Look at me…I’m Flying!!! by Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith

As long as I can remember, I have been in love with the story of Peter Pan. As a child I dreamed and wished I could defy gravity and FLY! Happy thoughts were always on my mind and pixy dust close by. I had the VHS of the Mary Martin’s version of Peter Pan and almost wore it out. I even had an embarrassing happening when I jumped from a very high spot and truly believed I could fly. This resulted in two broken feet and a defeated 4-year-old Sarah Claire. If only I would have had Norm and Mike (the guys who lift and travel me across the stage) at my side and the Foy Flying equipment. It would have saved my family doctor bills and would have been a much more enjoyable time.

Flying in A Christmas Carol has been a blast. The initial rehearsals were fun and hard. Being strapped in a harness around my hips and thighs, and hanging from the baton’s during tech rehearsal had its challenges. I found that if I flipped upside down that would relieve the pressure on my hips and back. So doing flips was fun while it lasted but then we had to get down to business.

Playing the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” is a trip. The mask is hot but the thrill of soaring above my fellow actors heads and scaring the kids at the school shows makes it worth it! Having this experience has made me want to play Peter in the musical Peter Pan so bad! It has been a wonderful time, but I don’t think I’ll miss the harness.

I hope that you all have a Happy Holiday and may all your flying be safe and may you always have happy thoughts!  


Choreographing Christmas Carol by Resident Actors Michael Lasris and Sarah Claire Smith

When we learned that we were to choreograph A Christmas Carol, we were thrilled! Having both worked previously as choreographers and co-choreographers, we knew that the first step in choreographing was to…. well….  actually, we just kind of jumped right into it. Having worked together closely over the past few months, we were comfortable and confident with each other as dancers and we were ready to conquer the world of joint-choreography. The music Wendell Smith so brilliantly constructed really made the process easy for us as ideas flooded our minds just from listening to the songs. In order to make the 2 main dances (“Dancing Day” and “Three Ships”) different, we chose to follow the patterns of circles and lines, respectively. Also taking into account the time period and costuming, we tried to re-create “period” dances accurately.

Perhaps our biggest inspiration came from an experience earlier in our contract: contra dancing. Contra dancing, which is a mixture of line dancing, square dancing, and folk dancing, may not seem like fun, but trust us—it’s GREAT time! We went to a local contra dancing event in August and loved our time there! When we found out we were choreographing some large group numbers, we knew that our experience with contra dancing, although limited, was incredibly helpful.

We were very lucky to have such a delightful and easy-to-work-with group of dancers. Sometimes the choreography can be great, but the execution is lacking. But, for this show, we were very happy with the dancers’ performances and were glad to see all of our choreographic ideas come to life with no struggle or problems. Also, we enjoyed teaching the dances and dancing them ourselves.

We hope you enjoy the show and leave with a revived sense of Christmas spirit and a new found jolly spring in your step!


(The cast of Christmas Carol dancing at Fred and Caroline’s house)


Acting With Children by Susie Hallatt

The famous vaudeville and 1930’s film legend W.C. Fields is often quoted as saying “Never work with kids or animals.” Now, I have to tell you that the few live animals I’ve worked with onstage have been mostly hairily unpredictable.  However, the kids have been more often than not exciting, fun and above all have taught me more about letting go onstage than the finest acting coaches.  I’ve always enjoyed working with children of all ages – I once directed a cast of 50 children and 12 adults. The kids were FANTASTIC!!


My husband David, who has the dubious honor of being the OLDEST actor in the show, loves to watch these children from the Charleston Stage Acting School and Theater Wings grow from young, inexperienced actors and stage technicians to confident young people with an interest and knowledge to take away with them to college and beyond. Charleston Stage should be proud of the achievements of Julian Wiles and Marybeth Clark with these young people, and we both hope that with the help of the community they’ll be able to carry on this great work for many years to come.


This particular cast of A Christmas Carol is special this year, because we have been blessed with a small herd of youthful actors that are adding a new dimension to this fabled tale of Christmas magic. In a time when speaking of “foreclosures” and “the desperately poor” has special meaning to so many, I think it is very important that we see that failures in the Victorian economy (and in our own 21st century economy) affect the children first and hardest. I am pleased with the fact that having these youngsters onstage remind us that we have a responsibility to the young to give them a good start, whether it is in the theater or in life.


And the children of Charleston Stage are some of the best-disciplined, most well-behaved people with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to act with. I have especially enjoyed the performances of young Matt, who plays Peter and the astounding Gavin, Tiny Tim. But each and every young actor on this stage in these performances gives 150% every night, and that is an inspiration to me to push my old body a little harder, to smile a little bigger and to sing a little louder. I’m determined not to let them out-do me too much!!



(Susie Hallatt as The Ghost of Christmas Past, photo by Leslie McKellar) 


Crisis Ministries Partners With Charleston Stage

(Charleston, SC) Charleston Stage and Crisis Ministries will be partnering this holiday season to raise donations and awareness for homeless individuals in Charleston.  Charleston Stage will be offering $5 off of the price of a ticket when guests bring a non-perishable or canned food item to the box office, December 4th-21st 2008.  Donations can be made at the Mt. Pleasant Box Office M-F 12pm-5pm, or at the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre one hour before each performance. For patrons who have already purchased tickets to A Christmas Carol, they will be eligible for $5.00 Off Coupons upon donating cans of food. Coupons can be applied to any production throughout the remainder of Charleston Stage’s current season.  Offer is only available in person upon food can donation, and cannot be applied online or over the phone.

Crisis Ministries provides food, shelter and hope to end homelessness and hunger one person at a time, one family at a time. Crisis Ministries has been providing emergency shelter, transitional housing and supportive services to Charleston, South Carolina’s homeless population since 1984.  The organization was founded by a group of committed individuals representing the faith community, local government, business, and civic organizations.  The organization depends on a staff of 34 and a rotating corps of 4,000 volunteers from the community to deliver services to nearly 2,000 individuals yearly.

For more information on Crisis Ministries, please contact Leigh Danley, Director of Community Relations and Annual Giving, Crisis Ministries at ldanley@charlestonhomless.org or 843-723-9477x:132.  To make a donation and purchase tickets to A Christmas Carol with this special discount, please visit Charleston Stage at the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre (44 George Street) one hour before each performance.

The Spirits of Christmas Carol with Designer Stefanie Christensen

A Christmas Carol was running on my first day as a new staff member of the Charleston Stage family back in December of 2001, and this year marks my 7th year here and my 5th visit from the Ghosts of Christmas Carols Past, Present and Future.  Nothing illustrates the three spirits quite as much as this year’s scenery. 

Christmas Carol’s Past is making its appearance onstage this year from almost 20 years past.  The beautifully painted back drop in the Cratchet’s house was created by Colleen Balance for a staging of A Christmas Carol in the early 90s.  The inspiration for the brand new incarnation of Scrooge’s nephew Fred and his wife Caroline’s house comes from the design of the production in 1989 that hung in our beloved Dock Street Theatre.  For Christmas 2004, I designed and built the full stage street scene with the candle lit windows that appears at the end of the show.  The next year we added the new bedroom for Scrooge as well as the flying spirits and the full stage drop that is the background for so many magical moments onstage.   A year later, in 2006, brought the addition of the arches of Fezziwig’s warehouse and Scrooge’s Mosolium in the Graveyard. 

The Ghost of Christmas Carol’s Present appears this year with the brand new School room and its magic window, Fred’s home and fireplace and the new frosty office of Scrooge and Marley as well as the frame for the whole show, the 4 painted scenes of winter sky and snow covered trees that provide the visual setting for the whole show.

The Ghost of Christmas Carols Yet to Come has already started making appearances in our minds as we plan and design for the next time we visit Scrooge, but I am not going to spoil it by sharing any surprises just yet.  

Merry Christmas!!


(Street scene with candle lit windows created by Stefanie Christensen) 

Proud Parents of Tiny Tim (played by Gavin Milligan)

Since the moment Gavin was offered the role of Tiny Tim, it has been a whirlwind of excitement for all of us.  We were so appreciative of this awesome opportunity for him.  He was initially speechless when he found out which, of course, did not last long.  He immediately set out to learn his lines and had that accomplished in about 2 days.  He has since kept us in check by correcting any mistakes we make when reading lines with him!  Our living room has been transformed by him into Gavin’s stage and he performs all different parts of the play.  He especially loves ranting and raving Scrooge’s lines while storming back and forth across the room.  It has also been a thrill to have his picture in the promos- a mom’s keepsake dream!  He really liked driving by and seeing the billboard, too.

Everybody from Charleston Stage has been so kind and wonderful to him and us.  It has made this such a great experience for us.  Gavin has become particularly attached to Susie Hallatt (the Ghost of Christmas Past) and he immediately looks for her backstage when we arrive at the theatre.  The demanding schedule of rehearsals, late bed times past 7:30pm, and endless script reading were more than worth it when we sat in the theatre last night and watched our little Tiny Tim hobble out on stage and say his first line, “Come on , Peter”.



(5-year-old actor Gavin Milligan as Tiny Tim asks his father Bob Cratchit for fireworks) 


An Acting Tradition by Cathy and David Ardrey

    A Christmas Carol has always had a special place in our hearts.  Years before we even thought of acting in it, we collected editions of the book, versions of the movie, and went to see several productions of it at Actor’s Theater of Louisville.  Our first two cats were named Fezziwig and Marley.  This is David’s fourth Christmas Carol and Cathy’s fifth.  Each production brings a unique set of challenges:  the varying number of Cratchit children (there were seven one year!); new tiny Tims (they grow up), and a different Scrooge each year.  One of the things we enjoy most about being the Cratchits is that we are acting against type:  Bob Cratchit is nicer than David, and Cathy is much nicer than Mrs. Cratchit.  Also, we don’t have children in real life.  Being married in real life means that we don’t have to pretend to have a relationship on stage.  When told that we were husband and wife both on and off stage, Gavin Milligan, this year’s Tiny Tim, asked Cathy, “Does Mrs. MaryBeth know?”  We assured him that she did.  We also portray the Fezziwigs.  Fezziwig’s Ball is the only time you will ever see the Ardreys dancing, either on or off stage!  We appreciate the opportunities Charleston Stage has given us to perform together.  We have enjoyed it greatly.  


(The Cratchit Family) 

Playing Ebenezer Scrooge by Randy Risher

I must admit, playing Ebenezer Scrooge had yet to enter my 34-year old mind as a possibility. I knew when I accepted the role that I would have some gargantuan shoes to attempt to fill. The prospect was daunting but incredibly exciting. Scrooge is an iconic character who has been portrayed by the likes of George C. Scott, Michael Caine, Susan Lucci and even Donald Duck. We open this Thursday and I still feel the same as I did – daunted and excited. As huge of a role as Scrooge may seem, I have been greatly humbled by this experience. There are so many important details: the characters, costumes, sets, music, lighting, flying, etc. It is awe-inspiring to realize the amount of collaboration it takes to make this show happen. Every person on and off stage is crucial to this show’s realization. I feel like we’re all an ensemble. Teamwork must occur in spades. My favorite part of the show will come as no surprise – I love the flying! I wish I got to do more of it. And frankly, I also love getting to rant and rave on stage. It’s like free therapy. And I’m encouraged to do it. Where else in the world will that ever happen?


(Randy Risher as Scrooge surrounded by the “Three Ghosts”) 

Learning How To Fly, By William Terranova (Marley)

The first flying rehearsal was Monday, November 24.  I was looking forward with much anticipation and with some anxiety.  I knew there wasn’t any significant risk of physical harm, but I wasn’t so sure about how my ego would hold up.

The first rehearsal was mostly about getting the flight harness adjusted properly.  Two wires extend from an overhead carriage/trolley and attach to the harness at the hips.  The harness transfers the upward force to the entire pelvis.  That is a very stable set-up as long as the harness straps in the groin area are properly situated (if you catch my drift).  The only other worry is balance.  Since the attachment is at the hips, that becomes the pivot point.  Too much weight above the pivot point and you pitch forward and continue into a spin.  This is exactly what happened to me the first time up in the air.   Unexpected and literally “breathtaking”.  So the harness attachment points have to be adjusted for each body type.

Once that was accomplished and I could go up and down without added thrills, we began to try flying.  The flier can be moved up and down (y axis) or side to side (x axis).  There are two crew members back stage—each manning a set of ropes which controls movement along one axis.  Flying is thus a combination of movement in both axes.  That’s pretty straightforward.  Landing, however, is much more complex, as it requires much more precision in movement along each axis.

For example.  Flying from right to left to land on the top of a dresser requires that lateral movement be nearly stopped when downward motion places the flier on the dresser top.  If not, then the flier simply skims off.  It must be done at speed; no mincing about allowed.  That, as they say in the trade—well, at least as they say in my trade—has a steep learning curve. 

 My job is to be as relaxed as possible on the landings so, even if not perfect, they look natural.  My job is also to not look like a puppet being dragged across space, but a being in control of movement. And still to deliver the lines as I have been in rehearsal.  Like I said—a learning curve!

The remaining rehearsals have been— for me, Mike (y axis) and Norman(x axis) — a trek along the learning curve.   Every night has seen us get better.  Julian, MaryBeth, my wife, and my daughter were all right.  This has been an experience not to be missed.

Thursday.  Director’s Circle!



(William Terranova As Marley Flying On The Fly By Foy System)