In the apex Instagram/Pinterest photo opportunity paradise, The CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale is hosting its “North Pole Experience” through Dec. 20.
Decking out the entire theater in pure Christmas splendor and spirit, from the concession stand to backstage, CMPAC has created a winter wonderland rivaled only by the favorite movies of the season.
“It’s been a rather unique year,” said executive director Alyse Arpino. When New York State essentially shut down on Monday, March 16, the theater closed it doors for the first time in its 34-year-history.
“As a nonprofit, we provide a home for all walks of life in the arts community,” said Arpino. “We wanted to be there for the actors, the production staff, everyone.”
But under the pandemic stress, a creative vision began to take shape, and the theater has gone on to host outside events (with a stage built right on the parking lot) and other interactive but socially distanced experiences for the community.
“It’s been a Renaissance of creativity,” said Arpino.
After hearing and lamenting the loss of mall Santas, with Macy’s Santa being the most jarring forfeiture of the pandemic for the holiday season, Arpino and her team began thinking about how to bring that experience back for children and families.
With ample decorations from previous set designs and a host of enthusiastic volunteers, CMPAC was able to put together a lush, convincing, and downright magical winter wonderland.
Normally, CMPAC holds a grand holiday show that families flock to, like the New York City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” or the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, but this year shuttered all main stage performances.
Instead, Mr. and Mrs. Claus took over the theater to bring joy to families.
One of the first stops in the CMPAC’s “North Pole Experience” is Mrs. Claus’s Bakery and Sweet Shop, where she bakes Santa’s favorite confections. All the elves have spice names like Cinnamon and Ginger.
Candy Cane Lane meanders with peppermints and hard candy above to lead to an oversized gift-wrap room, where children can play with toys before being loaded onto Santa’s sleigh.
In the Enchanted Reindeer Forests, elves are hard at work training reindeer for their trip around the world.
Finally, there is Santa’s throne room, where he writes his list and checks it twice. In Santa’s office, children can write a letter to the big man and put it in his mailbox.
Throughout the experience, a photographer follows so that families can enjoy the experience without being cluttered and bothered with cell phone selfies and setups.
The introductory price is $99 for 20 minutes including three children. As all adults are free, it is encouraged to bring aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Masks must be worn and families are let in one group at a time.
Even Fido is invited to the party, as there is special booking for those wanting to bring their furry family member.
“Everyone needs the holiday experience,” said Arpino, “and this one is fully interactive.”