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What the Dickens: Interpretations of A Christmas Carol

Amanda Wilde
12/19/2005

When Charles Dickens first published "A Christmas Carol" in 1843, it was an immediate sensation, and its popularity continues to grow. It’s been adapted for stage so many times, the holiday wouldn’t be complete without it. KUOW’s Amanda Wilde found an impressive range of inventive takes on Dickens’ timeless classic at Seattle’s live theaters.

TRANSCRIPT

AUDIO: "Kurt Beattie as Jacob Marley: ahhhhhh…"

IMAGINE THE GHOST OF JACOB MARLEY IN CHAINS - AND TAP SHOES – TINY TIM PLAYED BY A WOODEN STOOL - SCROOGE GOING HOME – TO THE BATCAVE. THESE ARE ACTUAL SCENES BEING PLAYED OUT ON SEATTLE'S STAGES THIS SEASON. IT'S THE ANNUAL FLURRY OF PRODUCTIONS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

WE ALL KNOW THE TALE OF MISERLY SCROOGE AND HIS GHOST-DRIVEN TRANSFORMATION. THE STORY IS PERFORMED EVERY YEAR ON STAGES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, AND THE ADAPTATIONS KEEP COMING. SEATTLE, FOR INSTANCE, MAY VERY WELL BOAST THE ONE AND ONLY TAP DANCE CHRISTMAS CAROL.

[SOUND]: TAP DANCE

AUDIO: “Ebenezia, let’s start our meeting. (sound of dancing across the floor) What’s your problem? No problem, I’m just thinking about all the money we’re gonna make.”

THATS RIGHT - "EBENEZIA" SCROOGE IS A WOMAN... IN TAP SHOES. ANTHONY PETERS AND CHERYL JOHNSON ARE THE SHOW'S CREATORS.

ANTHONY: “Cheryl and I have been interested in trying to apply narratives to tap dancing…we try to keep the message pretty much Dickens’ message, about redemtion and, you know, Scrooge’s terrible life. But she did have a chance to redeem herself and she took advatage of that chance and...happy ending.”

BUT TAP DANCE DIDN’T EVEN EXIST IN DICKENS’ TIME…HOW DO THEY HANDLE THAT MINOR DETAIL?

ANTHONY: “Bob Cratchit comes out at the very beginning to kind of introduce the idea of a tap dance Christmas Carol to the audience, and he says Dickens originally wrote A Tap Dance Christmas Carol and it was a dismal failure, and he quickly re-wrote it as A Christmas Carol and it was a big hit, so we are presenting the original version.”

IN DIRECT CONTRAST, SEATTLE'S STRAWBERRY THEATER STICKS STRICTLY TO THE ACTUAL ORIGINAL TEXT, PORTRAYING THE ENTIRE NARRATIVE WITH ONLY THREE ACTORS. GREG CARTER IS THE COMPANY'S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR.

GREG: "I bet there's 95 characters in this play, so 3 actors are having to trade those characters back and forth, which means that women are playing men and men are playing women, and in some occasions, objects are being animated to be those pieces, so for instance, Tiny Tim is a little stool and Ignorance and Want, who are the children of Christmas Present, are played by a china doll and a bear."

IT’S AN UNCONVENTIONAL TECHNIQUE, YET THE NARRATIVE FLOWS SEAMLESSLY.

AUDIO: “The three actors reading (Once upon a time, of all the good days of the year, on Christmas Eve, Scrooge sat busy in his counting house - it was cold, bleak, biting weather - foggy withal. He could hear the people outside in the courtyard stamping their feet on the pavement stones to warm them. Oh but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge. A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner - hard and sharp as flint and solitary as an oyster.)”

WAY ON THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM, SEATTLE'S UNEXPECTED PRODUCTIONS IS STAGING AN IMPROVISED CHRISTMAS CAROL."THE AUDIENCE HELPS CREATE THE SHOW, MAKING EACH PERFORMANCE UNIQUE.

AUDIO: “[Improv intro/asking for suggestions] We're taking Dickens' tale of A Christmas Carol and what were doing tonight is I'm going to get a whole list of suggestions from all of you that we're going to use to kind of revamp this old holiday classic so it's special, it's a one time thing, it's just for you. This is your show. From someone, may I have a type of business? A type of business? A nail salon. Excellent.”

RANDY DIXON IS THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF UNEXPECTED PRODUCTIONS.

RANDY: “We get about, between 20 and 25 suggestions per performance, and they’re sort of laid out through the entire story, and the big one, of course, is at the very end they get to decide whether Scrooge changes or not. The audience has never had Scrooge not change. Ever. And I think that comes from sort of two things. One is, they’ve invested in the story so far, and all arrows in the story point towards this redemption at the end. And I think the second thing is it's, you know, a Christmas story and they want Christmas to be a more positive experience and it’s such a classic story for that. It's all already there - that, in one mans life, like in all of our lives, there's all of the successes and mistakes we've made and, you know, he sees his own past, he sees what's happening in the present, these are all very real things that lead him to change. I think that that’s something that appeals to all of us because it is contained in all of us.”

SO ALTHOUGH THE IMPROV ACC CAN BE COMICALLY ABSURD, THE DEEPER MEANING OF THE STORY SHINES THROUGH.

RANDY: “So it's got a really nice mix, I think, of being really fresh because it's improvised and the audience sees the thing created before their eyes, but it's also got this kind of hot cocoa Christmas warmth feeling because it's such a familiar story.”

HERE’S A SCENE AT SCROOGE’S NAIL SALON:

AUDIO: “[Improv scene] Mr. Scrooge, it appears that we don't have any customers and I was wondering if maybe we changed the ambiance to slightly more cheerful? Black is very cheerful! I will do my best sir, to live up to company policy: 'By artificial means we will compensate for nature.' Yes, yes! That's a heck of a slogan. Jacob Marley came up with that years ago.”

ONE OF THE BEST KNOWN VERSIONS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL COMES FROM SEATTLE’S A CONTEMPORARY THEATER. THEY’VE STAGED THEIR PRODUCTION FOR THE LAST THIRTY YEARS.

KURT: “It is simply one of the greatest stories that any, certainly writer, ever came up with. In any language, anywhere.”

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR KURT BEATTIE EXPLAINS THAT THEATER PROVIDES AN IMMEDIATE EXPERIENCE QUITE DIFFERENT FROM READING THE BOOK.

KURT: “In live theater, it's not escapable, you’re in the room with the journey.”

KURT AS SCROOGE: "What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without any money? A time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer? Bah, humbug!"

PEOPLE ALWAYS SAY: "DON’T BE A SCROOGE." BUT SHOULDN’T IT BE “DO BE A SCROOGE?” AFTER ALL, BY THE END OF THE STORY, SCROOGE IS REDEEMED.

KURT AS SCROOGE: "I have seen such visions this night and I am resolved to be a new man from this day forward. I shall endeavor to assist you and your struggling family beginning this very day with this very moment, with this Christmas turkey.”

SCROOGE’S ENTHUSIASM IS MATCHED BY HIS VULNERABILITY, AS HE ADDRESSES THE CRATCHIT CHILDREN:

KURT AS SCROOGE: “Merry Christmas. If you will have me, I will be a second father to you. To all of you. Will you have me?"

THE MESSAGE IS SO COMPELLING, THE SENTIMENT SO ENDURING, THAT HOWEVER IT’S PRESENTED, A CHRISTMAS CAROL CONTINUES TO DELIGHT. MAY YOUR GHOSTLY ENCOUNTERS BE PLEASANT ONES.

© Copyright 2005, KUOW

07.17.18

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