By Robert Gaudio
When I auditioned for a role in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” back in September, I was not prepared for the roller-coaster ride that would ensue.
Believing that director Tim Thompson would cast a few actors in several roles in order to accommodate Towngate Theatre’s limited performance space and to economize the rehearsal schedule, I was rudely awakened when I stepped into the audition room on Sept. 28 and found a teeming mass of local actors, both young and old, quietly taking the measure of each other.
By evening’s end, it was clear that Mr. Thompson intended to cast as many as possible in this community-theatre production, thus ensuring a very large cast and little-to-no space in the dressing rooms and green room. The original cast list numbered 53 actors, young and old, newcomers and veterans, including me as the “Ghost of Christmas Present”.
“Good Lord,” I thought, “how will we ever get along in those tiny spaces?”
I am happy to report that we did and that we have emerged from our unique form of group grope with a spectacular, original community-theatre production of the classic Christmas tale. During 2014, I have had the distinct honor and true pleasure to perform at Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre, a distinguished institution and a gem in the crown of the arts in the Upper Ohio Valley, in two original, emerging works.
The first was Frank Mahon’s wonderful “The Quiet Man,” in March and this fabulous adaptation of the Dickens tale by Wheeling playwright, Jeremy Richter. I have learned that each cast in live theatre has a singular personality. And the cast’s personality in this year’s “A Christmas Carol” is certainly large and one with which to be reckoned.
Upbeat, excitable, energetic, loud (sometimes TOO loud!), and, above all, respectful of the theatre and one another, this very talented group of folks, ranging in age from 7 years old to 60-plus, made it fun and desirable to go to rehearsal in the evenings after a long day at work or when dealing with negative life events.
And it has been a complete joy to present our show to sold-out houses throughout the run!
Despite the tight logistics of donning and keeping order with period clothing in very small dressing rooms, the stress of remembering lines, cues and entrances, putting on and taking off makeup, making quick costume changes and packing into the green room like Victorian-age sardines during the production, the cast of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has formed a permanent, positive bond with one another that will live well beyond the final curtain on Dec. 13.
After a three-performance weekend, the “Carol” cast and crew were given a few days off following four weeks of stave rehearsals and a grueling run-through schedule over the last two weeks. On Monday, our first day off, I received messages from two members of our “Carol” community that they missed being together and a message from another cast member that he was depressed thinking about the run finishing on Saturday night. Nine-year-old Gracie Vensel, a wonderful actor who plays Lucy Cratchit in the production, wept on her trip home on matinee Sunday because she was distraught at not seeing the cast for three whole days!
And I must confess that I tearlessly concurred with her feelings.
A great show like the Towngate Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” and a tremendously-responsive, inclusive theatre director like Tim Thompson are perfect examples of the positive impact that a viable community theatre can have on an area and its people, including those who volunteer to take part in the production of the shows. The arts and the people who partake in them in any way are served well by a community theatre’s invaluable presence.
Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre has been providing several of those services for over 40 years!
If you haven’t been to the Towngate Theatre for a while or ever, plan to attend a play, a concert, or a movie there soon. You will emerge from the building with a smile on your face and gratitude in your heart for such a professional, well-run arts institution in our community.
Visit www.oionline.com, or call 304-242-7700, today for a full schedule of events at the Towngate.
And may God bless us, every one.
photos provided by Robert Gaudio