When it comes to “The Santaland Diaries,” “you have to look pathetic,” says Derek Sitter, 42.
To that end, the Bend actor was on the hunt for a proper elf costume and a “huge, enormous Santa chair to make me look even smaller than I am.”
It’s all part of portraying humorist David Sedaris’ darkest, most delightfully humiliating creation, a lowly Macy’s elf, based on his personal experience.
“I’ve found that doing this piece, the more ridiculous you look — in tights — the funnier it is. And pathetic,” Sitter says. “Sedaris is very dark, dark humor,” he adds. “You have to visit the dark place.”
Sitter has acted and taught professionally for 25 years and is a lifetime member of The Actors Studio. Originally from Oklahoma, he worked in Los Angeles, landing guest roles on shows such as “E.R.” and “Chicago Hope” in the 1990s.
He and his family moved to Bend two years ago, where he founded the new Volcanic Theatre Productions, a “pub theater” company. Additionally, he teaches acting at Central Oregon Community College and his own downtown Bend studio, The Actors Realm.
Under the banner of Volcanic Theatre, Sitter will perform the one-act, one-man play “The Santaland Diaries” at two venues in Bend. He’ll be in full elfin regalia Tuesday at Silver Moon Brewing & Taproom and Friday at The Wine Shop (see “If you go”). Sorry, kids: Both performances are 21 and older only.
In the original “Santaland Diaries” essay, Sedaris recounted the holiday humiliations and revelations that came with one of the oddest of odd jobs he held before becoming a renowned humorist. The piece first aired on National Public Radio in 1992 and, a few years later, was adapted into a one-man play by Joe Mantello.
Sitter is no stranger to “Santaland.” “I did a reading of it last year for Innovation Theatre Works. We were expecting, you know, 35, and I think 100 showed up,” he says.
Perhaps that’s because he approaches material the same way he teaches his students to: “If you own it,” he says, the “people watching would expect it to be done no other way.”
He’s chosen to perform in pubs because “these people don’t typically go to theater,” he says.
The idea for mixing theater with alcohol first came about when he was earning his MFA at Louisiana State University. He and a classmate were playing in a band together, “and we thought, ‘Well, why not, between sets, do little one-act plays?’” he says.
When Sitter first read “The Santaland Diaries,” he says his reaction was, “OK, (Sedaris) is doing testimonial in a psych ward. And that’s basically how I do it. The trap is it could be a stand-up comic routine. But it’s much more than that.”
Sedaris “has lots of text in there (saying) that he’s losing it. He says things like, ‘I wanted to just have a job,’ but he starts learning about the narcissism and depression that surrounds the holidays. He’s very intuitive.”
Ultimately, though, the show is “about a man’s journey of learning what, essentially, love is, and what Christmas and the holidays are, essentially,” Sitter says.
The play has something Sitter hopes to make a regular focal point of Volcanic Theatre: strong themes.
“But I’m going to make you laugh in the process,” he says. “I think we need that right now because of the economy, the job market and housing market.”