SECRET LADY SANTA: Santa's eyes are kindly, long-lashed and strangely feminine at Garden City Shopping Centre. That's because Santa is really a woman -- actress/comedian Chantel Marostica, hiding behind the specs, white beard and a convincingly deep "ho ho ho."
"The kids don't know, but when a parent is taking their child off my lap and accidentally brushes my chest, THEN they know!" laughs Marostica. Though the local comic uses a British-sounding male voice, she is very gentle when dandling a kid on her lap or sitting with the many costumed pets. With her gentle demeanour, there's rarely a nipping pet or a crying child, and the photog gets shots instantly.
"I just ask the kids how they are doing in school and if they take good care of their brother and sister," says the comic, who studied old Christmas movies to suss out the best Santa.
She says it's the parents who give her the funniest reactions when kids confess to Santa the big-money gifts they really want for Christmas. "I had a five-year-old today who told me she wanted a tablet, and another kid told me he wanted a space station. His mom whispered, 'Uh-oh, that's interesting. He's NOT getting that!' "
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BEST BET TONIGHT: Darek Dawda, shrink by day and The Cyrk entertainment host by night, offers bluesman Big Dave McLean as the crowning concert of a December triple whammy in his house-concert venue. For $5, you can get into the big, tall private house at 254 Young St., which is set up like a small nightclub. The sound is stellar.
"I did that because I have performed in many venues and something is always wrong. I wanted to make everything perfect," Dawda said.
The trick to getting in? It's dark. But slipping through the front gate, you see a quiet sign on the house that reads "This is it" and an arrow to the secret back entrance inside the tall fence. People bring their own bubbly and snacks.
Dawda, known in his entertainment persona as Drek Daa, suggests people come early. Guests in the first two concerts by Romi Mayes, Patrick Keenan and Claire Friesen filled the house quickly, with people in the front sitting on floor pillows. Tonight, McLean will be up close and personal, singing and talking to the crowd. "And Bick Facy, my favourite lyricist, is also coming," says Dawda, who also competes at poetry slams.
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BRIGHT LIGHTS: Two young scholars of artistic Winnipeg parentage have won prestigious 2013 Rhodes Scholarships valued at $100,000 each, which cover all travel, living and study expenses at Oxford University. Talk about sm-artsy DNA. Thomas Toles, son of University of Manitoba film professor George Toles, and author Melissa Steele, politico Jenny Gerbasi's sister, will be off to England with an all-expenses-paid scholarship for getting A-plus marks in almost every subject in a double honours arts degree in English and psychology. Toles, like his well-known dad, has a big interest in film and teaching. He has had many roles at the Black Hole Theatre and been in Guy Maddin's Hauntings (2012), worked on Keyhole (2010) and formed the improv comedy group Double Mermaid and independent theatre company The 28th Minute. "I want to teach students to become creative, innovative thinkers," says the former Grant Park High School valedictorian, who definitely takes after his pop.
Winnipegger Tara Paterson, 23, a former Vincent Massey High School student who shipped out to the University of Victoria to earn her undergraduate degree, has also picked up a Rhodes Scholarship for fall 2013 with her double major in honours women's studies and political science. She is the daughter of Robb Paterson, a veteran actor and associate artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Heather Paterson, director of student services for the University of Manitoba Bannatyne campus.
It's not enough to be a great academic to win this scholarship -- one has to show a propensity to improve the world in some way. Paterson is a devoted community volunteer, activist and former students' society chairwoman. She'll take a masters in philosophy in comparative social policy at Oxford.
Got tips, events, sightings, unusual things going on? Call Maureen's tip line at 204-474-1116, email Maureen.Scurfield@Winnipegfreepress.com, or send letters to Maureen Scurfield, c/o The Insider, 1355 Mountain Ave., R2X 3B6.