‘Santa’s Story’ is a moving, one woman show depicting Santa Pelham’s journey of courage and hope through discrimination to heart breaking losses. When 90 year old Santa Pelham (now about to turn 97) was persuaded to write her fascinating life story it was intended so that her memoir would be there for future generations. ‘Santa’s Story’ became something more: a cathartic experience, an inspiration for song and now, a one-woman show performed by her daughter, Opera Diva, Aviva Pelham.
Aviva brings the moving text to life detailing her mother’s journey from Germany, to Spain, to France and then to Africa – punctuated by wonderful live Klesmer music. Three superb Klezmer musicians, playing seven instruments, accompany her songs in Spanish, French, Hebrew, Yiddish and English. The production is a theatrical gem and has played to sold out seasons with standing ovations at every performance in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Helsinki, London, Cologne, Berlin and Huerth (Santa’s birthplace). ‘Santa’s Story’ has been invited to perform in New York in June 2015.
The Journey of ‘Santa’s Story’ to date – by Aviva Pelham
• Cape Town, The Fugard: The world premier was on August 2012 and repeated in May 2013 by public demand. There were standing ovations every night with feedback from many audience members that this is more moving than anything else I’ve ever done, from ‘La Traviata’ to ‘My Fair Lady’ to ‘Die Fledermaus’. Letters and e-mails are still being received, resulting in invitations to perform at many different centres around the world.
• Johannesburg, Theatre on the Square (February 2013): All the performances were sold out. We had to put in 2 extra performances at the end of the run. I ended up doing 4 performances in under 22 hours: Saturday at 6pm and 8.30pm and Sunday at 11am and 3pm, then we all went straight off to the airport to fly home. My 3 brilliant ‘musos’ travel with 7 instruments as hand luggage with them everywhere we go.
• Helsinki, The Finlandia Hall (October 2013): Our violinist, Petri Salonen is Finnish – but the rest of us had to fly up to Pretoria especially to apply for Schengen visas, as there is no Finnish Consulate in CT. This resulted in huge costs of flights to Johannesburg, car hire and such expensive visas. It was while doing the ID documents, that I found out I only have 7 actual fingerprints, with three fingertips completely smooth – astonishing!
Before the performance in Helsinki, a well-known local actress, Tehri Panula, acted out an abridged version of the story in Finnish.
• London, 2013: We performed at the JW3 – a brand new, state of the art Jewish Theatre complex. The opening night was under the auspices of the Anne Frank Trust. Santa, aged 96 at the time, also flew with us to London. The audience was bowled over when Santa stood up and sang with the Klezmer band at the end of the show. All the performances were again sold out. We definitely want to go back!
• Huerth (2014): Santa’s home town – (we) visited Villenstrasse, the street where Santa lived in – as well as Erderstrasse, especially named after her family, who were murdered in the Holocaust. Many people came to speak to me after the performance and shared their intimate feelings. They asked me to tell Santa how horrified and sad they are at what happened in their cultured country and that Germany has changed. On all Saints Day, people lit candles for my grandparents and uncle who were exterminated.
• Cologne (2014): Santa’s Story is technically quite challenging. It involves a screen, projector, AV, sound, complex lighting of different places on the stage, lapel mic etc. Despite several advance requests to the management of essential “get in” time, we were only given access to the venue at 2pm on the day of the performance. We worked at breakneck speed to set everything up and be ready in time and only just finished our “cut to cue” rehearsal at 7.50pm. I had 10 minutes to get ready for the 8pm performance – any performer’s worst nightmare. My one suitcase with essential props and costumes, which took many months to put together, was couriered from Germany and still hasn’t arrived. Of course everything needs to be authentic, so for the season at Theatre on The Bay, I’ve had to replace everything.
• Pending – New York, June 2015: We’ve been invited to the 1st International New York Folksbiene Yiddish Festival. Hopefully there might be an extension for an additional two weeks at another suitable intimate venue. We need airfares to get from Cape Town to New York – please help!
‘Santa’s Story’ is still relevant and sadly resonates within our world today. It deals with racism, xenophobia and anti-semitism. However, despite the sad circumstances which inspired ‘Santa’s Story’, it is a story of courage, hope and love. It has been a personal milestone in my life and a huge privilege for me to be able to honour my phenomenal mother, Santa. Although ‘Santa’s Story’ is a personal one, it honours the millions of people who were murdered mercilessly in the Holocaust and really deserves to be seen. Please come and share it with me.
* ‘Santa’s Story’ is directed by multi-award winning Janice Honeyman with designs by Mannie Manim and Dicky Longhurst, who round up the artistic and creative team.
Performances will take place until Saturday, February 14. Shows are from Tuesdays to Thursdays at 8pm; Saturday February 7 at 5.30pm and 8pm; and Saturday, February 14 at 8.30pm.
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