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Posted: 12:00 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012

Reflections on being a Christmas elf: Martin Burke on his last year in ‘The Santaland Diaries’



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Reflections on being a Christmas elf: Martin Burke on his last year in ‘The Santaland Diaries’ photo
Austin actor Martin Burke has made an indelible mark with his portrayal of “Little Elf” in David Sedaris’ sardonic tale of the holidays, ‘The Santaland Diaries.’

By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

American-Statesman Staff

For 15 years, Zach Theatre has staged David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries,” the sardonic yet heartfelt story of an unemployed writer who goes to work on Christmas season as an elf in Macy’s Santaland.

Now, Zach Theatre has announced that it will retire its production after this season’s run.

Having originated the role of “Little Elf” in the virtually one-man show, the inimitable Martin Burke has come to be identified with his singular, smart portrayal of the wise-cracking observer of all things crass about Christmas.

American-Statesman: What do you think you’ll miss about doing ‘Santaland’ after it’s over?

Martin Burke: The candy cane striped panty hose?

No, I’m kidding.”Santaland” has been such a huge part of my career here in Austin. Saying goodbye to it is like saying goodbye to a chapter in my life. I’ve learned so many things about myself as a person and an actor doing this show that there are many things I’ll miss once it’s over. However, I think I’ll miss the laughter the most.

Have you changed your feelings about or reconsidered your thoughts about Christmas/the holidays since you’ve started doing ‘Santaland’?

I used to find the holidays pretty depressing and irritating. The way everything shuts down, you’re sort of forced to participate whether you want to or not. “Santaland,” oddly enough, has turned that around for me. It has allowed me to spend the holidays with some of my dearest friends — Dave Steakley, Meredith McCall, Jason Conner, Carmela Valdez, Shannon Richey, Brad Shelton and the Zach staff, all of whom I cherish. Sadly, this year Meredith won’t be with us since she’s doing “White Christmas” in the new Topfer Theatre but we have two amazingly talented women taking on the role as our lovely hostess, Jill Blackwood and Amy Downing. I’m very much looking forward to spending the holidays with these two hilarious women.

What’s the oddest thing an audience has done during your many shows in ‘Santaland’?

I was once heckled by a woman during a show and when she was asked to leave by the house manager, the woman said she was the governor of Texas. And no, it was not Ann Richards. This was a bought house for a company Christmas party and the woman was actually the wife of the president of the company. The weirdest thing was that the audience was completely silent during the show. The only sound coming from the audience was the woman heckling me. When she finally left I turned to the audience and said, “Do you all know her?” and you could have heard a pin drop it was so quiet. It was a very unnerving experience.

Lots of people see ‘Santaland’ every year making it – and by extension, you – a holiday tradition. What do you hear from these repeat audience members?

I hear so many kind words from people about this show and it’s always very humbling. People have told me that the holidays wouldn’t be the same without me which is incredibly kind. I’m forever indebted to these people for making the show so successful. I am so grateful for the support and love I have received from the community regarding this show.

Will you ever dress up as an elf again?

I’ll always be dressed up as an elf on the inside.

Thursday

Blue Genie Art Bazaar Kick-Off. The sharpest hippest holiday art market kicks-off today with a party from 7 to 9 p.m. featuring the Invincible Czars with their lauded rock-charged rendering of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.” Blue Genie Art Bazaar is a juried show that features work from more than 140 local and regional artist and artisans. The free, family-friendly event is organized as an open shopping experience where shoppers can browse hassle-free with one centralized check out. Light appetizers, beverages and a full bar are available. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through Dec. 24. Free. Marchesa Hall and Theater, 6226 Middle Fiskville Road. 222-7303. www.bluegenieartbazaar.com

Saturday

“Navidad Nuestra.” For its holiday program, Texas Choral Consort presents “Navidad Nuestra” by Argentine composer Ariel Ramírez, which tells the story of the Nativity through the music, rhythms and traditions of Hispanic America. Also on the program are seasonal spirituals, traditional and favorite holiday music, sing-along carols and premieres of two new works by Austin composers Russell Reed and Donald Grantham. Guest artists include tenor Soonchan Kwan, Austin Haller on piano and organ and flute and harp ensemble Chaski. 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Northwest Hills United Methodist Church, 7050 Village Center Dr. $15-$20. 900-8715, www.txconsort.org.

Monday

Holiday Choral Concert. The combined choirs of the University of Texas’ Butler School of Music and various instrumentalists will present a free concert of holiday music and carols. Features soloist baritone and new faculty member, Donnie Ray Albert, formerly with the Houston Grand Opera. Director of Choral James Morrow conducts. 7:30 p.m. Monday. Bass Concert Hall, UT campus, 2360 Robert Dedman Drive. Free. 471-5401, www.music.utexas.edu.


David Sedaris’ ‘The Santaland Diaries’

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, plus additional dates through Dec. 23.

Where: Whisenhunt Stage, Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar Blvd.

Cost: $20-$45

Information: 476-0541, www.zachtheatre.org

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