Stage production of Santa's Story
Created by and featuring award winning performer Aviva Pelham
When 90 year old Santa Pelham was persuaded to write her fascinating life story, it was intended so that her memoir would be there for future generations.
But Santa's story became something much more: a cathartic experience, an inspiration for song and recently, 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.
Santa's Story is directed by multi-award winning Janice Honeyman with designs by the acclaimed Mannie Manim and Dicky Longhurst who round up a heavy-weight artistic and creative team.
Santa's Story has run in Cape Town where Aviva received a Fleur du Cap nomination, to capacity audiences and more recently completed a sold-out season in Johannesburg.
Aviva and Santa Pelham
Opening performance, Cape Town, August 2012
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I have been fortunate to perform the show around the world, including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Helsinki, London, Cologne, Hüerth, Durban, New York, Melbourne, Sydney and Israel. Here are a few highlights from the journey to-date.
Cape Town – August 2012, Fugard Theatre. The world premier was received with standing ovations every night and amazing feedback from the audience. Santa herself attended every performance. We did another successful season the following year and I started receiving invitations to perform in other cities around the world.
Johannesburg – February 2013, Theatre on the Square. We added 2 extra performances due to unforeseen demand, and I ended up doing 4 performances in under 22 hours after which we all went straight to the airport to fly home! My 3 brilliant musicians play 7 instruments which have to travel as hand luggage everywhere we go.
Helsinki – October 2013, The Finlandia Hall. Our violinist, Petri Salonen is Finnish while the rest of us had to fly to Pretoria to obtain Schengen visas. Notwithstanding the language barrier, the show was very successful. Before the performance, a well-known local actress acted out an abridged version of the story in Finnish.
London – October 2014, JW3. We performed at the brand new Jewish Theatre complex with the opening night under the auspices of the Anne Frank Trust. Santa, aged 96, accompanied us to London and the audience was bowled over when she sang with the Klezmer band at the end of the show.
Hüerth – November 2014, Bürgerhaus. It was inspiring to perform the show in the town where Santa was born. I was taken to Villenstrasse, the street where she lived, as well as the newly built Erderstrasse, a street named in honour of her parents and brother who perished in the Holocaust. Many people came to speak to me after the performance and shared their personal feelings. They asked me to tell Santa how horrified they are at what had happened in their cultured country and that Germany has changed.
Cologne – November 2014, Comedia Theatre. Santa's Story is technically challenging and despite our advance requests, we were only given access to the venue at 2pm on the day of the performance. We worked at breakneck speed to set up and following an accelerated rehearsal, I had just 10 minutes to get ready for the performance which, somewhat surprisingly, went exceptionally well.
New York – June 2015, Museum of Jewish Heritage. I was invited to perform at the International Folksbiene Yiddish Festival. It was a wonderful experience comprising more than 100 productions from all over the world. My favourite was the Klezmer group from Japan of all places.
Melbourne and Sydney – November 2017. We performed 2 shows in Melbourne followed almost immediately by a grueling but thrilling schedule of 5 shows over 3 days in Sydney. I will never forget having my Sydney-based son and 2 granddaughters on the stage with me at the end of the show – a real tribute to Santa’s legacy.
Herzliya, Israel – March 2019. It was an incredible honour to perform in Israel, the country which has the largest population of Holocaust survivors and where Santa’s Story resonates so closely with people young and old. Our 4 performances would not have been possible without the assistance of Telfed, which is the South African Zionist Federation who supports the tens of thousands of former South Africans and their families who decided to emigrate to Israel.
Oudtshoorn – March 2020. We were so disappointed that KKNK 2020 was cancelled due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), but the health of patrons, festival workers and artists is of paramount concern. Thank you to the patrons who booked to see Santa’s Story. Stay safe everyone and hopefully we can reconvene next year.
Interview with Henry Greener of The SHTICK, Australia 2017
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Four generations sing the encore in Sydney, Australia in November 2017.
With Santa captured on the screen behind me, I had the supreme pleasure of being joined onstage by my son, Adam Sulcas and his daughter, Noa.
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Televised preview of Santa's Story (Simcha Episode 14)
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