A Merry Christmas, Indeed!

by on March 27, 2013

See more posts about: A Christmas Carol 2013-2014

In this post, Literary Intern Sam Weiner has a look at how this year’s production of A Christmas Carol gets its audience–and actors!–into the Christmas spirit.

This fearsome, dimly lit great aunt or middle school teacher probably dragged you to A Christmas Carol in your youth.

This dimly lit great-aunt or middle school teacher probably dragged you to A Christmas Carol in your youth.

The Bingham Rehearsal Hall is abuzz with Christmas cheer in a way that I never thought I would actually see from a production of A Christmas Carol—oh, don’t give me that look. You know as well as I do that these things can be the sort of miserable affairs that our great-aunts and middle school teachers drag us to. Humbug.

Rumors of good tidings began to pervade the Apprentice/Intern Company weeks ago, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was so special about this production, so I went to the source and asked Acting Apprentice Mirirai Sithole just what was happening in rehearsal for A Christmas Carol. “The first time everyone was in the room together, I think was a Sunday,” she recounts. “We started a read-through, and Calvin, one of the kids, started singing at the top of the show, and I just turned to look at Lindsey Kite [another Apprentice], and our eyes were watering. We were just overwhelmed with emotion from this young boy with this beautiful voice.”

Whoa. I wanted to see for myself, so I attended a rehearsal run of the show. Even before the run started, the room pulsed with a familial Christmas energy—children playing and adults smiling against the hum of activity that a healthy rehearsal shares with a family gathering. “This show just gives you the warm fuzzies, even in the rehearsal room,” Apprentice David Jackson told me as the cast settled into places.  He was right.  It’s hard to resist Scrooge’s climb from soul-sick penny-pincher to joyous benefactor, and the rehearsal room itself actually seemed to be brewing the show’s cheer.  The entire cast sat around the edges of the taped-out playing space, giggling at jokes they’d already heard a thousand times and guffawing at occasional line flubs, and collectively cooing at the child actors. “My heart!” groaned Apprentice Jason Huff at Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, every one!”

William McNulty as Scrooge in Actors' 2012 production of A Christmas Carol.

William McNulty as Scrooge in Actors’ 2012 production of A Christmas Carol.

Paul “Pablo” Holmes, the stage manager on our annual production, credits Actors Theatre’s lengthy history of producing the Dickens adaptation for the quality of the production. “I think part of it is longevity and the fact that we’ve been doing it—this is the 38th year we’ve been doing it,” says Holmes, who has been stage managing the show for Actors for 21 years. “The only theater that’s been doing it longer than us is the Guthrie, by one year.”  Holmes also points to Actors’ veteran Scrooge, William McNulty: “When you watch him work and watch the effort that he throws into it, you sort of go, ‘okay, the bar is really high,’ so you have to be as good as he is in rehearsal.”  McNulty’s Scrooge isn’t the caricature of miserliness that sometimes appears on the stage; his interpretation grants Scrooge the intelligence befitting a successful businessman and the emotional depth befitting a human being, making his show-long transformation a difficult but rewarding process both for the character and the audience. Seeing Scrooge struggle to piece together the lessons that the Christmas Spirits attempt to teach him makes for a far more satisfying experience than curmudgeonly rejection of their efforts; his logical approach to addressing the Spirits allows the audience to follow him through a process of understanding, rather than simply observing him snap into a new mindset of hope and charity.

Pains are taken to prevent A Christmas Carol from devolving into a replica of the past year’s production.  “So much of it is having young people coming in,” says Holmes. “They ask questions and you don’t know the answer, and you’re all of a sudden inspired.” It certainly helps to have a fresh crop of Apprentices in the show each year, along with a new group of young actors to play the children of Scrooge’s much-abused clerk, Bob Cratchit. “Nothing feels stale,” Sithole says. “It’s exciting and new and beautiful, and I think it’s really refreshing to be able to be in a room that could be very dry and stale and still be excited about it.”  Holmes notes that the production team never assumes that the audience has seen previous years’ shows: “If we assume that everybody knows certain things, then we don’t pay attention to those things and then they get lost. You have to approach it that way, because otherwise it becomes complacent and not very interesting.”

Get into the swing of the Christmas season with Actors Theatre’s 2013 rendition of The Christmas Carol, running now through December 23.  Genuine cheer guaranteed!

Actors Theater of Louisville
316 West Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Box Office: 502.584.1205
502.371.0956 TDD

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