The Storybook Santa Experience by Ivey Photography interviews Santa Chuck Lee. Santa details his feelings on the process, the set design, and even how to handle scared children. Mrs. Claus joins him for a look at his feelings on the artistic approach by the Ivey Photography staff. Interviewed by Ivey owner and photographer Chris Smith. Learn more about The Storybook Santa Experience and book online at iveystudio.com/santa
Chris: Yes, good morning, good morning, how are you? I’m glad you’re here.
Santa Chuck: Thank you very much.
Chris: How was your New Year?
Santa Chuck: It is wonderful. So far I’ve been on an extended vacation.
Chris: Not overly celebrating or family over?
Santa Chuck: Well, we did have extra movie night and cookies.
Santa Chuck: Cookies.
Chris: How many times have we done the story about the Santa experience?
Santa Chuck: About three hundred times.
Chris: Have you ever done the mall type, sit on your lap, Santa?
Santa Chuck: Not like you would think of them all, Mrs. Claus and I’ve done the Waxahatchee parade and tree lighting, which has an event where you can come get pictures with Santa.
Santa Chuck: And that’s probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to a mall. Santa events like parades, the mall, Santa, almost every event out there is get through fast. You may have 30 seconds in the mall to a minute and a half at some more relaxed events. But it’s all very fast. Even if it’s a party at a home visit, they generally have more children than you can spend. Just a couple of minutes.
Chris: Well, what was your experience with spending more time with kids?
Santa Chuck: Those events were at a play than you, and they were an hour and a half long. There’s a point when you interact with a child and you can see them relax and the magic and the joy began and that’s where it’s really cool.
Chris: So that takes more than 30 seconds.
Santa Chuck: It takes more than 30 seconds. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes.
Chris: One of the things that we most enjoyed about working with you was that it seems that you’re immersed in Santa for more than just the day that you’re here. Can you talk about that?
Santa Chuck: Yes. What’s really interesting is I’m actually very much an introvert and a recluse. The last thing Mrs. Claus would think I would want to go do was spend time with families and children.
Chris: Can you tell us who Mrs. Claus is.
Santa Chuck: Mrs. Claus is my wife.
Santa Chuck: We are married over forty-one years at this point and that some of the magic and what happens in this environment is because the natural psychic connection, if you will, occurs and we’re reading each other and how to support one another, where that’s not possible if it’s not something that you don’t know extremely well.
Santa Chuck: When I started Santa, I had a vision in mind and that was I wanted to remake Christmas because as a child, Christmas was not a pleasant experience for us.
Santa Chuck: And it often ended in arguments, in tears.
Santa Chuck: And in two thousand eleven, I decided that I wanted to remake Christmas. Everything I do, I do with all my attributes, everything that I have to offer. It’s not one hundred percent, it’s total.
Santa Chuck: So when I started to be Santa, I wanted clothes that were becoming of a real Santa. What would Santa really wear every day? And I went out and I looked, there’s a whole industry for Santa’s clothing and it is all costume clothing.
Santa Chuck: And I wanted clothing as a tailor would make it.
Santa Chuck: So I learned to sew and I learned to tailor and I learned to design patterns.
Santa Chuck: And I make all of the clothing for Santa and for Mrs. Claus with all the proper structure and detail that is required and a finely tailored garment.
Chris: How do you use this experience to fuel you year-round?
Santa Chuck: Well, I am maker of things. Naturally, I’m a musical instrument maker. And so I really do have a workshop in my backyard where Santa works year-round and I create and design all the time. I do a lot of it in my sleep. I’ll wake up and I’ll have an idea for a piece of clothing or a prop that you may want to consider in the workshop. And then I’m able to go out and design all the pieces necessary to make that prop or that piece of clothing. Everyone who portrays Santa has a list of what they want to accomplish in their career. And sometimes those are parades or parades in your hometown or to work for your hometown might be a professional sports team. It could be a certain mall. It could be anything you can imagine. But every Santa has a list. When I learned about the story about Santa experience, I knew from the very beginning that that’s what I wanted to do. I have a colleague in North Carolina that I’ve followed his career in that type of program.
Santa Chuck: And I knew from the very beginning that was my goal. I need every person that I interact with in Santa to leave. Feeling that Santa is real in Santa truly loves them. And this gives me the opportunity to do that.
Chris: Let’s have Mrs. Claus come in and you can lead him into his love of art, as you know him as a person better than anybody.
Chris: So you want to talk about his love of art?
Mrs. Claus: Well, I think another point about why you love working at Ivey and I do, too, is it’s art at work. We have artists doing the photography and they’ve spent a long time to learn and develop the sets. And when we see the results, we feel really happy and excited to be part of that.
Santa Chuck: That’s something that I enjoy showing pictures when they say, you know, you look a lot like Santa Claus. And I say, well, there’s a reason for that and I’ll get out and I’ll show them some pictures.
Santa Chuck: But we have an opportunity to show them a picture that you produce that’s on the set.
Santa Chuck: Their first question is always after their oohs and ahs is, is that a backdrop? And I get to open up the picture and say, no, everything in here is real.
Mrs. Claus: I know there’s a place for the crying kid on Santa’s lap, but I feel like the people who come to me are looking for a happy experience for the kids, not a drama that’s going to take counseling to get them over it.
Mrs. Claus: And so if a child is a little reluctant then and especially if Santa is scary to them, then I can be at least a female. Some of the babies will go for me before they go for Santa while they’re getting used to it, get down on the floor, play with them or hand them a toy. I have a little puppet I can bring out or a book. I get to often have the privilege of meeting the families because Santa does and just to helping them understand what’s going to happen in the recession. Really like to do that.
Santa Chuck: The storybook Santa experience is the top of my goal. And what’s exciting is this expands every year and I love a program that doesn’t stand still.
Santa Chuck: Storybook Santa experience has been different every year with new creativity, new sets, new opportunity. I really love that.
Chris: I have a hold on mom’s leg and I’m not going to let go. How do you still maintain Santa’s composure? Mrs. Claus what is your role?
Santa Chuck: Well, you know, that’s an interesting question. And it is a challenge for Santas in general. And the answer is this event is not about me. This event is about that child.
Santa Chuck: It’s about that child leaving and feeling as loved and comfortable as possible. All right, Misty, let’s have you out and we’ll get a final couple of things with Santa.
Chris: Tell me something I don’t know about you.
Santa Chuck: Something that you may not realize, even though we’ve worked many years together at this point, is when I work with Mrs. Claus, I’m able to be a different, more real in-depth person, because as that introvert and recluse, when we work together, I feel more content and peaceful and I’m able to transfer that to the people that we work within the studio.
Santa Chuck: I really have to get back to the North Pole. We’ve got two days to make plans and I have some new clothing for Ivy for next year.