I spoke with Frank Cervarich and Lex Davis talk about how they directed the outrageous A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular.
Michael: Introduce yourself to our readers, and tell them where they may have seen you, or shows you’ve directed, on local stages in the past year.
My name is Frank Cervarich and I am the Co-Director of Communications for Pointless Theatre, and I am also the co-director of A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular. I have performed most recently as Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza! and The Merchant in Canterbury.
My Name is Lex Davis and I am the Technical Director for Pointless and the Co-Director for A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular with Frank. With Pointless I performed as The Miller in Canterbury and directed Imagination Meltdown Adventure which Frank wrote.
Outside of Pointless, I am a company member with Live Action Theatre where I directed The Tournament and performed in The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Super Spy.
Tell us a little about A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular the show and what it was about it that made you want to be part of this production?
Frank: A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular takes place at the North Pole on Christmas Eve. After Santa leaves, Mrs. Claus and the elves throw a gigantic party on their one night off a year. One of the things that drew me to this production was the influences that we were drawing upon – late night talk shows, variety shows, that sort of thing. The performers are encouraged to interact with the audience and vice versa. The show feels very conversational and loose at points, but it also balanced by some very highly choreographed talent acts. It’s a very dynamic piece of theater, I have never worked on anything else like it.
Pointless Theatre is probably best known in DC for their use of puppetry. What is it that draws you to puppetry, and how can it entertain audiences in a new way?
Frank: We are drawn to puppetry because it allows for us to tell stories in a stylized and visual way. We are very attracted to the level of detail of performance that it takes to bring a puppet to life. When a puppet is truly breathing and alive, it is infinitely more interesting to watch than a person, especially because the puppets in this show are an overstuffed elephant, a doll, and a jack in the box.
Lex: For us, it’s about spectacle and magic. I can read a play but I go to the theatre to see things I can’t read in a book or see in real life. Inanimate objects coming to life is incredible. We literally breathe life into common objects. It creates automatic spectacle and I think audiences perk up to see magic they don’t get in their regular lives. It can be a quicker connection to their emotions and humanity if you catch their attention off guard with some magic. Don’t tell our puppets I called them inanimate or common.
A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular is billed as a “Winter Cabaret.”. What are the numbers you’re a part of, and what’s your three favorite numbers in the show?
Frank: It’s hard to choose three numbers that are my favorite – it feels like choosing between my children. Off the top of my head, I think the Mrs. Claus rap is one of my favorite moments in the show.
Lex: I agree with Frank. It’s whichever one is in front of me.
This is the season where DC stages are inundated with A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker. How does this show add to the holiday cheer this December?
Frank: Our goal is to create an alternative holiday show that is geared towards adults, a winter wonderland with a twist. Our show is intended for mature audiences. It is NOT family entertainment, unless you want to sit next to your grandmother and your little cousin Sally while you watch a saucy Mrs. Claus talk about sex with Santa. We have a crackerjack team of elves that perform tap dance, puppetry, and acrobatics alongside a trio of misfit toys who guzzle booze over the course of the show. We aren’t pushing a moral or a message like so many other holiday shows, we creating an immersive environment that is sincerely festive but irreverent towards traditional holiday fare.
In the context of your personal career, does A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular fit into a pattern? Or does it represent a break in the kind of work you normally do?
Frank: A little bit of both. I have been improvising for a long time and performing with Pointless for a long time, and I have really enjoyed the opportunity to be able to co-direct this show with Lex.
Lex: It definitely fits into a pattern of mine in that it is highly physical and stylized theater. The structure is new for me and exploring that with Frank has been incredible. Also my first tap act.
As a director, what are the challenges involved in shaping a performance where puppets are used? How important is the technique itself of handling a puppet versus the more “traditional” acting skills?
Frank: One of the choices that we make as a company is to not hide the puppeteers from the audience. Our puppeteers do not wear black, they are still in costume as their characters as they manipulate the puppets. One of the challenges that is really exciting is to explore the juxtaposition between the character and the puppet. For example, one of our elves in the show, Robin, is innocent and goofy, but when he is operating Dick, he becomes a bombastic and foul mouthed prick. Am I allowed to say prick?
Lex: Frank’s absolutely correct. One of the amazing challenges and opportunities our Pointless style grants us is a fascinating and complicated relationship of identity and physicality between puppet, puppeteer, and performer. Everything is different and specific but blends together to create one style.
I understand there’s an element of improvisation in the show. What’s your experience with improv, and how does it add to the show?
Frank: I have been improvising for almost a decade. Earlier this year, I launched a monthly improv show, Pandemonium at the Pinch, with some of the cast members that really prepared us for working together. I have been improvising with some of the cast members for seven years, and our entire cast are friends outside of the show, and that level of trust comes through in a big way. They don’t hesitate, they are able to listen and anticipate each other’s impulses before they even know what they plan to say next.
Lex: Improvisation is essential in this show, not just as a tool or source for comedy but for setting a tone and energy that carries even through our highly choreographed sections.
Can you talk a bit about the design of the show? How did you approach the set, lights, and costumes?
Frank: Absolutely. The design of the show is inspired by the classic claymation holiday films, like Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Our elves look like they walked straight off of the screen, and we wanted the audience to feel like they were truly walking into the North Pole when they walked into the theater.
In five words or less, describe the experience that is A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular.
Frank: Festive. Funky. Krampus.
If you could direct another Christmas show or film, what would it be, and why?
Frank: Honestly, I would choose to direct this show for a second year. In our world, this is the 238th time that these elves and Mrs. Claus have done the talent show, and we would love to see how the show changes from year to year. I love this show because we are not trying to push a lesson at the end of the night, we are just inviting our audience into the world of the North Pole, complete with candy cane product placement.
Lex: A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular goes to Vegas
What did you ask Santa to bring you for Christmas this year?
Frank: Hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Lex: Half of what Frank got.