The Scrooge Chronicles begin in one week
I like having as little hair on my head and face as possible. Thankfully, nature has helped with the stuff on top, though the hair on my face and chin has to be carefully managed. The only things that change my clean-shaven visage are great uncertainty in my life – which I’ve had a number of times in recent years – and theatrical roles that requires me to get hairy. I’ve “suffered” for my art getting ready to play Crazy Ole Maurice in Beauty and the Beast (2006) and Biff in Death of a Salesman (2000), much to the chagrin of my lovely wife who prefers the hairless version of me.
Having the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in Keyano Theatre Company’s upcoming production of A Christmas Carol, I have not used the electric razor in two weeks, as a healthy set of natural (not glued on) mutton chops are essential to the period. I would like nothing better than to pull out an old-fashioned straight blade and slice off these hundreds of annoying (and itchy) outcroppings on my face, but that will have to be my reward when we close the show at the end of November.
A Christmas Carol is the second offering in Keyano Theatre Company’s 4-Play Drama Series, following on the heels of the enormously successful run of On a First Name Basis by Norm Foster. The Charles Dickens classic, adapted for the stage by Claude A. Giroux, runs for 8 performances between November 20th and 29th.
The ubiquitous story of the craggy old banker, his earnest assistant Bob and the lovable Tiny Tim was very personal to Dickens. He grew up in a lower-middle class family in Portsmouth, England. His dad was a navy clerk who eventually moved Charles and his five siblings, one of which was a sickly boy called “Tiny Fred”, to a small house in London. The four-room abode at 16 Bayham Street is thought to be the inspiration for the Cratchit house in A Christmas Carol. The story was further informed by an incident that happened when he was 12. His father was thrown into jail for a debt, and young Dickens was forced to work in a factory. This humiliation never left him and was threaded into a number of his novels.
He wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, partly to encourage people suffering and in need, but largely to address his own financial concerns. It took six weeks to write and became an instant hit, introducing the Christmas story-genre to the world, but also, according to some scholars, the whole idea of how we celebrate the season, particularly in England and North America.
“Inspired by this and after reading the original manuscript, which is quoted at least once on every page in this interpretation, I began my frightful story-telling journey,” said Claude Giroux. “What I hoped to accomplish was a tightly woven narrative that properly honoured the original manuscript and provided the feel of what Dickens so brilliantly was able to achieve with the novel.”
This adaptation was originally performed at the Allenberry Playhouse in Pennsylvania, where Giroux worked for 5 seasons as artistic director before moving to Fort McMurray in 2009. In fact, it is being produced in three different locations this season. Keyano Theatre Company’s take will be the first to find an audience.
“I’m excited about this production because of the great ensemble that director Jacqueline Russell has assembled as well as the lovely set Roger Schultz has conjured,” said Giroux. “I always wanted this production to flow swiftly, as if on rails, and believe the design and creative team have really come up with a lovely way to move this story and imbue the entire theatre with the vibe of 19th Century England.”
"Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in response to the impoverished state of so many children in that era," reflected director Jacqueline Russell. "Sadly, the highest percentage of Canadians living in poverty today are still children. So, in many ways, our social conditions haven't changed. But I think for me, the most enduring theme of this story is that it is never too late to begin living a life filled with purpose and gratitude."
We will be having our first rehearsal and design presentation as an ensemble in about a week. A cast has been selected, costume and set design have been completed, and the team at Keyano Theatre are busy putting everything together.
"I was completely floored by the amount of talent and enthusiasm in this community," said director Jacqueline Russell. "Every casting decision I made was extremely difficult - which is a good thing."
As an actor, I’m totally thrilled to be playing one of the more coveted “old man” roles. Being able to transform into crotchety and cantankerous Scrooge every night is going to be enormous fun. I also get to play with some other outstanding actors, like Jenny Price (Fantine in Les Mis) in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Tim Heggie (who play Jean Valjean in Les Mis) as Bob Cratchit, and Kim Nolan as Marley. I’m particularly excited to work with my 11-year-old son Ben again. He’s going to be transforming into the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“This will be a new role for me, too,” reflected Giroux. “This will be the first time I watch another director guide an adaptation or play that I have written. I’m looking forward to seeing what Jacqueline and her creative team do with it.”
"I think the stamp of a good director is when the directing is almost invisible," said Jacqueline. "My goal as a director is always to honour the story that the playwright (and in this case the original author) wants to tell."