By Jeremy Richter
I’m not much of a “plan ahead” type guy. Not anymore. I prefer more of the “Now” than I do the “Then” or “Soon to Be”. Thinking or living or doting too much on either the Past or the Future requires a hell of a lot of attention and focus; focus that should be, well, focused on an awareness of the Present. A morning coffee. The loud, chaotic breakfast quickly shoveled into kids’ mouths as they stretch their shirts over messy bedheads just before heading off for the day. The brief moment of solitude in the car – just you, Sam Cooke, and the daily commute. The little things. The little things that happen “Now” are the moments most capable of influencing both the Past and Future . . . and we typically miss them or take them for granted.
Such was Ebenezer Scrooge.
Two weeks from this evening, at Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre, a group of nearly fifty community members will perform a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; the age old, cautionary tale of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Everyone knows the story. Everyone’s seen it, either on film or television . . . with Muppets, Disney cartoon ducks or Academy Award-winners. Aside from the casts, nothing ever changes. The ghosts, the poor Cratchits, the “God bless us, everyone!”s. It’s always the same, every version, and perhaps that familiarity has led us to take the piece for granted. To miss the message: that, even though Scrooge is reminded of his Past and warned of his potential Future, the story is about the importance of Now, of the community that currently surrounds him and wants his attention and inclusion.
When I considered writing the new adaptation, I only knew that I wanted to “re-humanize” the character of Scrooge; remove the stale, crotchety Grinch-like old man, and show more of what led to his bitterness. I’ll admit that until I’d been officially brought on to the team as playwright, I’d never read the original novella. I was amazed to learn of the many visions that were kept from most other versions I’d seen – storybook characters come to life, corpse-pilfering opportunists, an older version of a former love.
The production at Towngate centers itself in these moments that have been missed. Nothing “new” has been added. Nothing of the story has changed. Rather, more of Dickens’ original has been honored, and this cast and creative team have embraced the urgency, relentlessness, and importance of the community. The actors, musicians and technicians have put in countless hours of rehearsal, dating back to mid-October. They hold down day jobs, have families, homework, and sports commitments . . . and every evening they gather on the boards of the Towngate to collaborate. It’s the largest cast and play that the theatre has housed in quite some time. Advanced ticket sales have already topped 300 units with 60% of the Sunday matinee house already filled. Without looking too far ahead, and ignoring the work that’s left to be done, we’re in pretty good shape.
I’ve said it countless times through this process: I’m fortunate to be developing this show at home; it’s a really nice change of pace for me and my family. To have an actor such as Rob Garrison tackling the exhausting role of Scrooge, sharing an empathetic understanding of the character, is a joy. A conversation with Rob is certainly worthy of its own article.
Watching five, six other families share their experiences in performing all together for the first time. Kids singing. Grown-ups dancing. Powdered wigs. Dressing gowns. British (and Cockney) dialects. These are moments of my “Now”, and they make me proud. Each evening, I remind myself to embrace these little moments; to not take them for granted. And to look forward to sharing them with more of the community . . .with all of you.
See “A Christmas Carol” at Towngate Theatre, December 5,6,7,12,13:
Onward & Upward.