The Truth About Santa - an Interview with Ayun Halliday by Bee Lavender

Have you ever wondered if there is a terrible truth about Santa - who he is, how he treats his elves, and what his home life has become? This holiday season reveals all, in a new play by Greg Kotis, the Tony Award winning writer of Urinetown, featuring the entire multi-talented Kotis-Halliday family! One strong warning: this is definitely not a show for children!
Will this Christmas be Santa's last? Will Mrs. Claus finally make good on her threat to submerge humanity in a lake of fire? Who are these children and where did they get their strange powers? Hip Mama caught up with matriarch Ayun to discuss the new play....
Bee: When my daughter was nine years old she performed a solo in front of two thousand screaming fans at a music festival. My son, however, doesn't even like going to crowded libraries, let alone getting up on stage. At her twelfth birthday dinner my daughter was furious that the waitress recognized me from the photograph on my first book, because it was "her day." My son has never been fazed by anything I've done or achieved, and even leverages the stories for the odd spot of blackmail. How do your kids react to being the offspring of two highly creative, well-known parents?
Ayun: Lucky for us, they don't have anything to compare it to... India, much as I do, seems to feel she has partial ownership of Greg's accomplishments - partly because their gestation permeates our small apartment. Another thing she's picked up on is my labors in the guerilla marketeering mines. If one of my books turns up in a blog post or something, she counts that as a personal victory. It's a little worrisome, though if she goes into the arts, this hunger for reknown might serve her well. We nabbed a family profile in Time Out Kids as part of our Truth About Santa publicity quest, and our cat, Mungo, got his mug in the photo, and India made sure he saw that. Fortunately, she has a shy side too. I'd feel awful if I inadvertently turned one of my children into a fame whore. I hope she gets that it's primarily about attracting attention to your creative efforts so that there will be butts in the seats, and sales figures large enough to convince those who might publish or produce the next project to take a chance on you. Milo is more of a maverick, not as interested in the identity his parent's identities can confer upon him. He wants to be a chimney sweep. I don't think either of them longs to come from a "regular" family, in a "regular" house. It helps that we live in this diverse, urban neighborhood, where there's a wide range of incomes, cultures, and household appearances. I may dress funny, but I also live right across the street from school, and arrive bearing stilts. I am constitutionally incapable of disciplining another's child using anything other than humor. Ergo, their peers tend to like me. One of them even likes the way I dress, bless her heart. If their friends thought we were weird in a bad way, that might stir up some trouble.
Bee: How has it been working with not only your spouse, but both of your children?
Ayun: It's been more gruelling than I expected, though having traveled as a family through Bosnia with one or the other of us whining, complaining, or sighing with boredom at every turn, I don't know what I WAS expecting. Commitment-wise, Greg and I are floundering up to the eyeballs on this one. He wrote the play, I somehow wound up doing costumes, all four of us are in it... the ripples just go on and on. We feel a sense of responsibility to the underpaid professional actors who've agreed to join us on this fool's errand, and if one of our kids is in a pissy mood, sabotagging rehearsal because rehearsal is, let's face it, boring and constrictive and not as much fun as running around the playground, pretending to be a sled-dog, or some brand new Pokemon character, or whatever, we're doubly-stricken. It's not the same as having your kid act up in a restaurant, or a bookstore, or some other place. There you can say, "Well, he's had a long day," or "He's overdue for a snack," and if people are shooting you the stink eye, screw them! It's a public place and kids shouldn't be automatically penalized for falling short of adult behavioral expectations. But, when everybody's there because you were like, "Hey, gang, let's put on a show! It'll be really fun! I promise!" it becomes a preoccupation. There have also been times when we felt like Milo was getting unfairly dumped on, scapegoated due to his prior record, but it wouldn't have served the play very well if I ground rehearsal to a halt every time I felt like, "Hey, he's a little boy. Let's cut some slack. If all he hears is "no", and "don't", he's going to shut down." That said, I did mix it up with our original Santa, whose unrelenting criticism ofI Milo's "lack of professional" smacked overtly of personal distaste. Maybe, as he claimed, he just couldn't deal with the inherent lack of control. Tensions built to the point where I went, to make a long, multi-faceted story short, all Mama Cougar on his ass. (Don't worry. the kids weren't in attendance.) He removed himself from the project and I think that was the best for all concerned for a number of reasons. He will probably feel vindicated if tales of Milo's trenchant rehearsal behavior get back to him. I feel glad I'm not in a position where, for the good of the project, I have to strong arm my child into months of conforming to the rigid expectations of someone who might not have his best interests at heart. And then we added a dog. WC Fields is stewing in his grave. I hear him on working with children, but if I were a dog actor, I'd be pissed. The bulldog we're working with has never been onstage before, and she's been a total trooper the whole time.
Bee: Particularly given the famously small size of your apartment? I know the new place is larger than the original East Village flat, but it seems like it might be close quarters for a crew of thespians to sleep, eat, and work together in harmony!
Ayun: Yeah, the apartment isn't helping morale much, though if we pull our heads out of our heiners for half a sec, we'd think, "Hey, compared to all these people who are getting their houses taken away, we're plenty damn lucky to have an affordable rent in a great neighborhood, a fantastic and fair landlady..." it's small, but it's steady.
Bee: The EV Inky is entering a second decade - quite an achievement in the zine world! Did you think you would keep going so long, covering so many major life events - moving, babies, mermaid parades, the death of beloved pets, for Greg a Broadway play, for you the publication of several books?
Ayun: I could never have predicted whither life would lead, but when you look at my theatrical background, I did the same show, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, nearly every weekend for a decade, so I was pretty open to the idea of the neverending project. Maybe too open. There have been times in the last few years when the self-imposed deadline has felt like a hassle, but as long as people are still reading it, I ain't complaining! A while ago, I put together a back issue synopsis and that was really fun, going over all these little anecdotes, seeing the minutaie of my children's infancy set down like that. I'm glad I kept going. I'm not sure how it'll play when things like boyfriends and all enter the mix. Maybe I'll cleave harder to the adventures in NYC arena. Basically, I'm a frustrated tour guide.
Bee: What is next, for each or all of you?
Ayun: I just wrote the script to a YA graphic novel about a girl who fakes a peanut allergy when she starts a new school. In the New Year, I plan to bang out another one, about a star-crossed romance between a sheltered private school boy and a dumpster diver who's running this sort of one-girl, mobile soup kitchen. Greg and his partner, Mark Hollman, are working on the script for a film version of Urinetown. Thier new musical, Yeast Nation, which I wrote about in East Village Inky #36, is opening in Chicago this spring, so Greg willl be spending a lot of time there. India is hoping to join her friends Willa and Natalie in this kids theater program they've been participating in in The East Village. And Milo is looking forward to running around in the playground and doing exactly whatever the hell he feels like doing.
Bee: I believe in Santa. Do you?
Ayun: Mos def, as long as he's not an a-hole to either of my kids.
For more information about Ayun, her books, the zine, the show, check out: Bee Lavender is the publisher of and the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Lessons in Taxidermy. For more information about her work, check out
Let us reiterate: although this dysfunctional family comedy features children, it is NOT FOR CHILDREN! -- adults and extremely skeptical tweens only, please. (Kotis' children have been apprised that the red-suited man onstage is not really Santa and thus do not mind too terribly much when he "dies".)