This is my third year doing A Christmas Carol in a row, which means I have a strong connection with the story and all the characters. In the past I played multiple roles like the pauper and one of the apprentices, but this year I was asked to play Bob Cratchit! I was excited that I was going to get the chance to experience another side to this great Christmas classic.
Bob Cratchit is a nice gentle fellow. His main purpose in life is to support his rather large family, though Scrooge pays him very little. The relationship between Cratchit and Scrooge is a difficult one. Cratchit works long hours with little pay, yet he insists in honoring Scrooge during his family’s Christmas feast. Since Cratchit has worked at the counting house for years, he has learned to not take what Scrooge has to say too seriously and he especially does not let Scrooge ruin his Christmas spirit. I have actually started to adopt this practice in my own life.
When I first approached this role I was initially a little nervous. Bob Cratchit is much older than I, so finding exactly how old I should play him took the majority of the rehearsal process. But when Barbara Young (Costumer in Residence) gave me my costume and fake mutton chops, it really helped me define who Bob Cratchit is. Another challenge was the fact I have never been a father before, so needless to say, seven kids is a lot! I was able to find Cratchit’s gentle personality quite easily though. The second Cratchit scene took a while to really grasp the mood of the scene, but with the help from Julian Wiles, I was able to understand that the scene is not about being sad about Tiny Tim’s death, but the fact that Bob is trying to lighten the mood of everyone else. I have really enjoyed getting the chance to play the role of Bob Cratchit and I have been able to grow as an actor through this role!
A Christmas Carol is truly one of my favorite shows of all times because it is so versatile. It is still a new and wonderful show every time Charleston Stage produces it. It is always a challenge to provide costumes for some many characters. Given that I have a huge stock of costumes that could be used each time, I don’t solely rely on using them. New costumes or costume pieces are added to accommodate new actors and update the show. Designing for the Spirits is always great fun and challenging because the actor creates the character and the costumes I create have to help enhance the character they have created.
The actor who plays Marley (Gabriel Wright) plays so many characters this year that he is the most challenging and has the most costumes by far. He must be different each time and disguised enough that it is not too obvious that it is the same actor. His pile of costumes, shoes, wigs, hats, props and make-up is quite huge.
In fact, no other actor has as many, but all have changes that add up to approximately 350 costume pieces to clothe a cast of 31. I suppose the real challenge is getting all of them to the Dock.
Recently Matthew Morrison, from the popular TV show Glee, talked about one of his favorite memories as a young actor. It was playing a Herdman at his local theatre at ten-years-old. It wasn’t really surprising to me, as many times as I have directed this show it remains a favorite of mine. Who doesn’t love watching “bad” kids take over the pageant?! This year we have multiple actors whose older siblings have been in past Pageant productions. I have heard from former cast members who are in college now and amazingly more than one remember their one and only line was “My wings got bent.”
We also have cast members who do not celebrate Christmas and when someone asked if that was awkward, a cast member had the best answer, “Being in theatre is about telling a story and this is a story about giving everyone a chance.” I couldn’t say it better myself.
Playing the role of Young Ebenezer Scrooge has been a very enjoyable and yet very challenging time. The first time I read my scenes as Young Ebenezer I was very connected to the character. He is a young innocent man who is a passionate worker and who happens to be in love with his boss’ daughter, a beautiful girl named Belle. He had taken an interest in Belle through her father, Mr. Fezziwig, and first dances with her at the Fezziwig’s Christmas Party. At the party, he presents a song he used to sing at Christmas as a child as a present to everyone, especially Belle. He was having the time of his life after he felt so accepted with the Fezziwig’s and in love head over heels.
So the hard part to figure out is how did Young Ebenezer become the miser and infamous character he is known so much to be? What happens to him in his life to alter his state of living and choose a different path of life from the one he previously was on?
The top of Act II starts in a scene with Belle and Ebenezer at the Fezziwig’s store where Ebenezer is working as an apprentice. She surprises him at work bringing an assortment of food for lunch to him. Ebenezer wishes he could take a moment and stop with his love of his life, but he knows that he has to continue to work because there is so much to do. It was the end of the counting year and all the accounts needed to be brought up to date. Ebenezer knew had to finish his work and gain his money because that is how he was going to support himself and Belle together. The only way Ebenezer can do this, in his mind, is to work harder and longer to ensure their finances won’t ever be a problem.
Ebenezer is scared of poverty and Belle can see this in him. When Ebenezer was a child, his family struggled in supporting themselves, and Ebenezer had to work in a factory as a child to earn money and continue to live. This would be a tragic event for any child to do and this is where he developed a scare for the lack of being stable.
In both Belle and Ebenezer seeing different ways though the love is so strong, is where the downfall in this relationship is. His work becomes a bigger part in his life than his fiance, resulting in Belle leaving him and crushing his heart of love. This collectively alters what the infamous Scrooge will become.
Playing the Undertaker, a chimney sweep, the Gentleman Visitor, a homeless man, a ghoul, Zebediah, a toymaker, Topper, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, was very stressful in the beginning. It feels like a piece of cake now playing all nine characters. It’s interesting everytime I enter the stage I am playing another character from a young teenage boy named Zebediah to playing an elderly toymaker.
The struggle for me was the costume changes from nine different characters and some repeating characters. Special thanks to Barbara Young, the company’s Costumer in Residence, who told me to underdress almost all of my costumes, which saves time and the unnecessary stress. I must say I am very thankful for our dialects coach, Amanda Wansa who took me under her wing and coached me until each dialect was perfect.
My favorite parts to play would be the Gentleman Visitor and Topper. I’m not sure if I would have had as much fun with the Gentleman Visitor if it wasn’t for my counter-part, the Lady Visitor played by Beth Curley who also played the same role in the 2009 Charleston Stage production of A Christmas Carol. She is such a phenomenal actress who inspires me every night to be the best actor/Gentleman Visitor I can be. I have the most fun with Topper, the over-the-top friend of Fred and Caroline. Everytime Act Two approaches I’m dying to play Topper in the “Yes and No” scene. It’s just one more time for me to go on stage and have fun. I always finish that scene thinking- “This is why I do what I do”.
Mrs. Cratchit has been a fun role to tackle. She is iconic, which provides the challenge of keeping her fresh while still keeping Dicken’s original character alive. But with Julian’s guidance, I have started to really consider the essence of who Mrs. Cratchit is. She is a mother of six who works hard to provide food for her family with little money to spare. Mrs. Cratchit truly resents Ebenezer Scrooge for withholding decent wages from her husband and holds him as a symbol for all that is wrong with her world.
In this new telling of A Christmas Carol, Mrs. Cratchit leads the children in a song called “All Through the Night.” This song has a special significance for me because it was my lullaby growing up, but I called it the “Garden Angel” song because of the lyric “guardian angels.” I think song is a beautiful and pure way to communicate with others, but for a mother who shares a song with her children, this truly shows a simple and beautiful gift that instills a sense of security washing them with love.
I get to play three characters in this year’s A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas by Julian Wiles. Playing multiple characters is always fun and challenging and the important thing to do is keep them different. Costumes, wigs and makeup can help do this but the most important way to make them different is in your body language and voice. This is an important part of character development. For example:
The minister is an old man who moves and speaks slowly. Let’s give him a rounded back, a shuffled walk and a deliberate but shaky higher pitch voice.
Mr. Wiggins is Scrooge’s servant and his movements are quick and anxious. He physically bends to Scrooge’s level when in his presence. His voice is normal but shows a certain nervousness.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is a larger than life, confident and strong character. He is physically upright and energetic. His voice booms with purpose.
As you can see I am dealing with three characters that are vastly different from one another. By concentrating on the physical differences I can develop characters which communicate in completely different ways. Now add the costumes, wigs and makeup and hopefully the audience won’t know that the same actor is performing these three separate roles.
Arranging Christmas Carol was an exciting new experience for me, since I’ve never done the same production twice with the same company. Although, it is some of the same “arrangements” of music that I prepared last year, instead of using tracks (recorded accompaniment that I put together for last year’s show), Julian insisted that we use live musicians.
It is a blessing for a music director to be given the budget and means to hire live musicians and be supported by an Artistic Director who encourages their use.
Mr. Wiles and I decided, together, that the “sound” of the piece should lean towards strolling musicians…therefore, I had to choose instrumentation that would enable musicians to move (literally) onstage and still get a full sound. I chose violin/fiddle and various reeds. Most “reed” players can double. This means that they play mulitple instruments for one production, since they have that capability.
I have hired a fabulous reed player – Jason Bellack – who played FOUR instruments for our Hairspray pit, and Andrae Raffield as our fiddler. I’m excited to see what life they can bring to the production. I, myself will play guitar and piano. Every rehearsal is kind of a juggling game for me, since I’m hopping from piano to guitar, trying to listen to the singers and take notes, and being responsible for all the sound effects in the show (and once you see the show, you’ll see there’s a lot). The sound effects and recorded music is all chosen, edited, and mixed by me; input into a computer program, and played throughout rehearsal. I have to adjust volume levels as we go, take notes on changes, and make those changes outside of rehearsal. I’ll be glad to get the show up and running so that I can just be a guitar and piano player. Of course, I’ll always be listening for adjustments, but what Music Director can turn their ear off?
In order to arrange the live music, I had to refer to my piano versions of the music I wrote/arranged last year and pull it apart so that certain harmonies and melodic lines were sure to be played by one of the 2-4 instruments making music. This process was not as hard as I thought. The opening and the closing were the biggest challenges. We also have actors – many of our VERY talented youngsters in Troupe and Theatreschool – playing percussion. I think audiences will really enjoy this production with the return of live musicians!
Doing shows like A Christmas Carol are always great fun because not only do you get to portray characters that many know and love, but you are also bringing holiday tradition to many families who go to see live theatre this time of year. With that being said, it is a pleasure to be doing this particular show and role.
Fred is a true gentlemen who always has the best intentions. With Fred I always want his crisp amiability to be evident and to also make his positive attitude about Christmas infectious not only to the other characters onstage but to the audience members as well. Fred is kind, polite, and generous but above all he is caring. The thing that Fred wants the most starts with his broken relationship with his Uncle Ebenezer. Fred longs to have the close relationship with Scrooge that his mother had with him because he cares deeply about family and the bond that he feels family should have, especially around the holidays. He not only wishes that he himself would have this relationship but he also wants to bring the two people he cares about most together to make this desire complete: his wife Caroline and his Uncle Ebenezer. Despite his uncle’s continuous rejection he believes in him and hopes that perhaps one day a transformation may be made. For me it is important to be very aware of these facts and feelings with every performance to make this charming Dickens character realistic and true to form. It’s not about acting onstage, it’s about living onstage.
A Christmas Carol has been a real joy to work on. Anyone who comes to see the production will not be disappointed with the never ending magic that Christmas can offer.