PALMER — Norman Garvin and his wife Megan love Christmas and are gearing up with some eager elves, Mr. and Mrs. Clause, to open the Christmas Factory Friday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Alaska State Fairgrounds.
“My favorite part about Christmas is it becomes that time of year where everybody’s a little bit more friendly, a little bit happier with each other, that there’s more peace in the world around Christmas time,” Norman said.
The Christmas Factory is the first of its kind in the Mat-Su Valley, an interactive theater experience featuring local actors taking groups on Christmas tours. Every 20 minutes, the cheery elves will lead 50-minute tours around the colonial buildings. Guests will start in the “Mail Room” in the old, brown church. Families are invited to bring their letters to Santa and the elves will help children send their letters to the North Pole.
Head Elf, Tundi Tedd, will introduce guests to the tour, riffing back and forth with the other elves in rehearsed banter. After looking at the “Naughty and Nice List” on the wall, guests will follow the elves to the workshop in the back of the church where they happen upon an elf busily trying to finish a small bike with steering wheels. He gets frustrated and eventually asks for help from the audience to finish the gift.
The tour continues through the church, out the doors and to the Colony Stage to look at Santa’s sleigh full of presents and take a quick photo break. The tour wraps up at the old, Wineck Barn re-imagined as a sugary treat café with assorted candies and hand-baked goods as decoration. After meeting Mrs. Clause and getting hot cocoa, the tour concludes in Santa’s office where children can sit on his lap for photos.
Collin Christiansen, who starred as Buddy the Elf in the Valley Performing Arts production of “Elf,” has donned another elf costume and is one of the lively elves giggling his way through the tour.
“We’re starting to chum a little bit like any theater play and they pretty much become people that you know forever,” Christiansen said.
He said that after playing the role of Buddy, he bought the costume like others before him as a memento. He’s put the green outfit on several times since then, performing skits at local events and functions around the Valley in his happy-go-lucky Buddy persona. He said that it’s become an annual, reoccurring tradition.
“It’s kind of become the character that just keeps coming around. I mean it’s an annual thing and you get to have elf spirit every year,” Christiansen said. “With the connection to the holiday, it allows it to have a little bit of a timeless type of feeling.”
Christiansen said that he was struck by the amount of detail the Garvins put into this tour, marveling the handcrafted set designs that enrich the overall experience.
“It’s cool, the 3-D-ness of the decorations is awesome. The first time I was like, ‘whoa this is cool,’” Christiansen said, comparing it to how other acting roles only more immersive. “It’s the magic of a story and allowing someone to let themselves enter into another world, another experience. And this one’s neat because they get to physically walk through it: see the sights, smell the smells, sing the songs themselves and eat the cookies and take pictures of Santa.”
Norman said it’s taken about a year-and-a-half to prepare the Christmas Factory and he is excited to keep this annual tradition going for a long time. Norman and Megan designed all the sets. Megan’s extensive history with interior design and habitually “picking” at antique and thrift stores around town channeled through Norman’s carpentry skills.
“It all comes from my brain and he makes it,” Megan laughed.
Megan said that her favorite part of Christmas and the holiday season leading up to it is seeing the children, calling their youthful innocence and enthusiasm “magic.”
“I think that every adult needs to remember how children are. It’s very important,” Megan said. “‘May you never grow too old to search the skies on Christmas Eve,’ that’s kind of my theme for all of this.”
Norman encouraged anyone sintered in taking a tour to book it ahead of time to avoid potentially long waits at the gate. To find out more or to book a tour, visit: www.akchristmas.com
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org