as authentic as possible.
“There is something magical knowing that it is being created for the audience by the local population,” he said. “There is something exciting when it feels homegrown. Families can see their friends performing.”
Last year, live theater was one of the hardest-hit industries following the outbreak of the pandemic, Alpert noted. There was a visceral excitement in the job applications that he reviewed.
“Theater people are so resilient,” he continued. “We love doing this work. It will be exciting when the cast joins us in a few days. It is all about making the experience joyful for the people who experience it.”
Curtis said she was given great leeway when designing and creating the set. Over the past several years, her company has evolved from a marketing and PR firm to a business that builds installations for a range of events.
“We were tired of no one else being able to make what we were thinking in our minds,” she said. “We are always trying to think of something that would stop you in your tracks.”
Audiences can walk through the magic experiences at their own pace, Alpert said. The show features original music that alternates with Christmas classics, he added.
“It’s not just for the kids,” he said. “It is also for the young at heart. The magic that we are creating is not based on one age demographic. If you can just enter the experience and allow yourself that child-like imagination, joy, and fantasy, you are going to have a good time. We want to bring people together. That’s what we need in this world more than ever.”
The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition
Thru Jan 2 at Choctaw Stadium,
1000 Ballpark Way, Arlington.