Things to do in Seattle this December — even for Scrooges

A burlesque Nutcracker, ghost-busting in the Georgetown Steamplant, and a host of humorous holiday shows.

Two people in blue and white costumes in front of a red backdrop dance like ballerinas, holding each other's hands

“Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker” returns to The Triple Door this season. (Angela Sterling)

Welcome to Crosscut’s final monthly Things to Do of the year. For December, we’re bringing you a host of intriguing arts picks — from Indigenous art exhibits to alt-circus magic — as well as a stocking full of holiday events. Already in the Yuletide spirit? Dash directly to the seasonal offerings by clicking here.

A performer in a previous Acrobatic Conundrum show. (Acrobatic Conundrum)

Seattle’s alt-circus returns

There are no elephants. No one is peeking into lions’ mouths or swallowing any fiery swords. The exhilarating magic of Acrobatic Conundrum’s alt-circus shows comes instead from the thrill of seeing its largely PNW-based and nationally acclaimed troupe of acrobats leap and spin and somersault and lift and dance and juggle and contort while telling a poignant, emotional story — a true balancing act. The theme for this year’s show, Volume 9: Thresholds (the Seattle company’s 10th-anniversary show) is portals, with artists vaulting through newly opened doors in our hearts. – MVS 

If you go: Acrobatic Conundrum’s Volume 9: Thresholds, 12th Avenue Arts, Dec. 1 - 23 ($20 - $35)

The art of the mask 

White mask in the shape of a hummingbird
A mask titled ‘Anna Hummingbird’ by artist Drew Michael (Yup’ik and Inupiaq), on view at Stonington Gallery this month. (Stonington Gallery)

Terresa White’s brawny bronze sculptures show a moment of metamorphosis: a woman growing a snout and paws as her golden skin becomes white fur; a salmon leaping from the face of an old man, forming a yin/yang-like, half-human, half-animal mask.

White, a Pacific Northwest-based Yup'ik artist, says her artworks are infused with Yup'ik stories of transformation and the understanding of the interrelationship of all beings. Her masklike sculptures will be on view in Unmasked, a new group exhibit of contemporary Indigenous masks at Pioneer Square’s Stonington Gallery. The works will range from more traditional wood-carved masks featuring shamans, ravens and mythical figures to paintings and (COVID-era) face masks, as well as sculptures in ceramic, bronze and leather that take on the transformational power of masks. – MVS 

If you go: Unmasked: A Group Exhibition, Stonington Gallery, Dec. 1 - 31 (Free)

Absurdist opera 

It may not feel like it, but the apocalypse did not happen. That is to say, the eschatological prediction that the world would end on December 21, 2012, did not come true. But in Train With No Midnight, New York-based “alt-cabaret” performer Joseph Keckler imagines it did, from the vantage point of someone on a very long train ride. Which sounds heavier than Keckler’s work — deftly merging the pathos of opera with a pop sensibility and deadpan humor — usually is.

Case in point: Keckler (described by one reviewer as “the changeling child of Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Yma Sumac, stolen at birth and raised in an isolated forest hut by Rufus Wainwright and David Sedaris”) once wrote a seven-minute Italian “Shroom Trip Opera,” inspired by his own bad trip — and that’s far from the weirdest thing he’s done. – MVS 

If you go: Train With No Midnight, On the Boards, Dec. 1 - 4 ($20 - $32); An Evening With Joseph Keckler, Vashon Center for the Arts, Dec. 9 ($20 - $28)

Joseph Keckler will be performing his new show, ‘Train With No Midnight,’ at On the Boards this December. (Paula Lobo)

Spotlighting Seattle’s working-class history

Most Seattleites have probably heard of Henry Yesler and the steam-powered sawmill he opened on the eastern shore of Elliott Bay. But did you know that the buildup of excess sawdust formed new land that became its own district? “Sawdust” was the name of the neighborhood where the Duwamish and Chinese migrant workers — the people literally building the city — resided, while white settlers lived high and dry up north, writes Seattle-born author Megan Asaka in Seattle From the Margins.

In the book, published this past September, she chronicles how the demand for migratory labor, and people living in labor camps, lumber towns, lodging houses and so-called slums, shaped Seattle’s urban landscape. Asaka, an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, returns to her hometown to discuss her book at the Seattle Public Library. – MVS

If you go: Megan Asaka discusses Seattle From the Margins, Seattle Public Library (Central Library), Dec. 3 (Free) 

Singing from outer space

For those who crave choral music this month but can’t deal with any more carols, The Esoterics have a solution. The new-music a cappella choir is presenting a work by prolific Minneapolis-based choral composer Timothy Takach, whose 2019 Helios will get its West Coast premiere. It’s a 15-movement cycle inspired by the astronomical attributes of the planets — both in science and myth — traveling from (the much-debated planet) Pluto inward to the sun.

The libretto incorporates celestial texts by Shakespeare, Ovid and José Martí as well as newly commissioned poems. In line with The Esoterics’ penchant for innovative presentation, video projections by acclaimed artist Deborah Johnson (aka CandyStations) will accompany the music. Founded in 1993, the Seattle-based singing group is on the verge of its 30th season, and founder/music director Eric Banks is planning a celebratory anniversary lineup — stay tuned, as it were. – GB

If you go: The Esoterics perform Helios, Queen Anne Christian Church, Dec. 3 - 4 ($15 - $20)

“My aim has been to paint the reindeer as vividly as I could, not as direct images but more like the essence of the reindeer moving in the landscape and the seasons,” says artist Stina Folkebrant about her artwork for the exhibit ‘Mygration’ at the National Nordic Heritage Museum. (Stina Folkebrant) 

Reindeer games in Seattle

When a hundreds-strong herd of Norwegian reindeer arrived in Seattle in March 1898, it wasn’t a Christmas miracle, but part of a campaign by the U.S. government to introduce the animals to the Alaska Territory as a food source. Brought from Norway by boat and chaperoned by Sámi herders (enlisted to teach Alaska Native peoples their animal skills), the reindeer had a stopover in Seattle, forging ancestral connections that still echo today.

In Mygration, a new exhibit at the National Nordic Museum, Sámi artist Tomas Colbengtson and Swedish artist Stina Folkebrant put visitors at the center of this cultural exchange. Monochromatic vistas of reindeer painted by Folkebrant and printed photos of Sámi immigrants on plexiglass — which will sway gently in the breeze — will create an immersive experience meant to evoke this shared history. – MVS

If you go: Mygration, National Nordic Museum, Dec. 9 - Mar. 5, 2023 ($10 - $20). Artist talk Dec. 11, 11 a.m.

Steampunk ghost-busting 

The Georgetown Steamplant is a ghostbuster’s dream. Built in the early 1900s and decommissioned in the 1970s, the steampunk cathedral’s metal bridges, boilers, turbines and transformers form a perfect backdrop for peek-a-boo. A guided tour, hosted by Friends of Georgetown History and led by Spooked in Seattle author Ross Allison, will offer you a glimpse inside the industrial landmark and, thanks to the provided Ghost Hunting kits, help you track down the specter of Seattle’s industrial past. – MVS 

If you go:A Warning to the Curious,” Georgetown Steam Plant tour, Dec. 16 ($25)

Holiday Events

Xmas, but make it funny

Holiday shows and events may be fun, but they aren’t always funny. For some ho ho ho that is also hahaha, here are a host of Yuletide shows that put a twist on the traditional merriment. 

Local drag duo Kitten N’ Lou brings back a crowd-pleaser and self-described “holigay tradition”: Jingle All the Gay, an irreverent holiday show blending burlesque, cabaret, dance and drag with a lineup of local and national performers including Cherdonna Shinatra, Kylie Mooncakes and Markeith Wiley (Dec. 2 - 18 at the OddFellows Building).

For more, um, gayeties, Seattle drag icons, “camp comedy all-stars” and RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnae BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon are taking their esteemed Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show on the international road this year. But never fear: The cabaret queens will be touching down for a series of hilarious home shows (Dec. 21 - 24 at the Moore Theatre).

A previous iteration of the popular 'Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Show.' (Curtis Brown)

For tragicomic chaos and entertainment, drag-comic whirlwind Dina Martina keeps her 25-year holiday tradition going with an all-new Dina Martina Christmas Show (Dec. 8 - 24 at ACT Theatre), which promises to be a slightly surreal trainwreck you’ll never forget. 

Sugar Plum Gary will don his most festive attire this December: an adorable red onesie with Santa Claus footies. Gary is the alt-persona of Seattle comedian and self-described “beardo” Emmett Montgomery, who embodies a gallows-humored “Santanist” who has glimpsed the dark side of Father Christmas. He’ll immerse the audience in “the fun cosmic horror of Christmas” in a show that beautifully sleighs from the absurd to the existential. (Virtual and in-person, Dec. 16 - 18 and Dec. 22 - 24 at 18th and Union) – MVS

Do you hear what I hear?

For my money, no better film music has been written, at least since Bernard Herrmann’s heyday, than Danny Elfman’s songs for 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which combines the creepiness of Halloween and the glitz of Christmas — two great tastes that taste great together. This weekend the Seattle Symphony will play the score live to accompany a screening of Henry Selick’s delectable stop-motion fantasy.

For totally different holiday vibes, the orchestra presents vocalist Dee Donasco in Christmas music from traditional to contemporary as Stuart Chafetz conducts the annual Holiday Pops concert, followed the next weekend by Handel’s oratorio on the life of Christ, Messiah, which can boast a continuous tradition of performance since its premiere 280 years ago. – GB

If you go: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Dec. 1, 3, 4 ($35 - $100); Holiday Pops, Dec. 9 - 11 ($36 - $125); Handel’s Messiah, Dec. 16 - 18 ($25 - $85). All at Benaroya Hall.

Members of the cast of 'Mr. Dickens and His Carol' at Seattle Rep. (Lindsay Thomas)

A haunting of Christmas carols

One of Seattle’s grand old holiday stage traditions is ACT’s A Christmas Carol, which the theater has presented annually since 1976. This version of the Charles Dickens play is popular with traditionalists, but if this year you want to mix it up a bit, three variations on the story are also on offer around town.

The author himself appears at Seattle Rep in Mr. Dickens and His Carol, a world premiere play adapted by Samantha Silva from her novel by the same name. Think of it as a funny and fictional “making of” bonus featurette about the backstory of the classic tale’s composition. 

Seattle Opera is working to establish its own holiday tradition, reprising 2021’s A Very Drunken Christmas Carol, in which an inebriated tenor has a Scrooge-y night of confrontations with paths not taken (ugly Christmas sweaters are appropriate attire).

And though the premise is the same, the audience chooses the particulars at Unexpected ProductionsA(n Improvised) Christmas Carol. Maybe Scrooge buys a social-media company for $44 billion and is haunted by the ghosts of his poor judgment? – GB

If you go: A Christmas Carol, A Contemporary Theatre (ACT), through Dec. 24 ($29 and up); Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Seattle Repertory Theater, through Dec. 23 ($22 - $101); A Very Drunken Christmas Carol, Tagney Jones Hall, Seattle Opera Center, Dec. 9 - 18 ($50); A(n Improvised) Christmas Carol, Unexpected Productions, Pike Place Market Theater, through Dec. 23 ($20 - $25).

Tis the season for nut crackin’

Pacific Northwest Ballet has been presenting various versions of The Nutcracker since 1975. The one in current rotation features choreography by George Balanchine — who was given $40,000 to produce the 1954 debut of his show. He spent half the money on the Christmas tree, which grows to epic proportions on stage. (“The ballet is the tree,” Balanchine is said to have told his frustrated funder.) At PNB, the ballet is the fanciful sets and costumes by Ian Falconer (of the Olivia children’s books), and yes, a magnificent tree.

Since the ballet premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892, there have been countless riffs on the original. Those include Donald Byrd’s Harlem Nutcracker, which he premiered in New York City in 1996. In the past couple years, the Seattle choreographer has been reworking his acclaimed version with Spectrum Dance Theater. This month you can see the almost completed revamp in the Harlem Nutcracker Teaser.

Finally, for a no-holds-barred, all-sugarplums-bared take, consider the popular Land of the Sweets: A Burlesque Nutcracker by Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann — sure to get your sleigh bells ringing. – BD

If you go: Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker, McCaw Hall, through Dec. 27 ($27 - $191); Harlem Nutcracker Teaser, On the Boards, Dec. 8 - 11 and 15 - 18 ($10 - $50); Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker, Dec. 7 - 30, The Triple Door ($70 - $110)

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in a scene from George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker.’ (Angela Sterling)

Jazz up the season

The soundtrack for the animated television movie A Charlie Brown Christmas, written by jazz composer Vince Guaraldi, remains a perennial favorite. Just last year, Billboard named it the #1 “Greatest of All Time Top Holiday Album” — not too shabby for a 1965 cartoon. In Seattle, listening to the album played live in its entirety by local pianist Jose “Juicy” Gonzales and his trio has become a new kind of tradition. Limber up and prepare to do your best slump-shouldered dancing

You’ll find a different take on holiday jazz at Chanukah at the Royal Room. Venue founder Wayne Horvitz leads a performance of the music of experimental composer John Zorn’s band Masada, a sort of “radical Jewish music” that combines klezmer with avant-jazz. (“The idea is to put Ornette Coleman and the Jewish scales together,” Zorn said.) Also on deck, music by local bands The Klein Party (“klezmerish music” with “a jazz sensibility”) and Lox Stork and Bugle, whose music has Yiddish and Balkan roots. Plus, as the poster promises: “There will be latkes!”

Finally, Earshot Jazz presents the 34th annual installment of its own holiday tradition: Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music, performed by the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. Inspired by the Civil Rights movement and his Baptist upbringing, Ellington presented this series of soulful compositions — the last of his career — in 1965, 1968 and 1973. Sometimes swingin’ (as when the choir shout-sings the names of the books of the bible), sometimes serene, it’s a beautiful suite of big band and gospel music. – BD

If you go: A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Jose Gonzales Trio, Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, Dec. 11, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. ($18 - $81; proceeds support Strawberry Theater Workshop); Chanukah at the Royal Room, Dec. 20 (free, reservations recommended); Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music, Town Hall Seattle, Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m. (in-person and streaming; $10 - $50).

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