A War on Christmas Doesn’t Wage Itself

Felicia Limada recently visited with five of the people who helped stage Let Me Ascertain You: War on Christmas, the first cabaret of the Civilians' 2016-17 season.

Directors Benjamin Kamine and Suzanne Agins thanking the audience at "War on Christmas." Photo Credit: Felicia Limada.

Last month, we launched our Let Me Ascertain You cabaret at Joe’s Pub by staging a light-hearted “War on Christmas.” For the second year in a row, R&D Group members Suzanne Agins and Benjamin Kamine curated an evening of original music and monologues based on new interviews with people who don’t necessarily celebrate Christmas, but nevertheless experience its ubiquity in the U.S.

Civilians intern Felicia Limada recently created this photo essay about the players in our “War on Christmas.” She spent time with both Suzanne and Benjamin, as well as Danny Bryck and Leyla Vural — both of whom conduct interviews for LMAY cabarets as members of our Field Research Team. She also visited with Rona Siddiqui, one of the show’s three composers.

The evening also featured work from composers Kamala Sankaram and Zack Zadek, and performers Ally Bonino, Autumn Dornfeld, Sam Lilja, Samia Mounts, Mark Nelson, Debargo Sanyal and Donald Webber, Jr. In addition to Danny and Leyla, the Field Research Team includes Danielle Chu, Rose Costello, Adi Eshman, Michael Feldman, Katie Looney, Aaron Lynn, Ashley Marinaccio, Stephanie Pierson, Cory Tamler, Emily Welty and Talya Zax.

THE CURATORS

Suzanne Agins

Suzanne Agins after being interviewed at Gregory’s Coffee on 7th Avenue. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

Director Suzanne Agins after being interviewed at Gregory’s Coffee on 7th Avenue. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

FELICIA: Do you believe there is a war on Christmas?

SUZANNE: The “war on Christmas” is largely a scare tactic used by people who are panicking that their dominance is being taken from them. You know, what makes America great is its diversity. The ideology of “war on Christmas” is grasping at a return to ascendancy, which is in opposition to how diverse America is. And more so, how that inclusion is enriching, rather than threatening. I’m much more interested in a “war on narrow mindedness.”

I do think there are some devout folks who are genuinely unhappy with the way Christmas has become such a commercialized mess, and who would like to put some more religion back in their religious holiday — but in my observation, those aren’t the ones who are screaming the loudest about this so-called “war on Christmas.”

In early 21st Century America, Christmas is driven by its commercialism that is driven by capitalism, and Christmas has just turned into people trying to sell things. I’m not interested in a monolith; a multifaceted view is more refreshing.

BENJAMIN KAMINE

Benjamin Kamine at Starbucks in Union Square, NYC. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

Director Benjamin Kamine at Starbucks in Union Square, NYC. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

FELICIA: Do you believe there is a War on Christmas?

BENJAMIN: The problem is that Christmas is a federal holiday and no one sees anything wrong with that. There are a lot of people who have to use the Christmas calendar, but do not celebrate the holiday. Nobody presumes that people work on Christmas, but if your holiday is at a different time of the year, then you have to fit it into your work schedule. We have to have a unified calendar, I guess. So, there is always going to be a way in which the majority has dominance over the minority. I just wish there was a show in December about how the December season is not for everybody.

FELICIA: What is one pressing question you feel you must ask today?

BENJAMIN: I am obviously frustrated that people voted for Trump, but I am appalled by people who did not vote. How do we get people motivated and involved?

THE FIELD RESEARCHERS

DANNY BRYCK

Danny Bryck near Columbus Circle, NYC. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

Danny Bryck near Columbus Circle, NYC. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

FELICIA: Do you believe there is a War on Christmas?

DANNY: No, when you are coming from a place of privilege, equality seems like oppression. Personally I don’t have a strong urgency to be included, because no one told me I couldn’t be included. In this culture we live in, our misconceptions around multiculturalism and inclusion spring from deeper problems in our society and way of thinking. Those things have to be addressed for true change to occur.

FELICIA: What is one pressing question you feel you must ask today?

DANNY: What am I doing with my life in Trump’s America? Being an artist and activist, creating art that is very radical, needs to be done. I crave a balance between what my work can be and what I want it to be. I feel like I’m standing with a stone in my hands and the two birds are flying further and further apart.

LEYLA VURAL

Leyla Vural in her Manhattan home. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

Leyla Vural in her Manhattan home. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

FELICIA: Do you believe there is a war on Christmas?

LEYLA: No, I wasn’t sure what it meant at first, I never heard it before. I don’t think there is a war on Christmas, but a lot of people feel that way. You know, taking the Jesus out of Christmas, that’s not something I relate to. Our Constitution is supposed to guarantee the separation between church and state, but we really struggle with that.

THE COMPOSER

RONA SIDDIQUI

Rona Siddiqui relaxing in her home studio in Hamilton Heights, NYC. Photo and interview by Felicia Limada.

FELICIA: Do you believe there is a war on Christmas?

RONA: No, I do not believe there is a war on Christmas. The only war on Christmas is the war against corporate greed. That’s not the meaning of Christmas, the “I need to spend my whole paycheck.” If there is any kind of war, it’s the war on what Christmas isn’t.

FELICIA: What is one pressing question you feel you must ask today?

RONA: “What is your role?” You know now that you have to step up, you cannot be silent. Not only because people I love are being attacked, I personally am being attacked. So, what will be my role? And that’s when I came to the notion that it is, healer.

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