A warning to those of a sensitive disposition: this piece is unavoidably littered with the c-word.
Next month’s Halloween pumpkins aren’t even ripe, and yet Cork’s Kingsley Hotel was in full festive spirit for the ‘Elf Factor’ auditions for Fota Island Resort’s Christmas Experience.
Last year, more than 120 elves found gainful employment in Santa’s East Cork Christmas Wonderland, with similar numbers expected to be recruited this season.
The blast of Christmas hits from the likes of Mariah Carey and the scores of mostly teenage applicants in fancy dress leave the casual observer in no doubt — this is no mere job interview.
The large conference room is resplendent in giant candy canes and wrapped presents. At five large round tables, hopefuls fill out their initial registration form. This is followed by a headshot photograph and interviews which all precede the deal-breaker.
Behind a curtain dividing the room lies a stage from which those dreaming of a white Christmas will perform a predetermined ‘scenario’, a Christmas sketch.
Aileen McGrath, Faye O’Hanlon, and Nicole Horgan are queuing for their headshots when I meet them.
Aileen says her sister served her time as an elf and loved it, so she came along to try her hand. All three confidently reveal they have party pieces ready to wow the selectors, but like all the best Christmas presents, these are to be kept under wraps.
I ask them what, in hindsight, was a ridiculous question — is it hard to get into the Christmas mindset in the middle of September?
“Sure it’s only 96 sleeps,” Nicole replies instantly.
In a different part of the room, pouring over the scenario he has been given with his group, Olan Farrell is similarly full of the joys of the season. “Once the jumper goes on, it’s Christmas,” he says, wearing the type of top someone would only wear in December, or if they’d lost a dare.
Along with Caoimhe Mulkeen, Shauna Girasole, and Matthew McCarthy, Olan has been through the preliminaries; the four are preparing for the big audition.
Shauna is a returning elf. “I loved it, it was brilliant,” she says. “It’s well worth it, you’re doing a job that you really, really like so it’s not really like you’re working. It’s more like a hobby.”
Away from the waiting room, another group takes to the stage behind the curtain. Shorn of their identities and now reprogrammed to answer to names like Evergreen Fairylights and Tinsel McJingles, the young applicants grin maniacally as a panel of judges hit them with questions on their favourite reindeer, favourite Christmas present, and how they would fix Santa a hot chocolate.
All the while, Santa sits silently at the judges’ table, master of all he surveys.
Scenarios include producing a sitcom — How I Elf Your Mother — and a festive take on the superhero genre — Elfman and the League of Christmas Friends.
The auditions are delivered with the sort of precocious self-confidence only found in those whose Christmas spirit is unspoiled by cynicism, and are rewarded with warm applause as they depart the stage.
You’d better watch out. Only 95 sleeps left.
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