Bringing Christmas Characters to Life (part 3 of 3)

Character Movement and Performance (part 3 of 3)

Telling a Story Without Saying a Word: The Fine Art of the Expressive Face

When I spoke to various agents about some of the biggest challenges they see with Santas, the top two included breaking character and not smiling. Resting Grumpy Face, or RGF, is a serious problem in our industry.

In my classes, we work on addressing these challenges from a variety of angles. Having a great and joyful expressive face is one major part of the solution. And while this is best studied and practiced in person at a workshop, let’s look at the issues at hand together in this article.

Christmas Performers have some challenges. When we are on stage or in public, we need to be showing that we are happy, jolly, cheerful, delighted, and joyous even when we may actually be dog-tired and grumpy. This is, of course, why they call it performing.

Some cool “Santa Jedi” Theory

When we choose to show a specific emotion on our faces, our brains often pick up that signal, and we start to legitimately feel the emotion. It’s called the Facial Feedback Hypothesis. When you look angry, you might start to feel angry. And when you look happy, you might start to feel happy.

Adding another layer, humans have a subconscious response called mirroring. Without knowing it, we start to copy the energy and emotions of the others around us. Ever start to pick up accent or a feeling, without noticing, when you are in a group? This is a crucial evolutionary mechanism. Being in rapport with your group meant your group was stronger, and your chances of survival were better. When you are around joyful people, you tend to become joyful yourself.

Why is this important?

Imagine if you are on a set, the production is now twenty days into the schedule, and you are really tired, as is your crew. You chose to force yourself to start smiling by accessing some of your happier memories. Your crew will start to pick up on the Santa joy, and they start mirroring you. In turn, you will pick up on their happiness, and it helps build yours. This escalates into an excellent win-win for everyone.

The Face Fur Conundrum

Santa has another occupational hazard: Our faces are covered with hair. This reduces the amount of information that can show on our face. When it comes to physical communication, our eyes are the all-time champions. But all that information is in a tiny area (3.5 inches by 7 inches). And to include another obstacle, add in glasses!

If we want to have open expressive faces, to get that meta-language across, we have to engage in thoughtful and purposeful behavior. Since our faces have muscles, we can exercise them. This might seem downright silly, but take a photo at the beginning of your training and then after a couple of weeks. You will see a difference!

Some Face Exercises

Mouth Muscle Exercise: Make an “Eeeee” shape with your mouth, like in the word Key. Switch to the “Oooo” shape, as in “spoon.” Switch back to Eeee and then Oooo again. Do this until you get tired. Really work those muscles.

Jaw Movement Exercise: Turn sideways and pretend you are looking up at a clock. Now at that angle, drop your chin. Open your mouth as wide as you can. Try again on the other side. Now alternate between “aaaah, ooooh,” many times. Feel a bit of twitch? You are doing it right.

Seven Faces in a Mirror: Ever notice that some folks just seem to give “great face” in photos? Part of that is knowing how to pose in photos and part of that is developing your vocabulary. We can expand it by practicing the seven universal facial expressions.

Try doing these expressions in the mirror.

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Contempt
  • Disgust
  • Surprise

Now, try going through them again as distinctly as possible.

Additional Tips

  1. One of the things you want to avoid is appearing “incongruent,” something out of place or out of character with your image. Put simply, you want your face to be telling the same story as your body. If your face says, “I’m happy, happy, joy, joy,” and your body says, “I’m bloody exhausted!” people will pick up on that.
  2. If you make a mistake in a performance or routine, most folks won’t know if you don’t show it in your face.
  3. If they can see you, you are on stage. Avoid crossing arms or standing without a purpose. Give yourself something to do. Practice your “Santa at rest” posture and facial expressions. If you train well, it will become your default. This means candid pictures will come out awesome.

Smile Practice One

Speed Round: Try smiling while saying the vowels, “A-E-I-O-U, and sometimes Y.” Did you notice there were some interesting smiles in there? Our faces can be wonderfully evocative.

Smile Practice Two

Try some moods that will influence our smiles and eyes: Mischievous, nostalgic, wistful, playful, curious, unsure, loving: parent, child, mate, friend. Now try them again, but at various angles toward the mirror. The key is to learn how these expressions feel. Oftentimes, what we think we are expressing is not what others see. The better our muscle memory, the better our attempts at expression will be.

A quick reminder: Three Keys for Great Physical Performers

  1. Practice. Every time you do an event in Character, try to do something new, to tweak or hone something that you want to perfect.
  2. Outsource. Go out and find classes, workshops, and teachers such as Improvisation, Mime, Acting, or Storytelling. The topics touched on our classes and articles are the mere tip of the iceberg, and there are some great instructors who are experts in these fields.
  3. Feedback. The best performer needs it to excel. You can record yourself or have other record you. Have friends and peers watch you perform pieces and give you their impressions. Make the vow that you will get good video recordings of yourself performing. It can help immensely.

Stay tuned to CPW for more helpful performing hints!


What People are Saying about CPW Workshops

Did you know that you can have CPW put together a Performing Workshop designed with your specific group in mind? Here’s what some recent students have said at the recent Colorado Workshop.

“Colorado Santas learned about the performance art of our business from the best teacher in the Santa industry. Santa True blew us away with his performance knowledge and his communication skills.”


“Amazing class! So much information given! Truly from the heart! We strongly recommend any class taught by “Santa True”! Never a dull moment! Thank You for a special day!” — Victoria & Dieter Schneider


“If you want to improve your performance you NEED to take one of True’s Workshops! What a great afternoon, wish it had been longer!”


“To all of the Santa groups around the country, if you don’t put Santa True and his CPW on your calendars for one of your weekend gatherings next year, you are crazy. This program is so dynamic it will knock your socks off.”

Upcoming CPW Workshops

A big thank you and shout out to the Colorado Santas for the mini-workshop on September 23, 2017. It was grand to meet all you folks, and we covered a LOT of content.

November 3-4, 2017 at Grand Mound, WA

Christmas Performer Workshops (Santa True) will be at the NORPAC SANTAS 8th Annual Northwest Santa Workshop at Great Wolf Lodge, Grand Mound WA over November 3-4, 2017 (located at Great Wolf Lodge Grand Mound, 20500 Old Hwy 99 SW, Centralia, WA 98531, USA).

2018 Plans

In 2018, don’t be surprised if you see CPW teaching classes and workshops at the FORBS Reunion in Southern California and again at ISC Denver, Colorado.

Want to have some unique, fun and educational training that will have your group thinking about innovating? Want to create something new? Contact us today, and let’s book some workshops!

There are five slots remaining in the CPW Calendar for 2018 for Santa groups. Will yours be one?

And don’t forget to check out 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!

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