“We’re producing the first animated series with a cast of actors with challenges, The Hunt For the Great Christmas Tree,” says singer-songwriter Jefferson Jay of the project he’s writing and directing. “I was working at a day facility for adults with challenges [St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center in El Cajon]. Then they said ‘Hey, would you like to write and direct the Christmas play?’ So I came up with this wonderful world of The Hunt, and the snow, with this family who loves each other, and helps each other through the kinds of problems that come up in a day, or a life, or a week.”
Jay describes his scripts as geared for kids, with humor that adults can appreciate. “I’ve even called it Cheers without the beers."
The animated character designs were created by Andres Cortes. Others working on the series include background designer Trevor Watson and graphic designer Mauricio Navarro. "In the first episode, [the stars] go and they meet these colorful characters. The Christmas Tree, who everybody loves — how could you not? — he sings this song ‘The Christmas Tree Don’t Want to Be Cut Down.’ [There’s also] the Snow Angel, who has crutches, [and] the Magic Snowwoman, who’s in a wheelchair and is blind.”
Each episode is a musical comedy averaging five original songs apiece. “The reason it's aimed at kids is that it's by and for folks with special needs, and they can be childlike in some ways. Also, I want the show to provide children with an early introduction to people with challenges, so the first time they meet someone in a wheelchair, like the Magic Snowwoman is, they see a friendly face instead of someone frightening and unfamiliar.”
24 episodes are planned, with people from the day facility playing several roles. “I had to write parts that could be played by people with challenges… the last four years, I’ve directed stage versions of four of the episodes. This experience made me realize what a gift we could share with the world, if it was produced in a medium everyone could enjoy. Recording the actors with challenges as voice actors in a studio will be more comfortable and enjoyable for them on a host of levels. Less pressure than being on stage, less time spent memorizing lines.”
The Hunt For the Great Christmas Tree
Video promo short
“One of the points of this is that these people with special needs that I’m talking about are super talented and, while they may or may not sing like a Broadway performer, their voices are unique and more than worthy of being heard, appreciated, enjoyed, respected, and learned from. These folks are far more mislabeled than they are disabled.”
All 24 scripts were written by Jay. “They're very much influenced by people I know and have known in my life. That’s all we really know, right? What we've lived and experienced. I wouldn’t say the characters are based on certain people, but we all influence each other constantly. That’s what’s fun about life. I'm hoping the positive attitudes of the people I've worked with will rub off on the world at large, the way they've profoundly affected me...they have an infectiously optimistic sprit that the world-at-large could really use right now.”
Jay is known for events such as his Operation 365 project, where he writes and records a new song every day for a year. It was just commemorated on a best-of album available on Spotify and iTunes. He recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to complete the cartoon pilot.
In addition to making cartoons and recently launching the San Diego Music Hall of Fame, Jefferson Jay appears Tuesday, November 20 at Winstons, where he also hosts a weekly open mic night on Wednesdays.