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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

November 30, 2009

Playing the Role of Scrooge, by David Ardrey

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:06 am

 

David Ardrey as Scrooge

David Ardrey as Scrooge

Q:  Did your previous experiences playing the role of Bob Cratchit affect the way you are now portraying the role of Scrooge?


A: Having played Bob Cratchit in the past four Charleston Stage productions of A Christmas Carol has certainly given me some insight into taking on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. The relationship between the two characters neatly summarizes the message behind the story. Scrooge, though materially wealthy, lacks any warmth or tenderness in his relationships. The most important thing in his life is gain. Cratchit is very poor, but love of family is what is important to Bob. Through the agents of the spirits, Scrooge comes to understand that lesson. As Scrooge, I can see what Ebenezer is missing, because I’ve been in Cratchit’s shoes. Cratchit, at home, is surrounded by loving family: a wife and lots of children. Scrooge’s only companions are paid servants or ghosts! Some of the scenes I do on a bare stage certainly make me miss all of those kids!

 

Portraying this iconic role is a thrill, and more than a little scary. After all, this is a role that has been played by Alastair Sim, George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, and many others. I’ve watched four terrific actors play Scrooge at Charleston Stage and each has brought something different to the part. I hope to add my own take on the role and make this a memorable production. 

 

Scrooge

(Far Right: David Ardrey as Scrooge)

 

November 25, 2009

Playing the Role of Fred, by Charleston Stage’s Professional Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:38 am

Q:  At the beginning of the play, Fred has taken a lot more abuse from Scrooge than most people could tolerate, but he remains good-natured and upbeat.  How does Fred’s view of Scrooge differ from the rest of the world’s, and how did it affect your portrayal of the character?

A:  One of the key scenes between my character, Fred, and Scrooge takes place close to the beginning of the play in Scrooge’s office.  In this scene Fred visits his uncle Scrooge to invite him to Christmas dinner.  During rehearsals for this scene, the director, Julian, addressed one of the most important subtextual elements of the scene; given the text, Fred would never stay in the office and persist in inviting a cranky, crotchety, and a more or less abusive relative to dinner.  Therefore, something keeps Fred in the office and enlivens him to continue struggling with the yet-to-be-redeemed, old miser.  So I worked with my fellow actors and director to find what keeps Fred in the office.

Scrooge is, after all, Fred’s blood relative.  Scrooge doesn’t have any other family and Fred’s only family is his new wife Caroline.  In keeping with the spirit of the season, Caroline insists that Fred invite his Uncle Scrooge to Christmas dinner.  Also, Scrooge has pushed Fred away because, at least on one level, Fred reminds him of his sister Fan – Fred’s mother.  Meaning that Scrooge took Fred in and cared for him when he lost his mother and father in youth.  Scrooge states near the end of the play, “I have many kindnesses to repay.”  I believe Fred feels the same toward Scrooge and so keeps up with the invitation.  This gesture of invitation relates back to one of the key themes of Dickens’ story and Julian’s adaptation: the holidays and the holiday spirit are a time to remember the people who have been good to us and the people whom we love.  And so, Fred persists in his efforts to invite Scrooge and remains good-natured and upbeat while doing so. 

Fred’s view of Ebenezer Scrooge – that of relative and former caretaker – could never be shared with Bob Crachit, Jacob Marley, or the neighborhood kids.  And because Fred has this special tie to Scrooge, he will continue, though he may wane and struggle, to love Scrooge and extend a warm, embracing hand.

Fred

(Far Left: Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis as Fred)

 

November 24, 2009

A New Home for the Cratchits, by Scenic Designer Stefanie Christensen

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 3:03 pm

With a tradition of bringing back Christmas Carol every season, it is a challenge to be fresh and invigorated each time we put it on stage.  One way to inject life into this classic story is to give the scenery a boost every now and then.  Last year we introduced a new Fred’s house, a new schoolroom, and a new office for Scrooge.  This year it is time to give Bob Cratchit and his family a new set.  The Cratchit’s painted drop from last year is part of a beautiful set design created years ago by designer Colleen Balance.  That set consisted of lovely drops for every location but as our production has grown and changed over the years, we have introduced new pieces for each location one at a time.  The new set for the Cratchit’s will bring that scene fully into the world of the rest of the scenery that I have created and it will now match the other pieces of architectural elements that adorn Fezziwig’s hat shop, Scrooge’s office and bedroom, and Fred’s parlor.  Even thought it is new, it still has to reflect the poverty and want that the Cratchit’s live with everyday of the year.  With the Cratchits now having six children including Tiny Tim, a few new elements to their home have been added, with piles of clothes, toys, food and household goods. And as the family is happy, warm and full of love, so is their home as they gather round the fire place to share stories and games.  Though poor, they are rich in love and I wanted to show that by adding these new elements to the Cratchit’s scenes.

 

Cratchits

The Cratchit family home in Charleston Stage's production of A Christmas Carol.

November 23, 2009

Stage Managing Christmas Carol, by Brian Porter

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:26 am
Brian

Brian Porter, Stage Manager for A Christmas Carol

Having studied in a college program focused on producing professional, working theatre artists, I worked constantly in all fields from backstage to onstage to front of house.  I had a very broad education and worked with incredibly talented professionals who have set the standard by which I operate.  Because of this I have been able to and have enjoyed working professionally as both an actor and as a technician.  So when the opportunity to Stage Manage Sleepy Hollow and A Christmas Carol came about, I jumped at it.  I had worked at Charleston Stage prior as an actor and quickly gained a sense at the level of professionalism expected, and knew that my training had prepared me to keep that level on course.  As a performer I always have a great respect and admiration for a good Stage Manager because they create a sense of order and focus that allows me to do my job as a performer and truly makes it an enjoyable experience.

I enjoy the Stage Management experience for a multitude of reasons.  Stage Managing is as much an art form as performing.  The idea is that if a show’s technical aspects run seamlessly and the show runs effortlessly, then the Stage Management team has done its job.  We are supposed to make it look effortless like every other artist.  It becomes especially important with a show as large in scale and with as many performers as A Christmas Carol.  The logistics of producing a show with a musical component, period costumes, massive sets, multiple locations and a great number of props and performers is a daunting task.  I think turning chaos into order and making this experience a magical one for all involved including the audience is what I enjoy so much about Stage Managing.

November 19, 2009

Charleston Stage Props Master Michael Christensen Discusses Christmas Carol Stage Tricks

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 12:26 pm

Each year when we start talking about Christmas Carol, our production staff always begins by brainstorming new ways to introduce the various ghosts and spirits into the play.  There are 4 ghosts or spirits in the show, Marley and the 3 Spirits.  This year, we are changing some things up.  Unlike past years, where Marley’s ghost entered from the sky, this year he will enter from the fiery pits of hell.  We have rebuilt part of the set for Scrooge’s bedroom and are bringing back one of the tricks from the past. This year, Jacob Marley must pass through the flames and fires carrying his heavy chains on his way to warn Ebenezer Scrooge.  We are employing several theatrical tricks of lighting and smoke generating machines to create the illusion of hell as he enters. 

The Spirits of Christmas Past and Present also make entrances in Scrooge’s bedroom, who then take Scrooge on amazing journey’s throughout his life.  I have created a magical prop for each Spirit to help move the scenes and transport Scrooge from one point in time to the next.  The Ghost of Past will have an exotic cane that can illuminate where Scrooge has been.  The Ghost of Present will have a bouquet of holly with LEDs inside.  So far the greatest challenge has been getting the circuitry, batteries, LEDs and the switch wired and soldered together without making it look too big and bulky.

I don’t want to give too much away.  You’ll have to come and experience the magic for yourself and see the other special holiday treats awaiting on stage!  See you at the theatre!

November 16, 2009

Choreographing Christmas Carol, by Lindsey Lamb

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 3:45 pm

(by Choreographer Lindsey Lamb)

My process for choreography can vary from show to show, but I always start with the first step. That is to meet with the director and musical director of the show and discuss what we are all wanting as a team for the dances and movement.  After this initial meeting I start listening to the music we are using. The more I can familiarize myself with the tunes the better.  I also do some research on the period and specific dance styles that were popular.  Once this is done I start working on specific musical numbers for the show.  I try to plot out as much as I can in advance so the choreography rehearsals can go as smoothly as possible.  Sometimes I get to a certain place in the dance when creating and I have to see it on its feet to really get a better idea of how to move forward to the next step.  Another challenge when teaching some period dances is that a lot of our younger performers have never done some of them.  It’s always interesting to see them look so overwhelmed in the beginning and then grow with confidence as our rehearsals progress.  Hopefully they are as excited to learn something new as I am to teach them and see them improve!

 

choreography

Scene from "A Christmas Carol", 2008

 

November 13, 2009

James Lombardio, Young Scrooge in Christmas Carol

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 3:59 pm
James

Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor James Lombardino

Q: How did the knowledge of who your character would grow up to be affect your portrayal of Young Scrooge?

A:   Scrooge the character doesn’t know how he will end up later in life.  So I can only create what Scrooge is going through at the moment in the scene.  My job as Young Ebenezer is to shed light on HOW Scooge becomes what he is.  In a scene in act 2 we see Ebenezer is very much in love with Belle.  Ebenezer wants nothing more than to have the best life possible for his new fiance.  The only way Ebenezer can do this, in his mind, is to work harder and longer to ensure their finances won’t be a problem.  However, his work becomes a bigger part in his life than his fiance, resulting in Belle leaving him.  This ultimately shapes who Scrooge will become. 

But this scene does reveal that Ebenzer wasnt always the stingy, ill-spirited man we know at the begining of the play.  As an actor I can’t think about the future life of the character, I can only live in the moment. In life you never really know how your decisions today will affect your life tomorrow.

November 12, 2009

Amanda Wansa, Musical Director of Christmas Carol

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:22 pm

Q: How did you select which classic carols to include in your design?

The Charleston Stage Christmas Carol is unique because it’s a classic tale that’s revamped every year by our very own in-house playwright.  Audiences are familiar with the story, but are able to enjoy new twists and takes on the piece every year.  This is also true with the music.  Some of the carols have been used in the story for years and seem to work very well.  In addition to updating the arrangements of carols sung throughout, I was responsible for arranging a new opening, closing, and mid-show dance number (Formerly This Will Be My Dancing Day).  In order to do this, I met with Julian and we talked about what’s happening in the play at that point and what kind of mood or feeling we needed to evoke.   With choreographer Lindsey Lamb, we sit down and talk about approximately how long each piece should be, how much should be sung versus how much should be danced, and how long each introduction and closing should be.  Based on this, along with different versions of each carol that I had to research, find, and put into a portfolio, I arrange a piano version of the piece for them to listen to and give feedback.  Sometimes we all agree that the first try hits the spot and sometimes (more often!) revision is needed.  Julian will use descriptive adjectives to help me tweak pieces to fit the scene.  He’ll say, “Can it get faster here?  More like a jig?” or “Can the music swell here because they will be dancing around?”  Then I can go back into my editing program and make adjustments without starting over.  Then, once the music is taught to the actors, sung through, liked enough to solidify, I will create the orchestrations.

Most of my arranging experience is in the field of arranging for voices and this cast is very talented.  I was able to do some preliminary sketches of harmonies before we started rehearsals, but really created the music after hearing the singers and their abilities.  That’s a benefit of having an in-house composer.  Even now, I am still adding, cutting, and modifying harmonies and sections of songs. 

Many of the carols that didn’t make it into the show as fully staged and sung pieces will be featured in the underscore of the piece.   The editing of pre-recorded music is a totally different skill set and part of the process, but since I’m doing both, I can chose pieces that sound similar and fit into the same genre of music to create the moods we want!

I think our audience is going to love humming along to the tunes that I’ve selected, but will be excited by new arrangements that they’ve never heard before.  Breathing life into familiar songs is one of my favorite things to do, especially for the holiday season!

 

Performance of "This Will Be My Dancing Day" from Charleston Stage's 2008 production of Christmas Carol

Performance of "This Will Be My Dancing Day" from Charleston Stage's 2008 production of Christmas Carol

November 10, 2009

A New Day Dawns: A Theme Song for A Christmas Carol

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:44 pm

A number of years ago we began looking for some beautiful but lesser known carols to add to our production of A Christmas Carol. “Waissail, Waissail,” and  “Lo How A Rose” are two great carols we discovered.  And then one day, Broadway veteran, Oscar Kosarin, who was our music director at the time, came in with an obscure Polish carol . It was called  “W slobie lezy”  which translates as “He lies in the cradle”. A 1908 English translation gave it the title of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”.

Oscar said to me “I don’t know where you might use this, but it’s a lovely melody.”  It is lovely but I could never seem to find a place for it in the story.    Later I was trying to find a reason that Scrooge himself might sing someplace in the play and thought perhaps he might have a found great joy in singing as a youth, and like much of his younger self, had let that joy slip away over the years.

From that spark came “A New Day Dawns.” I used the Polish tune but wrote new lyrics and gave it to Young Ebeneezer.  He now sings it when he meets Belle at the Fezziwig’s Christmas party.

In this season’s production.  Amanda Wansa, our new Music Director, has helped us to expand “New Day” into a sort of theme song that you will hear returning in several key moments.  With it is a promise of hope for a new day, a new beginning, “A New Day Dawns” sums up the possibilities of change, redemption and rebirth even for hard hearted ol’ sinners like Ebenezer Scrooge and of course for people like you and me.

Taylor Carnie as Tiny Tim in Charleston Stage's "A Christmas Carol"

Taylor Carnie as Tiny Tim in Charleston Stage's "A Christmas Carol"


A New Day Dawns

In the darkness,
In the silence,
Can you hear the angels sing?
In the softness,
Of a whisper
Hear the tidings that they bring,
Far away a babe is waking,
In it’s eyes the day is breaking.
A new day dawns today for you.
A new day dawns today for you.

Though the ages,
Comes the story,
Of the promise of that night.
When the heavens
Filled with glory
And a bright star burning bright.
Star of wonder, softly shining,
Here the message of its divining,
A new day dawns today for you.
A new day dawns today for you.

Adapted from the traditional Polish  Carol, W Slobie Lezy (He lies in the cradle).
New lyrics by Julian Wiles.

November 3, 2009

A Christmas Carol! An Old Friend Gets An Update

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:10 pm

This is Charleston Stage’s 12th production of A Christmas Carol and the evolution of our production continues.  Rehearsals began last week with a terrific cast.  Several cast members have done the show with us before but in different roles and many cast members are new to this production.    While we’ve had great casts in the past we thought this would be a way for our performers to take a new look at these familiar characters.

Taking the role of Scrooge is veteran David Ardrew who has often played Cratchit in the past.  Now he gets to be the Boss and order poor Cratchit around.  Newcomer Taylor Carnie, a member of one of Charleston Stage’s performance troupes for young people is taking on the role of Tiny Tim.

Other new touches include an all new score by new Resident Music Director , Amanda Wansa.   The score features some old favorities with new arrangements and a number of new carols, including  three new production numbers have been created.  Former Resident Acting Company Member, Lindsey Lamb has returned from New York to choreograph these new numbers.  Lindsey and her husband, Drew, who performed in a national tour of A Christmas Carol, will also be taking the roles of The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present in this new production.

Stay tuned for updates on our blog and this new production takes shape.

Julian Wiles, Director of A Christmas Carol

David Ardrey as Scrooge and Taylor Carnie as Tiny Tim

David Ardrey as Scrooge and Taylor Carnie as Tiny Tim

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