I Didn’t Go to Santa School and I Turned Out Just Fine

The Pros and Cons of Christmas Performer Training

By Santa True (Robert Seutter)

While it may seem that there will certainly be some bias in writing this article (because everyone knows that I have launched a Training School for Christmas Performers), there is still strong merit in tackling these tough topics that are often discussed in our communities. Many people evaluate the pros and cons of attending workshops and classes that are designed for Christmas performers, often also known as “Santa Schools.” I will do my best to discuss these issues in as unbiased a manner as I can, although remember that “your mileage may vary.” I’ll be using “Santa” as short hand for all Christmas Performers—Mrs. Claus, Elves, and all other characters.

Two Points of View

On the face of it, there seem to be two primary points of view for the topic of Santa schools and workshops.


“I don’t attend Santa schools. You either have it naturally or you don’t. Just be yourself and learn from experience. The kids will love you because you are natural and spontaneous. I’m a REAL Santa because I have Christmas Spirit. It’s about what’s inside you and you don’t really need a school, because experience will teach you. Also, I don’t need someone to teach me how to say, ‘Ho-Ho-Ho,’ or how to read ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ The schools are for people who have free time, extra money, and want to hang out with other Santas. I get plenty of good gigs and people love me.”


“I take my craft seriously, and I want to get as much training as possible. I have even taken the same course, more than once. The potential for making mistakes is pretty high. I want to excel in my craft and get really good gigs. There is so much to learn and, honestly, I can’t see how anyone who wants to do well in this craft would NOT want to get some training, especially if they want to be called a Professional.”

Evaluating These Two Positions

The truth is rarely black and white (or red and green, in our case). There are some valid points to BOTH perspectives. However, as a community and profession, we need to look at some history and factors to get clarity.

Let’s talk history. People have been dressing up as Christmas characters for hundreds of years. If we just look at the tradition linking Santa Claus with retail sales in the U.S. (forgetting about home visits, parades, or theater), that tracks back to 1890 with James Edgar. That’s around 128 years of people suiting up for gigs. And we can be pretty sure that the vast majority of all those Santas probably had little or no schooling. Most of the time, they were lucky to have mentors to help them in their craft. Essentially, we have an art form that is unlike many others in that you CAN step into the role and, with some luck, do okay just navigating by the seat of your fuzzy pants!

What that also means is that more than half our ranks are self-trained. Most of the performers who are in the Santa Claus Hall of Fame and who are teaching learned by the seat of their pants (or had prior experience from other art-forms, like clowning, etc.). They self-taught themselves. And as a group, they have left us an amazing legacy and tradition. Yay Team!

However, our art form is evolving and, as it does, the need for more knowledge and standards grew. It is still growing and maturing. Now we have schools, conferences, and conventions, and many other workshop opportunities.

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School started back in 1937. That’s 81 years of classes! Tim Connaghan’s School 4 Santa’s (aka, International University of Santa Claus) has been going for 16 years and has over 4,000 graduates. That is a lot of students, plus LOTS of time and money invested.

That may seem like a lot, but let’s put that in perspective.

Let’s say there are 10,000 working Santa performers doing some sort of paid or donated gigs across America, every year. When compared to the US Population of 325 million people, that’s a drop in the bucket! (Just one Santa per 32K+ people!)

Let’s estimate that all the Schools combined (whether fixed, roving, online, conferences, or conventions) train 4,000 people a year. Many of those participants are attending more than one training a year, and others may take just one course and never take another one. This could easily leave an estimated 5,000+ people nation-wide who have never taken a professional Christmas performer training course of any type.

Now consider that your average performing career as Santa spans roughly 700 days, give or take. And your ability to practice your craft in front of your chosen audience out of season is iffy, at best. When the Season starts, you are ON. There is an old saying in Hollywood: “You are only as good as your last gig.” All of us want to maximize our ability to make Christmas Magic and increase the quality and earning potential of our gigs. How do we do that?

Let’s Get Rid of Some Assumptions (right off the top)

  • “I am not an Actor: I am a Real Santa, motivated by Christmas Spirit.”
    The truth is that yes, motivation does matter. Being genuine and sincere can really help a performance. BUT, a professional performer who does not believe in Santa or the “ideals of Christmas” can still do a great job, and the audience will be none the wiser. (For example, Tim Allen was pretty done with playing Santa by movie two.) And having Christmas Spirit does not guarantee having actual performing chops (projection, etc.)
  • “I am a Trained Performer, and I have invested a ton of time and money into my craft.”
    This will likely make you a better performer. But without any peer review or feedback, you really don’t know.
  • “Because I took school X, I am going to be better than performer Y, because KNOWLEDGE.”
    Odds are better, yes. But sometimes folks come into our art-form with skills from previous lives, and some have natural talent or looks that carry the day.

The upshot is that neither the “pro schooling” nor “no schooling” camps have a lock on the truth. Having Christmas Spirit, experience, or a ton of training does NOT a guarantee that you will be a fantastic Christmas Performer. And there are host of other factors that are involved, such as resources, mentors, and more.

At the end of it all, the most important thing is your personal motivation and willingness to hone your craft.

So Why Invest in Training?

If it’s possible to be an awesome Christmas performer without the schools, why take the time and spend the money? Here are five really great reasons to get trained and to keep training.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.
    And what you don’t know can, and will, hurt you. Part of most training schools includes “Best Practices,” that insider knowledge of what NOT to do. Why do you want to make certain that both of your white gloves are seen in every photo? What do you need to watch out for in contracts, or hair bleaching, or getting your suit cleaned, or insurance, or back ground checks? What seems like a simple mistake could cost you a lot of time, money, or jobs.
  2. Increased Capability.
    Most of the schools offer training on a variety of gigs. While it is possible you can resource this information yourself, there is a pretty good chance it’s going to take you a while. Let’s say you have done ALL of the following: Home visits, mall gigs, parades, tree lightings, hospital visits, commercials, corporate gigs, strolling, and photo modeling. Would you have insights to share? Some tips to help someone who has not done those gigs? Schooling gives you additional resources so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. When a different type of gig comes your way, you are prepared and ready for the opportunity.
  3. It saves you time.
    Time is the one commodity we cannot buy more of. Let’s look at two lists—one from a business-based school and one from a performance-based school. It could take you DECADES to accumulate all the knowledge being taught in these schools by yourself.
  • Sample Topics in the Business-based schooling: The origins of Santa, the basics of Santa, Santa goes to Work, Seating and Photo Set ups, Posing for Photos, Training your Helpers, Talking with Children, Dealing with Non-believers, Honing your Image (grooming, bleaching, styling, different types of wardrobe, props, gloves, dressing), Working for a mall or photo company, Working for agencies or private parties, How to set up your Santa business, marketing, care and maintenance, Performing and entertaining, Other services (chairs, reindeer, etc.) Business cards, contracts, checklists, and multiple handouts for customers (how to have a good home visit, etc.)
  • Sample Topics in the Performance-based schooling: Call and Response, Philosophy and Objectives, the Future of the Field, Current Issues, Unique Xmas Performer problems, Vocals, Public speaking, Singing, Storytelling, Story-Reading, Physicality and Movement, Character Work, Back Story, Character Creation, Improv Concepts and Practice, Breathing exercises, Understanding Space and Movement, Stage Movement, Character Movement, Blocking Exercises, Dual Performing, Breaking Down a Scene, Key Gestures and Phrases, Entrances and Exits, Building Expressive-ness, Marathon Performing, Supporting Women, Your Storytelling Tool box, Xmas History
  1. Networking and developing Peer relationships.
    When you go to the schools or workshops, you meet other performers. Often times, you meet folks you did not know who were actually in your area! Meeting and supporting your fellow performers can pay huge dividends. The conversations and relationships you develop can be a great resource and establish your support network for when things go sideways.
  2. Industry Knowledge.
    Most of us don’t have the time to follow everything that is going on in the Christmas Performer field. And we all know that things can change very quickly. Mergers happen, bad actors show up, there are new trends always developing. We live in the age of social media. The 40+ professional Christmas instructors out there today have to be plugged in so they can give up-to-date information to their attendees. Since they see a lot of people in the industry, they may be aware of sea-changes that many individuals are not yet noticing. Likewise, they might have tips on where to find good gigs and also give advice on the latest problems and which gigs to avoid.

Some Objections to Training and Responses to Them

What are some of the reasons NOT to attend a Santa school?

  1. That’s valuable time and money that can be used elsewhere.
    Yes, but a couple of tips learned in a school or workshop could save you a lot of money. Since most schools are in the $300 or so range for a weekend of workshops, the math is on the side of the school. If you make more money after you do the school, then the course paid for itself. Investing in yourself is always the best investment you can make. The simple truth is that no matter how expensive the suit is, the magic comes from the performer inside.
  2. My particular gig is very stable, and I am unlikely to need to change.
    Most of us are older folks. We already know that things in life can change on a dime. When we have a bigger bag of tricks, that advantage means you have more gig options—a very wise precaution.
  3. I have no idea if School XYZ is any good, and I’ve been doing just fine so far.
    One rule of thumb: Ask folks who have attended that school or taken that workshop whether they would take the class again. If they would return, that’s a great endorsement. And then ask yourself what you are looking for. Every school has its own strong points. What do you want to develop?
  4. I have my own particular way of doing things, and I want to protect my gig and content.
    While it is true that there are some people who are less than respectful of boundaries and creative content, there are a great many folks who are wonderfully generous with their time and resources. If you talk to most Christmas Performers, you will probably hear that excellence has a way of rising to the top.
  5. I’ve met some of the other Christmas Performers, and they are not my cup of tea.
    We are a zany bunch (ahem). There are some folks who get their personal validation from being Santa 24/7. There are also some old Grumpa-Grumps. However, taking the time to truly meet and get to know some of fellow performers has been tremendously rewarding to me personally. I have made some great friendships. I think you might find the same.

Thanks again and please share this article and link!

May your season be amazing and full of wonders — Santa True, Ms. Cat (“Mrs. Santa True”), and all the folks at CPW.


You Put the Heart in the Christmas Art

So far this year, we’ve had two totally fun and fantastic workshops: Performing Fundamentals (with the fine folks in OKC) and Advanced Character and Storytelling (with great folks of NorPac in WA). We had rave reviews at both. Please ask them!

Upcoming still in 2018

  • Phoenix AZ, Arizona Santas: Performing Skills Workshop, July 20-22, 2018
  • Tarpon Springs FL, PalmTree Santas: Performing Skills Workshop, August 4-5, 2018

Sadly, we had to cancel the Jacksonville FL event July 28-29, 2018.

We are already reserving dates for events in 2019, and would really love to have CPW visit your area. Your group can come out ahead economically by booking CPW to train your members! We offer a Performing Fundamentals Workshop, AND an Advanced Workshop focusing on Storytelling, Character Work and Back-story!

Don’t forget to check out our site for additional Articles.

On behalf of CPW, True, Cat, and all our friends, thank you very much.

It is our belief that the future of our Art as Christmas Performers depends on investing in ourselves and in each other as Performers and Entertainers: Putting the Heart in the Christmas Art. CPW is about helping you make the magic happen! Contact Santa@SantaTrue.com today!

Amazing set behind me created by Bob Bulick

CPW Newsletter: May 2018

Christmas Performer Workshops: Newsletter May 2018
* Upcoming 2018 CPW Schedule
* ISC Denver 2018
* Father Christmas Winter Magic Staff
* Planning for 2019

Upcoming 2018 CPW Schedule

Greetings Folks! I hope everyone is ready for a great summer! Just a few tips and some info on what’s going on with CPW (Christmas Performer Workshops)!

We have five workshops scheduled this summer. Currently, each workshop has some room for additional registrations, however that could change. No national workshops are planned after August. (There still might be one more scheduled in Southern California.)

2018 Summer CPW Schedule

  • June 1-3, 2018 – Link to event page
    Oklahoma CityOklahoma Santas: Performing Skills Workshop
    * Contact Bo Turner
  • June 8-10, 2018 – Link to event page
    Sumner WANORPAC: ADVANCED Character Work/Storytelling Training
    * Contact Dennis Gorley
  • July 20-22, 2018 – Link to event page
    Phoenix AZArizona Santa’s: Performing Skills Workshop
    * Contact Mike and Tammi Ridder
  • July 28-29, 2018 – Link to event page
    * Jacksonville FL, PalmTree Santas: Performing Skills Workshop
    * Contact Bob Elkin
  • August 4-5, 2108 – Link to event page
    * Tarpon Springs FL, PalmTree Santas: Performing Skills Workshop
    * Contact Bob Elkin

ISC Denver 2018

Cat and I taught at ISC Denver, and we want to give a big shout out to all the ISC Volunteers. Conventions are hard work, and we were delighted to be a part of it. The classes we taught and panels we were a part of included the following.

  • Hard Truths: Looking at problems in our field, starting discussions/solutions (taught with Jessica Kringle and Gordon Bailey)
  • Unique Endeavors: Those unusual gigs, and how to get them, prepare for them (taught with Ed Taylor)
  • The Art of Performing: A peek at what CPW teaches (taught twice) 
  • Rock Solid Santa: The Art and Science of being a Marathon Performer (taught with Steve Eastis)
  • The Performers Agenda: About working as teams and getting everyone on the same page. (taught with Gordon Bailey, Darla Bicknell, and Bob McMasters) 
  • Manager/Handlers Skills: Taming your season with calendars, spreadsheets, and “trip ticket” printouts (taught by Cat Ellen)

Suffice to say, a lot was learned and shared at ISC Denver. And it was great to finally attach real world faces to the people we chat with online.

Father Christmas Winter Magic Staff

Finally, I had a chance to show off my Green Father Christmas Outfit (tailored by Brenda Asta) and my Winter Magic staff. Several folks asked me how it was made. It took some time, but I think it looked pretty good. Want to make your own (handy for processions and tree lightings)? Here’s the recipe for your own magic staff.

Key Ingredients and Plans

(1) My staff has four strands of battery powered lights. One has about 2-inch snowflake attachments, and the rest are small LEDS. The staff itself is constructed from a sturdy piece of PVC. It has a rubber cane tip on the end. At the top, a couple of PVC end pieces hold the Christmas ornament (which was an open cage type ornament). I placed additional LED lights in the open ornament and added sparkle plastic from the candle ornaments from a dollar store to diffract the light. All the foliage is plastic holly, ivy, or pine, courtesy of Michaels Crafts.

(2) Figure out how tall you need it. Too tall and it won’t be in photos or it could block your face or others. Figure out where your hand placement is going to be while moving. Use a lightweight topper. Heavy glass balls or ornaments are going to be a problem, likewise reindeer with sharp antlers.

Assembling the Staff

  • Step 1: Make PVC staff. Glue it up and give it a solid shake down first, after drying. Attach the can tip at the bottom.
  • Step 2: Mount topper. I used zip ties and glue.
  • Step 3: Place LED strings. I cut plastic food containers to provide cups to hold the battery packs in, and zip tied the switches down. We used blue painter’s tape to wind the lights around the staff. I needed two places for battery packs, one for the ball on top and the rest for the staff.
  • Step 4: Covering each of the lights and ornament, I spray painted the entire staff matte white.
  • Step 5: Temporary foliage placement. I was going for a fantasy birch look, but the foliage looks cool but makes no sense botanically.
  • Step 6. My Sweetie took strips of white linen, ironed them to have one clean hemmed edge, and carefully wound it up the staff. This covered the tape and the LED cords. As the linen was spiraled up the staff, she cut holes for the LEDs to shine through (sewing each with button-hole stitches), and cut the linen to fit around the stems of all the plants, pine branches, pinecones, and snowflakes. She hand-stitched the linen spirals in layers from bottom to top. (You may be able to do this with hot glue, but she’s needle crafty.) Each of the battery packs is covered with a linen layer, but the switches are still accessible, as if they were in a pocket.
  • Step 7. Practice turning on lights and walking with staff.
  • Step 8. Strut your stuff at a Santa Fashion show.

Planning for 2019

We are currently booking workshops for 2019. CPW does things a bit different. You book us to come teach a workshop. Your group provides venue and gear. We pay for our travel and lodging. We ask for a 20-person minimum (usually at $200 per person). Any student registration that exceeds the 20-person minimum, becomes the excess tuition that your group gets to decide what to do with. For example, Arizona has a low cost site, and so they are having 40+  students at a reduced tuition of $125 each for a 2+ day workshop. OKC is paying for their venue with the proceeds AND offering a couple’s discount (tuition is only $350 for two students attending together).

This is a unique business model. Your groups could use the money for scholarships, reduced tuition, paying for the venue, booking catered meals, or whatever you like! We book workshops only between February and August. And all our workshops are customized for your group. Let us know what you have in mind!

Thanks for letting us share our news with you.

Santa True, Cat Ellen (“Mrs Santa True”), and all our friends at Christmas Performer Workshops (CPW)

It is our belief that the future of our Art as Christmas Performers depends on investing in ourselves and in each other as Performers and Entertainers. CPW is about helping you make the magic happen!

Robert Seutter, aka Santa True
Facebook: Santa True

Please take the time to check out the Christmas Performer Facebook page and christmasperformersworkshops.com.

Also, True Thomas the Storyteller www.truethomas.com
Facebook: True Thomas the Storyteller

Christmas Performer WorkshopsPutting the Heart in our Christmas Art!

Copyright © 2018 Christmas Performer Workshops, All rights reserved.

All 2018 Upcoming Workshops

Are you making your plans to continue your Christmas Performer Training? Check out all these scheduled workshops coming up in 2018!

ISC Denver 2018: Photos from Classes

Christmas Performer Workshops presented six titles in seven workshop slots from two CPW instructors (with several co-panelists) #ISCDenver2018 #ISCDenver


Workshop: Phoenix, AZ, July 21 and 22, 2018

Christmas Performer Workshops (CPW) comes to Phoenix, AZ in July

Come join the Arizona Santas for the CPW: Performing Skills Workshop, July 21 and 22, 2018, with Robert Seutter (Santa True).



  • Final Workshop cost = $110 per person


  • Phoenix: You MUST register to be given the address of class. Contact Mike and Tammi Ridder, santasredphone@gmail.com


Breakfast will be served each day at 8:30 AM so that class can start on time at 9 AM. Lunch will also be served both days, and there is only a 30-minute lunch break (no time to head over to a restaurant).  Menu is below, if you would rather–you are welcomed to bring a sack lunch. The Menu is Gluten Free.

  • Breakfast
    • Scrambled eggs w/ cheese
    • Sausage patties
    • Hash browns
    • Gluten Free Mini Muffins
    • Coffee and Water
  • Saturday Lunch
    • Two Hard Shell Tacos
    • Spanish Rice
    • Refried Beans
    • Tres Leche Cake
    • Sweet Ice Tea and Water
  • Sunday Lunch
    • Gluten Free Chicken Alfredo Pasta
    • Caesar Salad
    • Chocolate Cake
    • Sweet Ice Tea and Water

Hotel Specials

  • Use the phrase: “Friends of AZ Santa’s” (for the prices below)
    • (1) Super 8 Motel – 2 beds/2-3 adults $51.99 = tax
      (Call John Cruz: 602-995-8451)
      Super 8 Motel, 8130 N Black Canyon Phoenix, AZ
    • (2) Super 8 Motel – 2 beds/4 adults $61.99 + tax
      (Call John Cruz: 602-995-8451)
      Super 8 Motel, 8130 N Black Canyon Phoenix, AZ
    • (3) Premier Inns Metro – 1 King/ 2 Full $49.99 + tax
      (Call Carolyn: 602-943-2371)
      Premier Inns Metro, 10402 N Black Canyon Phoenix, AZ

Pre-Course Survey

Before you arrive at the Workshop, please complete the following pre-course Survey. We need your Modern Name, your Email, and the name you want on your Certificate of Completion.

CPW Workshop Policies

  1. Request for refunds of Deposits will be handled individually, subject to reasonable just cause.
  2. Purchase of tuition is the responsibility of the student. If any student is unable to attend, they may sell (transfer) their seat to someone else. Transfer of tuition is handled between the students.
  3. You must send an email notification of change in attendance to (a) santasredphone@gmail.com and (b) to santa@santatrue.com for change of the name on the Certificate of Completion.

Workshop: NORPAC near Seattle, WA, June 9 and 10, 2018

Christmas Performer Workshops (CPW) comes to Washington

Come join us for the advanced workshop! June 9 and 10, 2018, NORPAC Santas presents CPW: Advanced Santa Claus Character Work and Storytelling Training with Robert Seutter (Santa True).




  • Workshop cost = $200 single registration, $350 for couple’s registration
  • Pre-Registration by April 30, 2018 to get your limited space


  • Holiday Inn Express & Suites
    2500 136th Ave Ct. E.
    Sumner, WA 98390
  • (855) 516-1092 or (253) 299-0205

Pre-Course Survey

Before you arrive at the Workshop, please complete the following pre-course Survey. We need your Modern Name, your Email, and the name you want on your Certificate of Completion.



CPW Workshop Policies

  1. Request for refunds of Deposits will be handled individually, subject to reasonable just cause.
  2. Purchase of tuition is the responsibility of the student. If any student is unable to attend, they may sell (transfer) their seat to someone else. Transfer of tuition is handled between the students.
  3. You must send an email notification of change in attendance to (a) dennisgorley@comcast.net or santa@santatb.com and (b) to santa@santatrue.com for change of the name on the Certificate of Completion.

ISC Denver: Manager and Handler Best Practices

(Back to the Full List of Classes offered at ISC Denver 2018 from CPW)

  • Manager and Handler Best Practices
    • It’s starts out easily enough: Someone buckles into a red suit, brushes out their beard, and asks children what they want for Christmas. Suddenly, there are hundreds of emails from GigSalad, GigMasters, not  to mention the dozens of voicemails, all hoping for “just 20 minutes on Christmas Eve at 7 PM to give out a few presents.” How does a Santa survive with all these requests? And how can any Manager or Handler sort through the communication to get Santa to the correct front door on time? Come discuss best practices using simple tools such as calendars, spreadsheets, and event printouts to ensure a reasonable schedule, a well-prepared Santa or Mrs Claus, and proper paperwork when tax season rolls around.
    •  This class will be taught by Cat Ellen (“Mrs. Santa True”) of Christmas Performer Workshops.


Manager and Handler Best Practices

ISC Denver: Hard Truths

(Back to the Full List of Classes offered at ISC Denver 2018 from CPW)

  • “Hard Truths”
    • While we want to think that being a Christmas performer is all hugs and candy canes, there are some things that are not so pretty. We run into things like crisis situations, scary Santas, bad actors (performers, agents, clients and more), and dealing with things like social media. In this guided discussion, we will have insights from new and veteran Christmas performers, and discuss how our community can deal with issues going forward. This is not just a gripe session, we will discuss problems AND solutions. It will be fast paced, and a sense of humor and grace is required. It will be at times irreverent and some sacred cows will get barbecued. No recordings will be allowed. We will have some notable veteran performers, and some new voices as well. If you are looking towards the future of our art form, we hope you will join us.
    • This panel will be moderated by Santa True (Robert Seutter) of Christmas Performer Workshops


Hard Truths

ISC Denver: Unique Endeavors

(Back to the Full List of Classes offered at ISC Denver 2018 from CPW)

  • Unique Endeavors!
    • There are so many cool gigs out there. But have you ever asked how you get them? The truth may surprise you. Sometimes it’s a Christmas Performer who comes up with the ideas and gets them rolling. If you are one of the Christmas Performers who appears on helicopters, trains, on skis, skates, motorcycles, and much more, please join us. What is it like performing on beaches and mountains, or in deserts or underwater, doing all sorts of amazing gigs, for all sorts of audiences? Let’s share the inside scoop on how it was to do them: The good, the bad, and the gnarly. Let’s talk about you got those gigs, and all the challenges that go with them. We hope you will come and share some of your experiences as well. Rumor has it we are going to have some veteran performers come share their insights, on how we get out of the chair, and catch some air!
    • This guided discussion moderated by Santa True (Robert Seutter) of Christmas Performer Workshops.


Unique Endeavors

ISC Denver: Rock Solid Santa

(Back to the Full List of Classes offered at ISC Denver 2018 from CPW)

  • Rock Solid Santa (The Art of the Marathon Performer)
    • We have a unique art form. As a Christmas Performer, we can be on a parade float or stage one moment, and then have our audience on our knee the very next. Multiply that by 40 or so days each season, and you are talking about one seriously challenging role. In this class, we cover specific pointers to help you make the plans that will keep you going strong throughout your season. You will want to be prepared, mentally, physically, emotionally, and logistically. Join us and share your questions, and tips as well. It’s going to be a long season: Are you ready to bring your “A” Game?
    • This class will be taught by Santa Steve Eastis (Santa to the Stars) and by Santa True (Rob Seutter) of Christmas Performer Workshops.


Rock Solid Santa

1 2 3 7