The Santa Workshop gives families an alternative approach to seeing the jolly old elf

kohler and slade
For families looking to get fully into the holiday spirit, Marc Kohler and Fran Slade present an immersive, interactive experience for kids they’re calling The Santa’s Workshop at 168 Armistice Blvd. in Pawtucket.

PAWTUCKET – Santa season is officially in full swing. Visit any mall or department store over the next couple of weeks and you’ll find children waiting hours for the opportunity to sit on Jolly Old St. Nick’s lap and tell him what they want for Christmas.

There are many places around to give Santa your wish list, but children’s entertainers Marc Kohler and Fran Slade have come up with a unique interactive Santa experience where parents are the photographer and the kids get to see what Santa’s workshop is really like.

Kohler, 67, and Slade, his 89-year-old girlfriend, have played Santa and Mrs. Claus for over 25 years. Kohler has played Santa at several malls over the years, including the Lincoln Mall, Cape Cod Mall, Emerald Square Mall, and Providence Place Mall, while Slade has played Mrs. Claus at the Pawtucket Winter Wonderland at Slater Park for the past 16 years.

After years of doing the mall Santa gig, Kohler and Slade, who live in Rumford, began thinking that there had to be a more satisfying and less expensive way for families to take photos of their kids with Santa.

So, they started exploring a new concept where families use their own phones and cameras and take as many Santa photos as they want.

“With most Santa photos, a family has to pick one photo to take home, and it is often frowned upon for them to take their own,” says Kohler, co-founder of Marc Kohler and Fran Slade Arts Programs Services in Pawtucket, which offers face painting, art workshops, storytelling and puppet shows for children.

Set up in their decorated studio at 168 Armistice Boulevard, Kohler and Slade’s Santa’s Workshop not only allows parents to take as many photos with Santa as they want for $15, but the kids get to enjoy games, crafts, and a Christmas Village atmosphere far removed from the noisy and hectic shopping malls.

The Santa’s Workshop opened Nov. 21 and will remain open until Dec. 24. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 2 to 7 p.m. On weekdays, Kohler and Slade will meet families by appointment. They also welcome school groups, day care centers, and children’s groups.

The 45-minute presentation includes a visit from St. Nicholas and songs and stories before Santa and Mrs. Clause sit down with each child for photos.

Kohler says the experience is more intimate and less intimidating for children, especially for those kids who are visiting Santa for the very first time. The studio, he says, is essentially transformed into an activity center for the children while they wait to see Santa, including knock-hockey, bean bag tosses, games and crafts.

“Malls can be loud and busy places, which can be scary for kids,” says Kohler. “We remove the fear for those children who might be afraid of Santa. We go out and play games with the kids before we take the pictures. For them, it’s like visiting Santa’s house.”

Both Slade and Kohler have been doing storytelling, face painting, puppet shows, and arts workshops for years. A full list of programs can be found on their Website at

For more information, call Kohler at (401) 441-2129 or by email at

Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7