For Donald "D.G." Speirs, playing Santa Claus is more than a role, more than a job, more than a way to spend the holidays. To say it's a dream to play his dream role sounds trite, but it's true. To say that he believes? Well, that's true, too.
And, "it's a lot of fun," he added, offstage at the James McCabe Theater in Valrico, where his portrayal of Santa Claus will take center stage in the days ahead, in the community theater troupe's presentation of Miracle on 34th Street.
"The show is a dream come true for me," said Speirs, who first had the role of Kris Kringle in 2006 and has been donning the costume of Santa Claus ever since, both for a passion and for a profession, including, he said, a stint for the Seattle Seahawks, at their game Dec. 23.
"To me, he's an iconic character," Speirs said. "I've ben a fan of the show for years. It's all about faith, it's all about believing, it's all about what's most important at Christmas."
The show centers on divorcee Doris Walker and her young daughter, Susan, who is raised to believe that fantasy is misguided. So, when she meets Kris Kringle, the man her mother hires to replace an inebriated Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Susan's upbringing is put to the test — and so, too, her mother's beliefs.
- See Young Thespian Takes to Heart Her Role as Susan Walker in 'Miracle on 34th Street'
Santa Claus is both a character and a representation of a nation's collective consciousness and yearning for a simpler time, according to Speirs, whose beard, demeanor and hearty laugh bode well for his heartfelt depiction.
"Part of it is wanting to believe," Speirs said. "Part of it is also the fact that Santa represents for us a time when things were a lot simpler, when wishes did come true. And there's a magic to that."
Too often, he added, "we work so hard to make things go faster and to make things look shinier." All of which, really, is another way of saying what Kris Kringle says on stage, in his rants against the commercialism of the season.
In real life, Speirs said, "I don't participate in Black Friday shopping, I never have."
What he does advocate, though, is giving to others, in ways large and small, that both meet a need and fill a void.
"In 2004 I lost my job and I had some medical issues," Speirs said. "It was the first Christmas in my life I had no money. I couldn't provide anything to my children at that time. I posted on the Internet [a call for] help. A good samaritan out of Texas sent me an email and asked, 'What does your daughter want?' "
Speirs said at the time his nine-year-old daughter wanted an American Doll, which he didn't even know anything about. The woman sent the doll and said, "Tell her it's from Santa."
"I remember that spirit of selflessness, of giving to another, and my daughter still has that doll today," he said.
Paying it forward, Speirs said his gift is to give to others through his representation of Santa Claus.
"I'm an actor," he said. "I've been making dreams a reality on stage for four decades."
Getting "Santa-fied," he said, is a long and painful process, but well worth the effort.
"I feel like I've been entrusted with a great gift, being given this role to perform," he said. "Do I believe there's a guy in a red suit in the North Pole making gifts for kids?"
That's not the point, really, he said.
As Speirs put it: "I do believe in the spirit of generosity and giving that exists in all of us."
Santa Claus, he added, "is the better angel of our nature manifest."
Village Players Presentation of Miracle on 34th Street
Opening night is Nov. 30. Additional show dates are Dec. 1, 7-8 and 14-15. Curtain time is 8:15 p.m. The matinee show is Dec. 9 at 3 p.m.
- For more on the show, including a cast listing, see Is There a Santa Claus? See 'Miracle on 34th Street' at James McCabe Theater
Tickets cost $12 for adults and $10 for students, senior citizens and military. Call the Village Players information line at 813-643-8292 or 813-630-2237.